Aug. 29, 2006
Poem: "Second Chance" by Louis McKee from Near Occasions of Sin. © Cynic Press. Reprinted with permission.
In my dream I return
to the place I went
wrong, and given this
chance to change
things, I go on
down the way I went
before. Even in sleep
I know there is only one go
and it went well
the first time. Where
it didn't- well, it will
be good to see her again.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, born in Kansas City, Kansas (1920). He helped originate the style of jazz called "bebop." Jazz players used the word "bebop" to sing a flatted fifth, but Parker didn't like to use the word for the way he played. "Let's not call it bebop," he said. "Let's just call it music."
It's the birthday of American filmmaker Preston Sturges, (books by this author) born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1898. He was the first writer to direct his own script, for the movie The Great McGinty (1940).
It was on this day in 2005 that Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast near New Orleans. The National Hurricane Center first took notice of the storm on August 23, when it appeared over the Bahamas. At that time, it had 35-mile-per-hour winds. It was named "Tropical Depression Number 12." The following day, it grew into an official tropical storm, with winds of more than 40 miles per hour, and the Hurricane Center changed its name to Katrina.
By Saturday, August 27, the storm had become the strongest hurricane ever measured in the Gulf of Mexico, with winds of up to 175 miles per hour. By Monday, the storm had become less powerful. When it hit the city on this day, it did cause severe wind damage, but the damage was much worse in parts of Mississippi. By the middle of the day on that Monday, television reporters were saying that New Orleans had dodged the bullet.
It was two reporters from the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper who got the first tip that there might be a leak in one of the levees. After the storm died down, those two reporters road bikes out to the levee of the 17th Street canal. But they never even made it to the levee. One of the main streets on their route was filled with rushing water, more than seven feet deep, and it was rolling south toward the rest of the city.
It took the Times-Picayune reporters six hours to ride their bikes back to their newsroom, and along the way they saw people beginning to take refuge on the roofs of their houses. The next day, the storm had passed, the weather was beautiful, but the water was still rising. More than 80 percent of the city was eventually flooded, about a hundred and forty square miles. The water rose higher than fourteen feet in some places.
All communication in the city began to break down. The 911 operators had evacuated, and so people calling 911 just reached an answering machine. Eventually there was no power, no phone service, no cell phones. Many of the police officers in the city abandoned their posts and just tried to save themselves. The local prison was evacuated, and several prisoners escaped. National Guard troops didn't arrive until the fourth day of the disaster.
On the second day of the disaster, the reporters at the Time-Picayune evacuated their building. Two hundred and forty employees and some family members piled into all the newspaper delivery trucks available, and they drove out of the city. When they reached dry ground, they split up. One group of volunteers took a delivery truck back to the city to continue reporting on the flood.
The Times-Picayune editor Jim Amoss wanted to publish a newspaper for the next day, despite his staff's evacuation from the city. He knew that the Times-Picayune hadn't failed to publish on a single day since the Civil War. They eventually set up a new office in Baton Rouge with help from the Louisiana State University's Manship School of Journalism. For the next few days, the newspaper was only published on the Internet, but it turned out to be an incredibly important source of information for displaced families.
Reporters on the staff continued working and writing even though many of them didn't know what had happened to their homes or even their families. By September 1, the newspaper had begun printing the paper again, and they delivered it free to shelters and hotels around the city. On Friday, September 2, reporters brought copies of the newspaper to the Convention Center, where many people had been living for days. Witnesses said that the people at the Convention Center wept at the sight of their hometown newspaper. The Times-Picayune eventually won two Pulitzer Prizes for its Hurricane Katrina coverage, including a gold medal for meritorious public service.
Dozens of books have already been written about the disaster, including The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast by Douglas Brinkley, Breach of Faith by Jed Horn, and Come Hell or High Water by Michael Eric Dyson. But one of the most personal books to come out of the disaster is the collection of columns by the Times-Picayune writer Chris Rose called One Dead in Attic.
Two weeks after the storm, Chris Rose wrote, "I was driving down [the street] and out of nowhere, in total desolation, there was a working stoplight. I would have been less surprised to find a Blockbuster Video on Mars. And the funny thing is, I stopped. I waited for it to turn green, and then I drove slowly on my way. ... Today in New Orleans, a traffic light worked. ... It's a start."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®