Thursday, November 10, 2005

Touring St. Bernard Parish

Yesterday I met with Lola Vollen who is working with McSweeney's on the Voice of Witness series. We hopped into her rental car and I showed her through the Bywater along St. Claude Avenue before we drove over the bridge and across the levee into the lower Ninth. I hadn't really been around there up to this point--I hadn't seen the damage since the storm. As we drove the neighborhoods, I pointed out the floodlines along the buildings and we tried to make sense of the topography as they rose and fell.

As we continued east we found a barracade across the road--built from abandoned cars that had been piled atop each other. Who made it? we asked. Turns out the parish put it up to force people through a check point. We were going through. (Lola had credentials, I was along for the ride.) We turned into a subdivison and found ourselves among a completely barren community--there was mud and swamp grass deposited atop the houses. Through open doors we could see that the entire interior structure of each home had collapsed.

Outside of one house a man stood waiting for his insurance company. Allstate has stood him up four times. It was late in the afternoon, soon it would be dark--very dark without any electricity. The man had a levee board shirt on--"Everyone wants to kill me" he said--and he showed us the spot he had cleared for his FEMA trailer, once it arrives. The inside of his house had been gutted by the water, which stood for two weeks. Then Rita flooded it again. Now we understood the dueling floodlines we'd been seeing. He pointed to the other houses and described the neighborhood, the people that had lived there. Across the street, the backs of all the houses were gone, blown away by the force of the water coming in. "I figure it was twenty feet," he said. "Storm surge" equals tidal wave, although no one ever wants to use that word.

On the way home we spotted another yard filled with debris, including a dozen mounted deer heads, sticking from the ground.

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