Tuesday, September 06, 2005

It's Good to Be With People Who Know

Dear Family and Friends,

It's been another busy and exhausting day. I was up early writing an artcle which may appear in The Sydney Morning Herald and/or The Age newspapers.

Our days are incredibly busy, filled with filling in forms for emergency assistance and housing, trying to get through to our banks to stop direct debits and find out why credit cards are getting declined, contacting friends to make sure they're doing okay.

This arvo, the people we're staying with went down to the River Center here in Baton Rouge with food, clothing and blankets for the refugees there, and to volunteer their time. Lillie and I headed off to a gathering of fellow refugees, hosted by one of the women from my old book club and her family, who have all evacuated to Baton Rouge. They made red beans and rice and jambalaya, all traditional New Orleans dishes, and we spent time making connections and swapping stories and discussing ways we can help those who haven't fared as well as us.

It was a wonderful gathering. Social crowds are not usually my favourite thing, especially when I don't know most of the people there. But this was different. We all share a bond, we all care about how each is doing, and we're all suffering many similar things.

It was a great mixed group of white and black folk, one a journalist with The Times Picayune, another the Director of Coastal and Marine Conservation for The Nature Conservancy, who has close experience of the way the Bush administration and previous administrations have neglected the coastal wetlands, to the terrible detriment of New Orleans. Those coastlands used to be a big buffer from hurricanes, but their continued erosion -- at the rate of a football field a day -- has made the city far, far more vulnerable. It's something which has been known for a long time, but adequate funding has been denied over and over.

It was so good to be with people who know. And, at the same time, really hard. So very strange to look around a room and to think "each and every one of these people is a refugee". It's something which will affect us all for the rest of our lives.

A couple was there with their 7-month-old baby, Jacob. It was so wonderful to see his glowing, positive face and spend time holding him and singing to him and being in a place of joy with him. Great therapy!

I've uploaded a satellite photo which shows our house after the flooding to:


(I haven't pasted it here because it's fairly big.)

This photo is oriented with east at the top, west at the bottom. Lake Ponchartrain is out of picture, about a mile and a half to the north (left). The downtown area of New Orleans is out of picture about 5-6 miles south. The 17th Street Canal which breached so badly is out of picture two blocks to the west (bottom). The big wide horizontal stretch of water just above the middle of the photo is the very broad neutral ground (our local term for a median strip) between West End Boulevard and Ponchartrain Boulevard. It shows the water rushing across the ground.

I've put a red line around our house and backyard. You can see our beautiful live oak tree covering the whole of our backyard and over our neighbours roof. It's almost certain it will die, along with many of the other live oaks in the inundated areas. Ours was well over 100 years old and one of the main reasons we bought the house.

It's hard to get an idea of the depth of the water from this shot, but my truck, parked high up in the driveway on the west side of the house, is completely invisible. Reports say water level is in the attic of single-storey homes, so it's probably into our second storey.

Time for bed. - Rose Vines