Friday, September 30, 2005

Good Hands?

We are having a hell of a time contacting our insurance adjustor for AllState. On September 8th we were told his name was Steven Blethan. When we called his phone number we were told by a recording that he was in the Gulf Coast area and would return calls September 2nd. We called every day and left a message asking that he contact us. Then on September 22nd we called the 1-800 Allstate number and were told that we had a new adjustor for both wind and flood, and his name was John Dye. They said that he had been to our house on the 20th of September to take pictures. We have called him every day since the 22nd and left messages, and still no word from him. We tried desperately to get in touch with him while I was in New Orleans from the 23rd-26th of September. The thing is that we don't want to clean out our house until he sees firsthand the damage that the flood waters did to the interior. So because he hasn't contacted us, the mold is growing and ruining more of our house every day. We don't expect the claim to be settled at this point, but is it too much to ask for a freaking phone call? So John Dye, if you are reading this, please please please call us back.

NY Times Article About Xavier

Back on September 25th, the NY Times had a great story about Dillard and Xavier. Bart actually read this article to me in New Orleans. He got a Blackberry and so even with all the destruction and chaos in the Big Easy, Bart was "connected," or he had "net," or something like that.

Xavier's President on NPR

I just heard Renee Montagne interview Dr. Norman Francis on NPR's morning edition. He talks about miracles, faith, and the future of Xavier.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Status of My Zip Code

According to a city report on my zip code (70119), this is what is up with my neighborhood:

70119, 70122
Sewer: East Bank sewer system is inoperative
Water: Water for fire protection only – not potable
Electricity: Assessment 75% complete
Gas: Assessment 100% complete
Debris: Phase 1 Completed
Medical: E. J, Ochsner and W. Jefferson Hospitals open; Touro E.R. in progress; Kindred open for immunizations and some emergency care.
Transportation: Roads passable; signals inoperative; no temp signage yet in place. No bus service; no gas stations open
Fire: No water pressure
911: fully operational Sept. 30
Housing & Building Inspection: In Progress
Food: State Health Department must evaluate before re-opening for food service (3-4 days). Two 10-person teams available next week.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

My Neighbor Terry

While I was getting stuff at my house, I met a neighbor of mine named Terry. I had never noticed him before. He said around September 7th he was forced by the National Guard to evacuate his home. He was given five minutes and told he could bring one bag and no animals. By this time the flood waters had been pumped out of our neighborhood, and we was upset that he had to leave his house. After a few days, he found himself in Utah. He didn't want to leave Louisiana and certainly did not want to go so far away. He said they had freezing rain while he was there. According to Terry, "Leave it to the damn federal government to send Eskimos to Hawaii and Louisianians to Utah." He asked the Red Cross for a plane ticket back to Louisiana and they refused. So he worked in Utah, saved up some money, and bought a one way ticket back to Louisiana. He snuck past the check points and is back living at his house. He seemed hardcore resourceful, as he had been collecting rain water to drink. We gave him some of the water we had. I look forward to spending more time with my neighbors if and when this is all over.

Back in Omaha after Touring New Orleans

Today I made it back to Omaha after visiting a devastated New Orleans. It was quite an adventure. First and foremost, Bart and I were able to complete our primary objective, the rescue of Oot the sugar glider.
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We delivered a van load of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies to Common Ground and a medical clinic in Algiers.
Thanks to all the people who donated items in Bloomington. My impression is that the supplies will go to immediate and good use. Also thanks to Jonathan and Lisa Rotondo-McCord & the Gstohl family, as we stayed at both of their houses. Bart and I were able to get past the checkpoints twice and visit our houses. We did some cleaning and gathered some stuff.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

From Bloomington to Jackson to New Orleans?

Friday morning Bart and I are heading south at least to Jackson Mississippi. There I have a friend named James Bowley who dug with me at Zeitah a couple years ago. In Bloomington Bart was able to get all sorts of supplies for the clinic, especially pharmaceuticals and a copier. Our van is totally full. We're trying to get a press pass so we can get around the city easier.

If I Forget You, O New Orleans

I wrote the following article for the SBL Forum. SBL stands for the Society of Biblical Literature. Thanks to my new friend Leonard Greenspoon who edits this online journal.

"If I Forget You, O New Orleans" . . . Hurricane Katrina And My Vocation As A Bible Teacher

Michael M. Homan

My family and I proudly called New Orleans home. I use the past tense because our future is anything but clear. We are not natives of the Crescent City, as we moved there five years ago when I accepted a position to teach Hebrew Bible at Xavier University of Louisiana. But in this time, New Orleans has become a big part of who I am. Some of this is literally true because I'm now 40 pounds heavier due partially to my weak resolve and mostly to tantalizing dishes such as alligator sausage cheesecake, fried oyster po' boys, crawfish étouffée, and muffalettas. In fact, our family immediately embraced the regional tradition of eating red beans and rice for dinner every Monday, which sounds healthy — until you learn about the presence of other ingredients such as andouille sausage and tasso.

But mostly my link to the Big Easy is spiritual. Time moved slower there, making the city's rich history all the more humbling. As a major port city in the Southern United States and as a center for the slave trade, New Orleans became a vibrant center of multiculturalism. The mixing of these diverse traditions created incredibly rich cultural gumbos and produced jazz, America's greatest artistic achievement. Throughout our city we had the privilege of hearing some of the world's finest musicians in intimate venues. Trust me, to have heard Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers at Vaughn's on a Thursday night would have dramatically changed your world. And as my daughter was so fond of saying, "New Orleans sure knows how to party." Mardi Gras was much more than the decadent picture painted by MTV and "Girls Gone Wild." The elaborate parades were actually fantastic fun for children. We as a family annually participated in the Krewe of Barkus, a Mardi Gras parade for costumed dogs. It was fun to live in New Orleans.

I recognize that New Orleans also had major drawbacks. The city was famous for corruption and extreme Bacchanalianism, though the latter didn't bother too much a fat man fond of beer, such as myself. However, the biggest problems in New Orleans stemmed from the extreme poverty and poor public education system, both of which I believe were ultimately tied to issues of race. I saw the repercussions of slavery and racism on a daily basis, and it was not a very flattering image for my country.

And today New Orleans lies in ruins. Following the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina and the flooding caused in part by negligent politicians, both my university and my house sustained devastating damage. Toxic sludge has covered my neighborhood, leaving piles of detritus and the smell of death. I personally witnessed the storm, and I watched the water rise over the next two days from the second story in my home. Five days after Katrina, I escaped New Orleans with my dogs, met my family who had the means and sense to have earlier evacuated, and headed north to Omaha Nebraska where we have family. I wrote in my blog about my experiences related to Hurricane Katrina, and I was amazed by the insightful letters I received linking the experience of New Orleans to biblical passages such as Psalm 137. Another letter arrived from a scholar whom I much admire, and he commented: "All the great tragedies of history must be real for you in a way I hope I never know." Nobody in my family died because of Katrina; though honestly, I do better understand tragedy.

As a student and teacher of the Bible, I believe that this disaster has parallels to the destructions of Judah in 586 BCE and 70 CE. And the residents of New Orleans, and much of the surrounding area in the Gulf Coast, are now experiencing an exile of their own with unknown futures. My wife Therese was a public school teacher, and she lost her job the day of the hurricane. I am still officially employed by Xavier University, though I don't know how long this will last. My school is hoping to open in January, but some have said that is quite optimistic. I have heard from many of my students, which was quite a miraculous feat because all communications within the university used Xavier phone numbers and email addresses, none of which have worked since the storm. A few of my students, especially freshmen, are not planning on returning to Xavier, as they intend on finishing their degrees at other institutions. I'm terrified that student enrollment will drop so drastically that I will soon be without employment. My family and I are also fighting assimilation. We continue to try to keep our New Orleans dietary laws, and thus far we have been able to keep eating red beans and rice on Mondays. But it seems forced and unnatural. It also turns out that Nebraska is not a good place to find crawfish and gumbo crabs.

The year 2005 will be remembered as the year of the catastrophic tsunami and hurricane. And as a Bible scholar and theologian, I have been asked by others, and I've asked myself, how could God let such awful things happen? Unfortunately, several extreme religious groups have suggested that both the tsunami and hurricane were sent by God to punish sinners. This "cause and effect" approach to theodicy has parallels to the Deuternomistic Historian and Augustine, but it disgusts me. Instead, I believe that horrible things happen to good people and that the world is ultimately an unjust place. Moreover, I believe that if God continues to receive credit for miraculous medical cures and even winning lottery numbers, then God ought to be held accountable for catastrophes. There are plenty of biblical precedents for God's behaving in ways that appear to be unethical by human standards. After all, this is the God who ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son and the God who called for genocide against the Amekites and Midianites. Christians believe that this God later offered the life of His Son to save the world. Thus I find a strange comfort in the Book of Job, where God explains that the rationale behind Job's horrible tragedy could be comprehended only by those present on the day of creation (38:4). I suppose that evil is necessary if we are to witness goodness. During the past few weeks, I have seen plenty of both.

To deal with my depression, and perhaps to increase my melancholia, I made a CD of some of my favorite songs from New Orleans. There's Louis Armstrong singing "Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?" and the great Professor Longhair with "Mardi Gras in New Orleans." It makes me quite homesick to listen to these songs. And to paraphrase and misquote one of my favorite authors, "For it is difficult to sing the songs of New Orleans in a foreign land. If I forget you, O New Orleans, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set New Orleans above my highest joy. Remember, O LORD, against the Hasterts the day of New Orleans' fall, how they said, 'Tear it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!' O daughters Katrina and politicians, you devastators! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!" (Ps 137:4-8, well sort of ...). That last part seems spiteful, and honestly I have no goals of revenge. I've now been in a sort of exile for two weeks, and I am heading back to New Orleans as soon as possible to try to retrieve some documents and to see what I can do to help. I've read about neighborhood clinics set up to help the people who never evacuated; that sounds like noble work, so I'm doing my best to round up the supplies that they've requested.

I do hope that this country will do a better job dealing with issues of class, race, and poverty. And I am convinced that my experiences in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will make me a better teacher of the Bible, though when and where I'll be teaching are still up in the air. I hope and pray that Xavier will open in January. That would be something to behold. The emotions would be overwhelming, and I imagine many tears will be shed, not unlike the exiles from Babylon who returned to Jerusalem and cried when they saw the rebuilt temple. I would imagine that at Xavier in January, never before would students be so appreciated. I think I'll hug each of my students and tell them how thankful I am for the chance to teach them. At least for now, that is how I foresee my part in rebuilding the great city of New Orleans.

Michael M. Homan, Xavier University of Louisiana,

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Lusher Elementary & Middle School In Exile Due to Hurricane Katrina

If you are a parent, student, friend, or interested in Lusher Elementary and Lusher Middle School, please sign in and post a message to the following:
Several people contacted me inquiring about Lusher students and faculty, and so I think such a web forum would be the best place.

To New Orleans Via Bloomington

Tomorrow morning I drive to Bloomington with some supplies I bought, and then depending on Rita's course, my friend Bart and I will head South. Bart is the artist and technical mastermind behind BibleDudes. He works at Xavier's Center for the Advancement of Teaching. He has a friend who is running a neighborhood clinic in Algiers and they needs some stuff. That sounds very noble. I also want to try to get past the checkpoints and get to my house in Mid City to rescure my daughter's pet sugar glider. I don't think people at checkpoints will understand a sugar glider, so I will probably say it is a cat. We are trying to get in touch with the insurance adjustor, so he can see our house, which I'm sure will be totalled as far as insurance is concerned, and then I can start my epic battle against Senor Mold. This will certainly be an adventure, and I am looking forward to it.


I went to the Nebraska football game Saturday. They played Pitt, but neither team really played that much at all. Anyway, I hadn't been to a game with my dad for about twenty years, and he seemed to enjoy being there. His health isn't too good at the moment. I went to every home game with my dad from the age of 7 to 20, so Nebraska football was a big part of my life. Corporate skyboxes, parking for boosters only, and bad football sort of ruined it for me, but it was nice to be there with my dad.

Monday, September 19, 2005

O When The Saints...

The New Orleans Saints football team just blew a game they should have won due to fumbles, interceptions, missed field goals, and penalties. I guess things in the world are beginning to return to normal.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Plenty of Children Left Behind

According to Daniel Golden's article for the Wall Street Journal (Sept 14, 2005), many of the 372,000 schoolchildren displaced by Hurricane Katrina are not being allowed to take classes in the schools of their new communities. Instead, they are being taught in separate facilities, such as military bases. Schools are nervous about these new students lowering their overall test scores. Because of No Child Left Behind legislation, these lowered scores would put the schools at jeopardy. Also, of course, race is a major factor. This wouldn't happen in this country to white school children.

Friday, September 16, 2005

My Invitation to President Bush

I just sent the following letter to President Bush. Do I expect a reply? Well, I once wrote the Queen of England when I was living in a tent in the Wadi Fidan Jordan, and I got a response from her, so I do have a bit of hope. Besides, I only have a hand held tree saw, and I know that the president owns at least one chain saw.

Dear President Bush,
By way of introduction, my name is Dr. Michael Homan, I’m the father of two lovely children, married for 14 years to a wonderful woman, and I’m an assistant professor of Theology at Xavier University of Louisiana in the great city of New Orleans. I’m also a registered Democrat, but I wanted to say that I thought your speech last night in Jackson Square was quite powerful, and I was so relieved to hear that you were committed to rebuilding my city. However, I’m terrified about the future. I fear that our enrollment at Xavier will be reduced so drastically that I’ll lose my job. My wife, who teaches in the New Orleans public school system, lost her job the day of the hurricane. We’re currently living with family in Omaha Nebraska. But I will be returning to New Orleans soon, and will arrive at my house at 215 South Alexander Street on Friday, September 23rd. I plan on cleaning up my neighborhood for a few weeks, adopting a dog, and volunteering in the city. I wanted to invite you to join me. People have at times ridiculed you for clearing brush at your ranch in Crawfordsville. But I invite you to spend the day with me clearing brush in my neighborhood, Mid-City, New Orleans. We could certainly use your help. Please feel free to contact me at or to just drop by.
Michael Homan

Why I'm Going Back

Next Wednesday, September 21st, I'm going to drive back down to New Orleans. If anyone would like a ride email me. The water is still in our neighborhood, especially around Banks Street and Jesuit, but I've been told our street and house are no longer flooded.

I am going absolutely crazy here in Omaha, and am so tired of talking about the hurricane and politics. I would honestly rather shovel toxic sludge out of our house. I'm also worried about my daughter's sugar glider, Oot, who is locked up in her room. I want to hand out water and see if I can't help out in our neighborhood. I'm also planning on adopting a dog. Therese has requested that it be a small one.

I'm also suffering from a roller coaster of emotions ranging from anger to anxiety to depression. I am very afraid that students won't go back to Xavier, and that with a reduced enrollment they will fire pre-tenured faculty such as myself. I am considering applying for other jobs. The University of Nebraska at Omaha, my alma mater, has graciously offered me the chance to teach four courses in the Spring, and I have to decide fairly soon about that. I know that Xavier is for the moment planning on opening in January, but that sounds pretty optimistic. I know that Therese does not want to pull the kids out of school until the academic year is over. I am an anal retentive person who needs his future mapped out, and now the future of my family seems so damn chaotic.

And, my colleague Mark Gstohl is in New Orleans now. He told me this evening of horror stories still with FEMA and the Red Cross. He said there were hundreds of people standing outside all day, and some had returned there three days, trying to get registered with FEMA. They had three employees registering people. He gave the people in line bottled water, which was great of him. And at the Red Cross he said they were turning people away telling them to call a 1-800 number, the same one that he had unsuccessfully tried for five days straight. He said a Vietnamese family of 10 were having a hard time understanding what they were supposed to do with this number. Mark said he gave them all the money in his wallet and said a prayer for them. I think they should head back to Vietnam where they'll get more care from their government. Anyway, I know that is hyperbole, but Mark was very upset when I spoke with him, and I promised I'd relay his story. Mark also said that he is sick of people saying "we're OK because at least we have our lives." Mark says that is not OK, because life sure sucks right now, and I have to agree with him.

Why I Stayed

Columnist Rainbow Rowell published a story about my escape from New Orleans that appeared on September 7th in the Omaha World Herald (To read it you need to register, sorry about that). Three days later a reader commented in the Public Pulse section that my decision to stay in New Orleans for the hurricane was "foolish" and "reckless." I responded with the following letter, of which an edited version appeared yesterday:

First, as part of the Gulf Coast diaspora due to Hurricane Katrina, my family and I would like to thank the hundreds of friends, family, and good Samaritans in Omaha who have so graciously and generously helped us to cope with our relocation. Our children are in Sunset Hills Elementary, a great school, and incidentally the same school I attended when I grew up in Omaha. People have donated clothes and other supplies, and we have seen first hand how truly blessed this community is.

Second, Tim Wade wrote in the Sept. 10th Public Pulse that my "decision to stay behind couldn't have been more reckless." While my wife and two kids evacuated New Orleans before the hurricane, I chose to stay behind with my two dogs and other pets in our house to ride out the storm. I am sure people in the Midwest have a hard time understanding why everyone didn't evacuate. Unlike hundreds of thousands of people in the New Orleans area, poverty was not a factor in my decision. However, there were no places to evacuate to that took animals, and I was not willing to leave them. I was certain that my house would be OK from the hurricane winds, as it did well against Betsy and other storms over the past 100 years. Also, our house is surrounded by some very secure buildings, and our entire neighborhood fared quite well from the winds, though our house does now lean due to the storm. I also extensively prepared with several months worth of food, water, and even dog food. If I were in New Orleans in my home I would still be fine today, and I have heard that the water has been pumped out of my neighborhood. I also felt that by staying in New Orleans I could help save lives and even volunteer my services at various places in need. It is so incredibly difficult to watch this tragedy unfold a thousand miles away. At least when I was there helping to distribute food and checking on people's welfare I could sleep well at night knowing that I was directly contributing to the relief effort. Finally, by staying I was able to bear witness to both the incredible highs and lows of the human condition. I am a university professor who specializes in Hebrew Bible, and because I stayed I will not only be a better teacher, but also a better father, husband, and citizen.

New Orleans Through a Poet's Mind

I'm not a fan of Bush 43, but I thought that his speech last night in Jackson Square was the best of his administration. But way better than this speech are the amazing words of author Andrei Codrescu. He describes what the air feels like at 3 a.m. on a Thursday night in late August in New Orleans and earlier he pondered the colorful history of New Orleans.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Rebuilding Our Lives One Phone Call At A Time

The people in Omaha, our friends, family, and even strangers, have been very generous and helpful as we get situated. Kalypso and Gilgamesh are attending school, Sunset Hills Elementary. It's the same school that I attended 30 years ago, which is pretty weird. I've sort of come full circle for the time being. I've spent the past week calling hundreds of people. Most of these are companies that we don't want to pay money to while our house is under water. Money is pretty tight, as you might imagine, with Therese losing her job the second New Orleans flooded. She was a school teacher in the public schools, and they haven't even paid her the money she was due for working for the first two weeks of school. So we want to make sure that we aren't being charged for the newspaper in New Orleans. Anyway, that is one of a hundred little things that have taken so much time. The kids seem pretty well situated in their new school. It is hard to say how much of a negative impact this will have on them. And we've got to quit moving my daughter around and give her some stability. This is the fifth school she has attended in five years (2 in Jerusalem, 2 in New Orleans, and now 1 in Omaha). She wrote about her feelings regarding the hurricane on her blog.

Therese is taking two classes at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. These two classes will fulfill her requirements for a Masters in Education as a Reading Specialist. However, unlike most universities in the country, UNO isn't giving us free tuition. All they're willing to do is to give us in state residency, so the classes are costing something like $1200, compared to them being virtually free in New Orleans. Mr President, I know you read this blog, so please send us some of your Leave No Child Behind money, ooh, wait, I forgot the states paid for that. Anyway, enough complaining about money. It will be great to have Therese finish her Masters, and I feel this is a great use of our time in the diaspora.

I need to get some time to work. I hope that by next Monday I can start having my days free so I can write. I've got several projects to finish, especially the ATLAS for Eerdmans and a paper about women, beer, and domestic space in the Iron Age. The material I need to work on these projects is in New Orleans. My friend and colleague Mark Gstohl, who is spending his diaspora in some small town in Tennessee, said he was going to try to get to the university today and he could mail my stuff to me. His house, in the West Bank of New Orleans, is totally dry and he even has electricity, the bastard. Also, some people at the University of Nebraska at Omaha have offered me some classes to teach in the Spring Semester if I'm interested. Xavier right now is trying to find a way to open in January. I personally think that is optimistic, but I am praying that they'll make this happen. The problem is I don't think that any public schools for kids will be open, and how could parents that are faculty, especially single parents, be asked to make that trip with no place for their kids to learn.

We are going to rent a house, our insurance will pay the rent I'm told. It is very close to our kids' school. They have never lived in a place that snowed. Neither I nor Therese are looking forward to winter, though our kids say they are.

Finally, if you are a student of mine, like Roy, Whitney, or anyone, please get in touch with me soon. I would also love to hear from anyone. All of the comments on my earlier blog, and emails and phone calls that it spawned, have been great.

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Monday, September 05, 2005

For Those Feeling Generous

If you were thinking about making a financial contribution to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, I would recommend that you consider organizations such as the following instead of some of the more typical mammoth relief organizations. I chose these because I believe they represent all of the things I love about New Orleans: music, food, heritage, fun, and lagniappe (a common word in New Orleans meaning “a little something extra”). I am confident that the Big Easy will once again Laissez Les Bons Temps Roulez.

Xavier University

New Orleans' Musicians Clinic

WWOZ Radio Station

Save Our Cemeteries Note: this sight is also not currently operating due to the flooding.

One of the Millions of Hurricane Katrina Stories

I survived Hurricane Katrina, but it transformed me. I am a different person. I feel more loved than I did a week ago, and I very much appreciate all of the friends and family and even strangers who both helped me directly and who contacted me to say they were concerned and thinking about me and my family. The world clearly has plenty of empathy and compassion left. I saw people slide down ropes out of helicopters to rescue people from rooftops. I saw my neighbors break into grocery stores, fill up their boats with supplies, and row through neighborhoods distributing food and water to those in need. And as I drove 1000 miles north to escape the carnage, I saw convoy after convoy of people and supplies heading south to help. They are their brother's keeper, and I am so thankful for their support. Maybe there is hope for the world after all.

Much of the heroism affected me directly. Strangers actually risked their lives to save mine, and friends and family did so much to help. Two gentlemen from the Westbank in an airboat transported me and my dogs from the flood waters to dry ground. Firefighters from Phoenix helped a large group of us begin the process of leaving the city. Therese's friends the LaCinas and Kents in Purvis Mississippi hosted her and my children for several days as they rode out the storm. My father-in-law John flew to Jackson Mississippi to help Therese and the kids make it Omaha, Nebraska, where they'll be living and attending school until at least January most likely. My mom went on local and national TV asking for help. Hundreds of friends, even people I haven't spoken to in 25 years, have contacted me to voice their support. Thank you so much, you've touched my heart.

But I also learned that catastrophes such as this bring out not only the very best in people, but also the worst. I have witnessed and experienced some pretty awful things over the past week. I saw dozens of dead bodies floating in toxic waters. I heard about invalid elderly humans dying in attics and hospitals believing that the world did not care as they gradually ran out of medication and oxygen while the politicians gave press conferences about how well Democrats and Republicans were cooperating. I saw sick babies and paraplegics living for five days outside in 100 degree weather, while gangs of armed youths roamed, raped, and terrorized in filthy refugee camps of 20,000 of society's most afflicted and abandoned. These poor people were placed in massive outdoor "security" pens for as many as 6 days, and many of them died. This incredibly large group of people desperately needed food, water and transportation out of New Orleans. The immediate federal response for relief was so incredibly inept it left many of us to wonder if the lack of support was deliberate. This gross inaction while so many people suffered and died occurred in the world's richest country, and it makes me so angry with the government. I heard that Bob Hastert, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, said two days after this tragedy that it made no sense to rebuild New Orleans. He said this while families grieved over death and misery and desperately searched for missing loved ones. I saw drug addicts take over parts of the city and terrorize, and heard that they shot nurses in the back of the head to steal pharmaceuticals to ease their drug withdrawals. And despite what you might read in the news, this wasn't a case of everyone working together to save lives. Officials from neighboring more affluent parishes (counties) than Orleans said that citizens of New Orleans were not welcome in their parishes because they only had enough supplies for their own.

There were certainly elements in this drama of upper classes abandoning those less fortunate. But the disparity in fortune wasn't only about social and financial differentiations. Racism played a large role in this tragedy, I am sickened to say. Sure there were looters and murders and lawlessness, but there is after every hurricane. Heck, the same stuff happens after cities win the Super Bowl. But in New Orleans' case, these recurring images of young men with guns showed black men. Certain relief organizations refused to go in to the New Orleans area until several days after the hurricane, because they said it was "too dangerous," and this heartless refusal to act was devastating to thousands of innocent people. It even cost hundreds of lives. As I lay in my bed surrounded by my flooded city I heard on the radio caller after caller cry out for help and ask why they and their loved ones were not being rescued. People lay in hospitals and nursing homes and starved to death. It occurred to me that it was more complicated than concluding that suddenly the American government was forgetting these impoverished people, these descendants of the slaves who built New Orleans and this country. Instead, I realized that these poor people hadd been forgotten for hundreds of years.

I cried when I heard my mayor Ray Nagin's interview with Garland Robinette on Thursday, September 1. You can read the transcript here and from that sight there is a link so that you can hear it. The part that brought on the tears was about how so many people were dying due to the government's initial lethargy and apathy and how the great city of New Orleans would never be the same again. And much of this could have been prevented in my opinion. Of course we can't prevent hurricanes, but most of the death and destruction came from the subsequent flood after the 17th street levee was breached. The federal government had been warned repeatedly for 20 years that that specific levee was in dire need of attention, yet nobody listened. I believe these politicians were criminally negligent and are partly to blame for much of this. And perhaps now the country will start taking seriously the problems caused by coastal erosion. I hope.

If I hear one more person say "IF they decide to rebuild New Orleans..." I will explode. New Orleans was a great city long before there was even an idea about forming the United States. I know of course that they will rebuild the city. It will never be the same. It will take a great amount of time, money, effort, and patience. For the short future the world is focused on the city, but what about in a year when New Orleans will need so much and attention? Not too many will care then. I thought a great deal over the past week about leaving New Orleans permanently. I'm nearly 40, ripe for a midlife crisis, and this would a great time to move to another place and start over. Life can be very easy outside of the Big Easy. There are few places in this country with as much poverty, poor education, and overall problems. Also, I'm sure that many businesses and people with resources, education, and financial independence will never return, while the impoverished will, as they have no choice. But I think that for me and my family, returning to the devastation of New Orleans offers us a chance to really make a difference in the world. We could help to rebuild the great city that has become our home, and at least make our modest contribution to this Herculean task.

Certainly my relationship with my dogs Kochise and Mosey is stronger. For those who don’t know, I stayed behind with them to ride out the hurricane. It was an amazing experience, and the house outside survived with little damage. However the wind made the house racked, meaning the upper floor was blown so hard that the walls of the bottom floor now lean considerably. But slowly over the next 36 hours the water rose, until by Tuesday evening there was 8 feet of water in our streets, and four feet on our bottom floor. Me and the dogs lived upstairs, and watched from our balcony as people canoed by. I even got my acoustic guitar and played "dueling banjoes" as they passed to evoke images from the film Deliverance. I didn't have direct contact with Therese, though I was able to use my cell phone once in a while to tell family in Omaha I was OK. I kept thinking the water would recede and I could start cleaning out the house, but it never happened. On Wednesday I swam to Xavier University, and I was happy to see that the university as a whole didn't appear to have too much damage, though it was badly flooded. I heard the students were finally evacuated with the help of Jesse Jackson, though I've heard rumors that one student passed away. I don't know the details yet, and I'm so sorry to hear about that tragedy. I don't know how the parents of that student will make it through this trial. I swam to my office and found that it was intact. So I swam home and was going to wait for the waters to recede, and then I would spend half my time working in my office and half my time cleaning the house. I had plenty of supplies, and was planning on experimenting with a diet of only home brewed beer.

But then in the end I left. I learned that my father-in-law was flying to Jackson Saturday, and Friday those guys in the airboat showed up. I was very worried because I had heard that they were not letting people evacuate with their animals. But these guys said that had changed, and so I put my computer and a few papers in my backpack, loaded the dogs, let the birds go, and put Oot the sugar glider with food and water in Kalypso's room to await my return, much like Napoleon leaving for Elba I suppose. We drove in the boat all over the city looking for people. It was so surreal with the helicopters and all the boats up and down Canal Street amidst all the devastation. Towards dusk on Friday I arrived at I-10 and Banks Street, not far from my house. There they packed all of us pet owners from Mid City into a cargo truck and drove us away. They promised they would take us to Baton Rouge, and from there it would be relatively easy for me to get a cab or bus and meet the family in Jackson.

But then everything went to hell. They instead locked up the truck and drove us to the refugee camp on I-10 and Causeway and dropped us off. Many refused to get out of the van but they were forced. The van drove away as quickly as it could, as the drivers appeared to be terrified, and we were suddenly in the middle of 20,000 people. I would estimate that 98% of them were African Americans and the most impoverished people in the state. It was like something out of a Kafka novel. Nobody knew how to get out. People said they had been there 5 days, and that on that day only 3 buses had shown up. I saw murdered bodies, and elderly people who had died because they had been left in the sun with no water for such a long time. I’ve traveled quite a bit, and I have never seen the despair and tragedy that I saw at this refugee camp. It was the saddest thing I have ever seen in my life. I am still so upset that there were not hundreds of buses immediately sent to get these people to shelters.

There was a group of officials going around and taking people’s animals away. It was then that I decided to try to escape. I knew there were armed looters outside the camp, but there were inside as well, and I had Mosey, who is a pretty big dog and can be scary when she is barking. I could not have ever told my children that I gave up the dogs to save myself. Officials were not letting anyone past the city of LaPlace to pick up relatives, so I decided to try to sneak out of the camp and walk the 30 miles to LaPlace. On the refugee camp’s perimeter there was a girl named Robin from my neighborhood who wanted to save her cat, and a guy we just met named Carlos who was trying to get to LaPlace, so we teamed up. It was an odd group. Me with two dogs, Carlos who is an African American guy who works in the oil business, and Robin, a skinny white girl who paints movie designs or something like that. So we slipped out at 3 AM and walked along the side of I-10 to Clearview, and then walked through the dark and destroyed neighborhoods until I was on Airline Highway. Amazingly the police never stopped us, I think because we were such a bizarre grouping, and we weren’t shot by the looters or vigilante groups trying to stop them. Fortunately on Airline we found a shopping cart to put the cat inside. We then walked almost to the airport by 9 AM Saturday. But by then I was about ready to give up. My feet were bloody and the dogs were totally exhausted.

Robin had a cell phone, but the batteries were dead. We found a neighborhood that still had power, and then noticed a gas station that had a broken window. Robin climbed inside and charged her cell phone enough to make a call. We knew then that her uncle would be in LaPlace, but concluded he would not be able to make it past the checkpoint. Suddenly miraculous things changed my fortune. Her uncle was retired from the Mississippi government and he had several ID tags, and he was able to finagle his way through checkpoint after checkpoint, and he picked us up, and drove us past LaPlace all the way to Jackson airport, as he lived just a few miles from there. When I got out of the van, there was Therese, her dad, and my children. Then, after an 18 hour drive, we're all safe in Omaha.

I think in approximately two weeks I'll return to New Orleans with my father-in-law, as he is an insurance adjustor and will be sent to the area to work on claims. A few days later Therese will fly down and we'll sort out all of our stuff. We lost a lot of things to the flood, but I don't feel too bad about it. We had too much stuff anyway. Kalypso and Gilgamesh will start in a new school tomorrow, and it was the same school that I attended, which makes me happy in some sense. So like Moses we are strangers, though we are by no means in a strange land.

For now, if you would like to contact us, my email address is, and Therese is We don't have connections to the internet all of the time, but we'll do our best to get back to you. Our daughter Kalypso is especially curious about what happened to her friends.

Finally, thanks again to all those who were thinking about us and keeping us in their prayers.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Escape from the Former Big Easy

Hello, I'm OK. Therese, Kalypso, Gilgamesh, me and the dogs are all in Omaha. Give me 24 hours and I promise to post an abbreviated version of my story. I'm touched by all the comments on the previous post. Thanks--Michael