This email was sent 3.26.06
In the last three days, I've heard these stories. There are reports of progress being made here with houses being gutted, people trying to return, the strong spirit of the people here. There are also reports of Corps of Engineers reports contradicting themselves, laws that keep the Corps from being sued, insurance companies refusing to pay. Mostly these stories are about stuff. Homes, money, jobs. But there are ancillary stories connected to all of the above, and I've heard them this week.
We took Zola up to the levee so he could see people and bicycles. We watched as they shot a scene from the Denzel Washington movie, "Deja Vu", on the Ferry (which Disney rented for a month causing no end of problems with commuting from the Westbank). A woman came up to us with some binoculars. Everyone, it seems, is waiting for a glimpse of Denzel, but so far no one has actually seen him. We started talking with her. She lives on Powder Street here on Algiers Point, a street that we delivered lots of food and water to in early September. There was an entire family that hadn't evacuated and they had nothing. One of the women we met up there was an elderly woman, about 83 as I recall. She was one of the women who needed her medication refilled and was part of the surreal tea party under the Army tent at Blaine Kern's as she waited with the others for a ride to West Jefferson. Her hair was black, her makeup severe, her laugh raucous and wonderful. I can't find my notebook (been searching all morning, her name is in there), but I think her name was Joy Boudreaux, a very common surname here in New Orleans. She told me that she had been born on Powder Street and had lived on Powder Street her entire life. She was a fascinating woman. She died this week. Evidently she had other ailments, as her list of prescriptions could attest to, but her heart gave out.
The woman we were talking with was probably in her late 50's, also lived on Powder Street. She said she had a circle of girlfriends that consisted of 12 women. They'd known each other for years. Five of them have died since the storm, of heart attacks from stress. Four others had moved out of New Orleans because of their jobs. She just shook her head, still not believing her personal human loss.
You've read about our friend Louis from up the street. He's the one with the amazing evacuation story that took him to Utah after being refused entry to the Westbank by the Gretna police which was really just the second to last chapter of his harrowing story. Louis is in his 50's and always rode his bike to work in Metairie, which is a long way by bicycle. Before the storm, he lost a grandson, 21 yrs old , to kidney failure. While in the Convention Center for four days, he lost his nephew, shot by police while getting water for some older ladies. His nephew died in his arms. Yesterday he buried his 20 year old son. Coroner said heart failure due to stress. No drugs in his system. TWENTY YEARS OLD?!?! He now is trying to raise money to return to Utah to get his car. He has to leave day after tomorrow and he has no money because his landlord, who owns many properties in this area and has rented them out Section 8 for years, has raised their rent from $900 to $1500. Louis, his wife and their grandson, are planning to move to Baton Rouge or maybe Houston. Shoved out of their hometown by greed after suffering so much loss. You can see it in Louis's eyes. He's not the same man that we knew before the storm. Something is broken inside of him.
The doctors told him that they were seeing very large numbers of heart attacks due to stress in the New Orleans area. While everyone is busy talking about money, insurance, FEMA, they are overlooking the people that these delays and lack of money are affecting. Can they come home? Will they be safe if they do? Will they be able to rebuild? Many people are still searching for missing relatives. A local tv news station reported that in addition to the two bodies they found in the Ninth Ward this week, they also found a child's body at an intersection off of Forstall. My god, this is an area that we've driven by over and over when we went to the area. We no doubt drove right by where this little one was found. Who's looking for that little one and what agency will find the people who are looking? The impersonal rules and regulations simply aren't taking into account the toll, physical and psychological, that this is taking on human beings who are just trying to get by after an historic catastrophe.
It's not just the money and the delays. It's the loss of family, through death or because they're still missing. It's the loss of their neighborhood, their social safety net. It's the loss of friends. We will be losing two of our dearest friends to Houston this coming week. Company setting up shop in Houston, not in New Orleans. This happens every day here. "We are moving. We have no choice." And most really don't have a choice. The reasons vary but the void is still the same.
Yes, indeed. The people of New Orleans have a wonderful, tough spirit. That's what's going to see us through all this, I think. A sense that one doesn't just abandon their home because it's too hard. But somehow in the midst of these commentaries on the billions of dollars, the levee failures, the loss of the structure that was home, there has to be some way to really address the post-Katrina loss of life that all this has contributed to.
Hearing about seven fatal stress related heart attacks, in people ranging from 83 to 20, over the course of three days is overwhelming. These seven came from every ethnic and socio-economic group. The stress is an equal opportunity killer, it seems. When you see all the reports about structures and dollars, please remember the humans involved. They seem to be getting lost in the shuffle now that they're off the roofs and off your TV screens.
And pray that the ones who died when the levees broke are reunited with the families who are looking for them.
---NOTE: I found the notebook. Her name was June Boudreaux.