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Saturday, October 25, 2008
Gustav, Shmustav
Blog Entry #125

I'm back at last. My longtime computational companion, my vintage slot-loading 350-MHz G3 iMac, has recently given up the ghost. I'll tell you all about my spiffy new computer later, but in this post, I wanted to say a few things about my Hurricane Gustav experience, 'for posterity' (and before I forget).

Gustav was New Orleans' first brush with hurricane danger since the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe three years ago. In the run-up to Katrina, I admit that I had no inkling at all as to what was coming down the pike until the Saturday afternoon before the storm rolled in a day and a half later. As you can imagine, I have followed hurricane stories in the news much more closely since then. Gustav made landfall on Monday, September 1, and I had begun tracking it at least as early as Wednesday, August 27. Moreover, stores in my local area were doing their part to 'wake everybody up'; for example, at Wal-Mart, where I went shopping on August 28, cases of bottled water had very conspicuously been placed all around the store. So although I elected to ride out Gustav here in New Orleans, as I did Katrina, I won't tell you that I did so 'with my eyes closed' or that I was caught off guard in any way.

You may recall (if you lived here, you would definitely recall) that at about 7:30 PM on Saturday, August 30, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin gave a somewhat hysterical press conference in which he described Gustav as the "mother of all storms" and alleged that Gustav had a "footprint" more than twice as large as that of Katrina. I caught the tail end of the conference on the radio and it understandably shook me up a bit; mindful of my Katrina experience, I thought, "If there's a water outage and if no stores are open, then I really, truly don't want to be around," and for the first time in my thirteen years in the Big Easy, I gave thought to evacuating in the face of a hurricane. But what do I do, where do I go? In a quest for evacuation information for non-motorists, I went to the New Orleans City Government's Web site, which I did not find to be particularly informative but it did at least feature a link to a .pdf file listing evacuation pick-up locations, one of which was within walking distance of my apartment, and I resolved to go over there and check it out the following day.

Setting out Sunday morning, I first walked
(a) over to the Chase ATM in the Touro Medical Complex and withdrew cash (had I not been able to do this, I might well have evacuated), and then
(b) over to the corner of St. Charles and Louisiana to see if Louisiana Discount Market (next to the old Mama's Tasty Foods, and a great place to get a hot sausage po-boy) was open - it wasn't - and finally
(c) over to the pick-up location at the Lyons Community Center near the corner of Louisiana and Tchoupitoulas.
I expected a chaotic scene with a lot of people, but only a single family was there, waiting for a shuttle bus to take it to Union Passenger Terminal, the evacuee processing center. The father of the family walked up to me and greeted me warmly, and then proceeded to pretty much talk me out of evacuating, assuring me that he had been following Gustav closely and that it had been downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane - as to where Gustav would make landfall, he averred, "It ain't gonna hit us." I hung around for a few more minutes and then, addressing the family with a wave of my hand, I said, "Good luck to everyone," and walked home. At the corner of Magazine and Foucher, next to the Harry's Ace Hardware store, a vending machine was stocked with the Sunday edition of The Times-Picayune, New Orleans' main newspaper; its front page stated that Gustav was predicted to land to the west of Houma (which itself is to the west of New Orleans) and also that there was a decent chance of New Orleans' levees holding. "That's it - I'm staying," I said to myself.

Late Sunday night I received a prerecorded phone call informing me that a mandatory evacuation had been declared for New Orleans and that I should visit for more information, but I had made up my mind to stay at that point. (If anyone in the Nagin Administration is reading this, guys, you might want to get these calls out earlier next time.)

Gustav did indeed come ashore in Terrebonne Parish the next day. As for Gustav's effect on New Orleans, it was a bit of a dud. There was some wind; it was quite tame compared to Katrina's wind, but it was still heavy enough to knock out my electricity at about 12:55 PM. As for rain, well, summer is a rainy season here; on any given summer day, it can rain, and rain hard, in New Orleans, and Gustav's rain was no heavier than what might have occurred ordinarily. Importantly, Gustav did not affect my water* or phone line. (OK, Gustav did knock out my apartment's electricity-generated hot water, but this wasn't that big of a deal because the 'cold' water in New Orleans during the summer months is at or even slightly above room temperature.)

*After Katrina, I began collecting 1-gallon polyethylene bottles for the purpose of water storage - I have about ten of them that I'm ready to fill with tap water at a moment's notice for a 'worst-case scenario'. I filled two of them for Gustav but did not need to use the water therein.

Most New Orleans residents evacuated in advance of the storm, and at least on August 31 and September 1, my part of the city almost seemed like a 'ghost town'. It took about a week for things to get back to normal; here's a neighborhood 'progress report' for the September 1-6 period:

Monday, September 1
Because my power is out and I have lots of free time on my hands, I start taking daily walks all around the area to see who's open and who's not - I particularly check the businesses on the stretch of Magazine running from Washington to Peniston and also the businesses clustered at the corner of St. Charles and Louisiana. And absolutely no one is open on Monday - not even the gas stations, which I expected to be open for first responders.

Tuesday, September 2
A first sign of life - the Slim Goodies diner on Magazine has reopened! A Sheriff Office's guard is standing outside. I ask him, "So, is it really open?" "Yeah, it's only breakfast stuff, but better than MREs," he replies. There seem to be a lot of people inside, so perhaps the area isn't such a ghost town after all.

I wasn't around at the time, but I've read that Slim Goodies was one of the very first restaurants to reopen after Katrina hit. I confess that I've never been to Slim Goodies, in part because The Hullabaloo, the student newspaper of Tulane University, once gave it a less than glowing review, but even if the service is not so great, I really should go there someday 'as a matter of principle', i.e., in tribute to Slim Goodies' efforts to spearhead the return to post-hurricane normalcy in New Orleans.

Wednesday, September 3
Shortly after waking up I turn on the radio; the commercial FM music stations have begun rebroadcasting - definitely a good sign. On the down side, there are roaches in my now-at-room-temperature refrigerator.

My daily walk reveals that electricity has been restored to parts of Magazine. At least three more businesses are open on Wednesday:
(1) the Discount Zone gas station/minimart at the corner of Magazine and Washington;
(2) the Quiznos sub shop near the corner of Magazine and Washington; and
(3) The Bulldog bar across the street from the Breaux Mart grocery.
I have lunch at Quiznos; my roast beef sub and ice-cold soda are quite satisfying after getting by on cereal and milk, dried apricots, and a peach the previous day.

I for my part endure a third night without power. It is horrifically hot and uncomfortable in my apartment but is actually (uncharacteristically for September) pleasant outside - Gustav did at least bring some cooler temperatures to New Orleans. I while away the time sitting on the curb at the corner of Coliseum and Foucher, listening to the radio.

Residents are 'officially' allowed back into Orleans Parish at midnight, not quite a day later than for the surrounding parishes; the pace of normalization will accordingly quicken the next day.

Thursday, September 4
Hallelujah! Power is restored to my apartment complex at about 8:40 AM - all hail Bobby Jindal for getting on Entergy's case in this regard (if he did indeed do that)! I am able to use my computer for a few hours before it goes belly-up on me - more on this in the next post.

The AP is running a "Gustav evacuees grow weary in crowded shelters" story that confirms my apprehensions about evacuating and makes me glad that I did not evacuate; the article's salient points about the shelters: no privacy, no showers, and "industrial lights that stay on around the clock for security reasons". I am an ultralight sleeper, and I have no doubt that I wouldn't have gotten any sleep at all in that situation. Maybe the evacuees ate better than I did, but I at least got some sleep.

Rue de la Course reopens, the first of the coffeehouses on Magazine to do so. RdlC's coffee is somewhat weak for my tastes, but I stop by for a medium coffee anyway, and even enjoy it, as I haven't had any joe for the past three days. Walgreens reopens, as does Breaux Mart, sort of - customers are allowed into the store one at a time.

Friday, September 5 and Saturday, September 6
As for Katrina, several other residents of my apartment complex rode out Gustav with me. I later learn that the people two doors down from me broke into several apartments in the complex during the week; on Friday morning, they are caught and taken away by the police.

The Subway sub shop near the corner of Magazine and Louisiana reopens on Friday; I have lunch there after some morning shopping at Breaux Mart. The Starbucks and CC's coffeehouses on Magazine reopen on Saturday. I go to Starbucks for a venti iced coffee; during my stay, one of my favorite Steely Dan songs, "Haitian Divorce", plays over the sound system. Ah, it's great to be back on track...

Now, what about my computer, huh? I'll give you the skinny in the following entry.


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