Sunday, August 31, 2008

City Assisted Evacuation from Hurricane Gustav

Written from City Hall

Dear Family and Friends,

By now you've heard.

What you may not have read however, amidst the impending danger, was New Orleans' ability to evacuate 18,000 people without alternative transportation. Homeless, elderly, special needs, you name it, they came through the assisted evacuation program.

There were guys like Jerry, 51 from the Carrollton neighborhood. There were thousands of people like Jerry actually, all scared about what lies ahead yet sensible enough to leave. The process is called the CAEP and the city, state and federal government have been planning it for three years.

We hoped it would never be needed.

Over the last 41 hours I spent 20 of them at the Union Passenger Terminal.

You might be wondering why I was there? Backstory, 25 words or less. Been here 18 months. In AmeriCorps. Coordinate volunteers for Mayor's Office. Needed volunteers for this plan.

---- Original Message -----
From: Robert X. Fogarty
To: xxxxxxxxxx
Sent: Sun Aug 31 15:11:05 2008
Subject: Volunteers at UPT

Over the last two days concerned and invested New Orleanian Citizens and AmeriCorps members displayed incredible passion, knowledge and unlimited willingness to do whatever incident commanders at the UPT needed to successfully run the CAEP.

Working a minimum of 12 hours with shifts often more, loaded buses with a highly effective counting system taught to the by the La Natl Guard. By O70
0 Sunday AmeriCorps members from around the country who have moved to New Orleans after the storm were running the bus loading process along side state employees.

AmeriCorps members also embedded with Red Cross personnel to distrbute thousands of bottles of ice cold water.

Concerned citizen and AmeriCorps volunteers also were the first to greet evacuees and afix tracking bracelets to their wrists. When special needs citizens needed help getting off buses AmeriCorps members were their to provide wheelchairs.

A special team of bilingual volunteers who were on site to translate and calm anxiety of non-english speaking latinos.

Bilingual translators were community leaders who were calling with bus updates on the hour to local spanish radio stations

With a drastically reduced help from city and state organizations who had large numbers on Saturday,
citizen and AmeriCorps volunteers were vital to the CAEP on Sunday.

Incident Commander John DeMartini and Lt. Col. Jerry Sneed are cc'd'on this email.

Over the last 72 hours citizens and post-K AmeriCorps transplants now living in the City accounted for over 700 hours of service to this evacuation.

30 individual New Orleanians

25 AmeriCorps members provided by sponsoring organization Rebuilding Together a local non-profit whose mission is to restore homes or elderly and disabled citizens. Rebuilding Together executive director Kristin Palmer were on site to lead. 16 AmeriCorps National Civilian Community members
10 AmeriCorps members sponsored by the Tulane University Center for Public Service.

So there's the skinny. I'm hunkered down at City Hall with the Office of Emergency Preparedness and their command center. It's the safest place I could be.

I hope to be able to do these things at least once a day, but sleep may become a priority.

Know this about the people yo
u see in these photos. They are safe and sound outside of the City. No matter what happens, remember that.

Best to everyone,

(8/31/08 23:40)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Year Three

August 29, 2008
New Orleans, La.

Dear Family and Friends,

The calendar is still valid here. Modified, of course.

Post-K New Orleans turns three today, and the City still carries the markings of its embattled recovery. Over 100,000 people have left, one in three residential addresses is vacant or blighted and its crime rate has passed casually guarded on its way to "Wow, I really do have to think about my safety."

Government-dispensed spray paint still lingers on many homes' facades. The X's are as common as mailboxes around these parts. "They're memorials," my friend says.

But, we, as Americans, shouldn't give up on New Orleans.

You'll read a lot about the bad today. And you'll read a little about the good.

For that, a buddy of mine decided to round up the 100 best things to come out of New Orleans since Katrina to balance the good versus bad scale. Like never before, thanks to the internet, bottom-up information gets the same street credentials as the stuff delivered to your doorstep.

He calls the list the NOLA 100.

New Orleans blogosphere is filled with citizen activism. No grants, no awards. Nothing but concerned citizens in love with their City. Likewise, neighborhood groups have been and continue to be the leaders of recovery. Caring for returned neighbors and the resurgence of one's neighborhood now comes right behind family, food and church.

They're paying it forward too. A contingent of neighborhood organizers went to Cedar Rapids in the weeks after the Iowa floods to give best practices on mobilizing neighbors.

Observing neighborhood resilience is enough to for me to know New Orleans is going to be fine. People who came back right after the storm will tell you that the City has progressed in many ways.

My co-worker Loretta, she uses military-issued "filtered drinking water" on the office plants.
We still have a case of the stuff.

She spent three months on the floor of a college basketball arena in Lafayette, La.

Talk about progress.

Now that I feel like I've got one foot in here, I sometimes forget about Loretta's story. The everyman story here, actually.

I watched the Spike Lee documentary When the Levees Broke the other night. My friends and I, who've come here post-Katrina, we should be obligated to re-watch and re-read the accounts of New Orleanians who watched their City drown.

Because sometimes when we're partying till sunrise, New Orleans without the baggage feels too damn good.

My friends in DC, policy kids, capitol hill kids who get chided for their insatiable need to be inside are sending similar criticism towards New Orleans' transplants.

"You're using New Orleans," they say.

And now I wonder aloud. Is New Orleans becoming a frontier for socially-conscious opportunists? An it phrase on a resume?

I must disclose now that I didn't move to New Orleans with its professional benefits on my mind. I thought a year here would do me good. The "you're only young once" mentality.

Tulane University had more applicants for this year's incoming college class than ever. They stopped taking applications at 34,000. Shut down for an entire semester after Katrina, Tulane is now the most selective school in the country.

Seventeen-hundred new Tulanians began class on Wednesday.

People say the flood of applicants to Tulane is a direct correlation to the service trips by church groups and other organizations since the storm. Talk to any neighborhood activist and they talk about service volunteers like knights in shining armor or guardian angels.

But the need for unskilled grunt work is nearly gone now, any houses that still need gutting should be demolished. Volunteers are being used nicely to help curb neighborhood blight, however. Because, as I said earlier, one in three residential homes is vacant.

I sometimes question how people still coming to help view this place. Is it a pity trip? Is New Orleans like a kid whose black eye is seemingly still swollen?


The black has turned though. Kind of yellow and brown now. Just give it awhile.