Here's another short report from our team in the Gulf Coast this past week (subscribe to our Facing South newsletter using the form to the right to get these dispatches sent straight to your inbox!). I fear that the scene Peter Eicheberger describes on the streets of Algiers and the Seventh Ward foreshadows a larger battle looming in New Orleans:
"It's Going to Get a Lot Tenser"
By Peter Eichenberger
NEW ORLEANS -- Three days into the flood zone and the stories - once one gets past the hype and rumor - are disturbingly consistent.
The nearly-universal, street-level conviction among determined survivors and the people working for a hodge-podge of progressive organizations - the only ones providing boots-on-the-ground relief - is that the failed Federal response was anything but a screw-up.
Survivor after survivor tells disturbing, and in some cases harrowing tales of intimidation, neglect and victimization by emergency and relief agencies.
For example: There are vast areas of New Orleans, Algiers in particular, that were spared flooding, suffering mostly from wind damage. Yet government officials aggressively pushed to empty out the city, even though residents insist there was no need for evacuation.
One of the hold-outs is Mama Dee, a matriarch of the Seventh Ward. Mama Dee is a community leader in a community of none. Most of the Ward inhabitants were literally scattered to the wind. Those with any means - a car, cash - fled to other cities. The dispossessed went to FEMA "villages," routinely likened to concentration camps, complete with razor ribbon fences, guards with guns, the whole bit.
"Bless those 82nd Texas boys," she said, referring to the paratrooper unit patrolling the city, "If it hadn't been for them, the New Orleans police would have killed us."
She spoke the words without drama, hugging new strangers. She's standing next to a formerly-flooded, now-dry house that serves now as a community center/kitchen, complete with tuna sandwich fixin's on a folding table.
Somewhere in the back, a generator mutters along, power supplied via a home-made wiring system - a whole room in the basement crammed with cobbled-together auto batteries. It's testimony to the endurance and inventiveness wrought by desperation, and a dogged determination to keep a faint pulse in a neighborhood that is a neighborhood only in name.
Residents fear the tension will only mount as the city is reoccupied. Folks will be allowed in; some, the lucky ones, will return to structures tagged with green spots, indicating that their houses can be repaired and re-inhabited. The less fortunate will have their houses tagged red. Those people will be cast out of their homes to an uncertain gate, the houses to be demolished.
Hallie, a young woman working the Common Grounds relief camp in Algiers point, across the river from downtown, sees trouble.
"It is tense already," she said. "When they start kicking people out of their homes, it is going get a lot tenser."
-- Peter Eichenberger writes for The Independent Weekly (N.C.)