New Orleans Day Two -- Tuesday, March 21, 2006
I cried my first tears for New Orleans today. Edward Sears, a displaced New Orleans Parish resident, lost everything. He lived on the first floor of what he called "the projects" and was forced out when the water came rushing in. His story overwhelmed me. I get tears in my eyes now. He told me to stop crying and to be strong because a greater, safer New Orleans will emerge from the devastation.
But devastation doesn't even begin to describe what I saw today. While cleaning the backyard of our second home, a fire started down the street when a downed electrical wire -- and there still are too many to count -- sparked, setting a deck ablaze. Hayden's Ralph Babish and Bobby Barnes and Bill Dennager (from Missouri) ran down the street, calling 911. Their efforts to contain it were heroic but not fruitful. The home appeared to sustain significant smoke and fire damage. It likely doesn't matter. Every home in New Orleans Parish and East New Orleans is in shambles.
Windows are gone. Mold grows where family photos once hung. Boats are on streets. I keep thinking "seven months." Seven months and traffic lights don't work. Seven months and toilets are in yards. Seven months and the graffiti code rescue workers sprayed on houses to signify whether there were people or animals inside is on every door -- still.
Today Michelle and I helped at two job sites with the Hayden contingent, cleaning yards where children once played and rose bushes once grew. I also put on a paper suit, respirator and goggles to strip wiring inside homes where toxins likely are in the air. I went inside for 20 minutes, but wasn't much help.
I've been told New Orleans was a bustling, unique place once where music and laughter filled the street, and where we are staying on South Carrollton Avenue, life has moved on. Coffee shops are open. Traffic lights work, and the oak trees that line either side of the street as far as the eye can see stand tall. The tops are blown off, but the trunks are thick, strong. Seven months in, part of New Orleans is moving on. The other part, like me, is crying for help.