5130 Cameron Boulevard in New Orleans, the 1000th home gutted by volunteers working for Catholic Charities. Photo by Steve Majors.
It's just another sad house on a street of sad houses in a sad post-Katrina neighborhood. But this house was supposed to be remarkable. After all, it was the 1000th flood-damaged home to be gutted by volunteers from a local agency. I'd been to many "milestones" like this before -- all indeed important, but also manufactured by well-meaning groups who wanted the news media to notice their efforts.
After almost six months in New Orleans, I understand the danger of Katrina fatigue. I mean, I've stood in so many mud-caked homes, partially gutted buildings, cramped FEMA trailers and newly-framed homes, that I can't count them all. So you can see why this one seemed like all the rest.
A long time ago -- it feels sometimes like years ago -- at the end of an hour-long special edition of Nightly News, soaked to the skin in the Louisiana heat and at the end of a long, awful week: I asked correspondents Carl Quintanilla and Martin Savidge to join me on the air live for a three-way question-and-answer session. I asked them what they'd seen and what had struck them most. Their answers were dramatic, honest and emotional. Tonight -- these many weeks after Katrina -- we will repeat that scene, and even perhaps the questions, with these two men who have been chronicling their week-long trip in this space and on Nightly News in vivid fashion. A tip of the hat from all of us here to both of them... both great guys and terrific journalists. Those of us who have done what they're doing now: traveling, writing on the road for deadline, filing for Today, MSNBC, Nightly News, pulling up stakes, relocating for the next day, dinner, then hopefully some sleep -- have endless respect for the job they've done these past five days. Martin has done some of the best work of his long and eventful career on Katrina and its aftermath... and that includes many of the overseas hot spots he's reported from. Carl took this story and got up to his neck in it, and in the process showed us he is so at home in the field, in a T-shirt and with the people -- neighbors, shrimpers, store owners, cops -- who make this nation go every day.
Editor's note: Doug promises to e-mail the photo as soon as he can.
After two months of covering Katrina’s arrival and horrible aftermath, I’ve discovered that it’s the little things that unexpectedly touch me the most. This week, while videotaping a story in the hard hit area of Long Beach, Miss., I stumbled across one of those small keepsakes that left a lasting impression.
We had stopped at the Friendship Oak, a 500-year-old tree that survived the storm, when we made the discovery. It’s a slightly faded photograph of a young woman in a graduation gown, smiling from ear to ear, surrounded by what appears to be her parents beaming with pride. Judging from the clothing, it looks as though the picture was probably taken in the early 1970s... and judging from her enthusiastic smile it’s clear she was excited about what the future held for her. I found it nestled in a bush, just a few hundred feet from the Gulf of Mexico.
I'm not sure how to even title this one, but something remarkable just happened.
We're in the middle of nowhere and yet it's really the city of New Orleans. East New Orleans is now simply a wasteland. Anyone who thinks New Orleans was only a disaster due to the levy failure should come here. The storm surge purged this land.
We were looking for a church, St. Nicholas of Myra. We found it down a long closed road. It is where Father Red served his flock of fisherman. The church is where he rode out the storm. It's also where he died.
Here in Port Sulphur, down Highway 23 into Plaquemines Parish, once again, I see no habitable houses, just like in Cameron Parish, far to the west. We drove upon a Marine Corps flag hanging from a tree and found a former Marine trying to clear a spot to rebuild. Several buddies from his old Vietnam unit traveled from Florida to help him. They have quite a job. Katrina pushed half a dozen houses into his backyard. We'll show you the amazing pictures tonight in Carl's spot on Nightly News.
When Team Martin rolled into Lakeshore, Miss. on Thursday, we were not sure of what we would report on. It took about two minutes to figure that out, thanks to a woman named Sandy Molenhouse. She introduced us to local resident James Bobbit who you met in Martin's piece Thursday on Nightly News.
Molenhouse works for a faith-based aid organization called International Aid. They provide medical equipment all over the globe, but aren't used to working in their own backyard. However, they said they couldn't just sit around and wait for the call. International Aid had trucks down in Hancock Co., Miss. the day after the storm and has been working nonstop ever since. They have provided $18 million in donations to this area in the form of dry goods, medical supplies and hygiene kits.
Photo by Marisa Buchanan
We have come to the end of the road and not just for this trip. We are staring at a road closed sign across a little canal. We are at the farthest point in Orleans Parish, or at least we would be if we could figure out how to get across the bridge. Technically, we are within the city limits, but the French Quarter is 30 miles away. You could argue too much has been made of New Orleans but East New Orleans is virtually unknown, which is why we have come. In this mixture out here of bayous and subdivisions, many bridges are broken or unsafe and alternate routes are clogged with traffic and trucks.
By the way, we got separated from the crew and our crack research staff is telling us the are no roads on Mapquest to lead us where we want to go. So... all in all, a great start to the day...
P.S. We really do have great researchers. A big thanks to Aswini Anburajan and Brittany Harris for their wonderful assistance this week.
We're in Plaquemines Parish, being eaten alive. Teeny, tiny gnats are everywhere. Not the kind that just cluster in the air like they're having their own private party, but mean, aggressive gnats that huddle around your face, try to get up your nose -- and bite.
The smell of trash is enough to choke on. But its hard to tell where the trash ends and the homes begin.
Right now, I'm standing by what once was a Blue Bell ice cream freezer. The flies inside are feasting on Rainbow Sherbet. I know this site was a gasoline station once. But there's absolutely no clue as to whether it was Exxon or any other brand.
The only sounds are: crows crying from the trees and the FEMA convoys heading further south (we're told they're cleaning up debris). Spray painting has become a key form of communication: on homes and cars. Some say: DO NOT BULLDOZE. Others simply say: JUNK IT.
This is the worst damage I've seen.
After five days, two states and 640 miles, there's been some time to kill on the road. Here are my top 10 "After the Storm" road trip CDs:
Stevie Wonder, "Innervisions"
Bill Withers, "Best Of"
Journey, "Greatest Hits"
Ella Fitzgerald, "The George Gershwin Songbook"
Stan Getz, "Anniversary"
Slightly Stoopid, "Everything You Need"
The Sundays, "Blind"
Mel Torme, "Live in Tokyo"
Lenny Kravitz, "5"
"Rent," Original Soundtrack
The Pass Christian Police Department shared this video, shot by the officers who rode out Katrina's rising waters in the town library. Click here to watch the video (it's about 3:30 long and yes, you'll have to endure a :15 or :30 ad), or click here to read Martin's full post on the story, where you'll also find the video at the end.