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Post from Chuck Patch

[Ed. note: My friends Chuck Patch and Iris Lindberg and their daughter Lianna made it to Philadelphia Friday night. They’ll be here with us for a while. I know people have been concerned so I’m going to share their story with you. Here’s what Chuck wrote on his family’s website. Click here to see a satellite photo of their house (we hope, OK, and car, we suppose not ok) in the flooded city. And for Chuck’s photo diary of the evacuation trip out of New Orleans go to his flickr page.]

September 4, 2005
Dear Folks,

First: we are all safe

We left New Orleans Sunday afternoon at 12:30 after preparing the house for the hurricane and packing supplies for about 3 days. We assumed that we would be sleeping in the car, since it was well known by that time that every hotel room within a 300 mile radius of the city was booked. We took an ice chest with drinks, cans of tuna, bread and cheese. We took the family video tapes, the laptop computers, books to read, some DVD’s to watch on the laptop, the cat and her paraphernalia, a small television. We did not take the family photo albums, the artwork from Iris’s grandfather, Chuck’s negatives and other family heirlooms. We fully expected to return in a couple of days when the storm had passed and the likely residual flooding had gone down. We’re old hands at dealing with floods. It took over 8 hours to make the 80 mile trip to Baton Rouge. We got off the highway when we saw a Hampton Inn, figuring we could sleep in the parking lot and freeload on their Internet connection from the lobby, but a guy named Rick started chatting with us in the parking lot after expressing his concern that we had parked beneath a Bradford Pear, which would probably fall on the car. He went into the hotel and persuaded the manager that “friends of his” were stuck on the highway 2 exits down and wondered if they could sleep in the lobby? The hotel found us a room and Rick became our new best friend.
(Image is photo Chuck took about two weeks before the hurricane of the Twin Spans — one of the two roads into and out of New Orleans that was wiped out by the storm. See bigger.)

The storm hit Sunday night late and by the morning the hotel had lost power. They managed to restore it by late in the day, but phone, cable television and Internet access never came back. As Tuesday and Wednesday progressed, Baton Rouge became more and more crowded. The roads were choked with cars; lines at restaurants were long and the Starbucks, which had working Internet and were offering it free, were jammed with laptop bearing evacuees, FEMA guys and reporters.

Meanwhile, we had to do something about school for Lianna, since it was clear by this time that New Orleans wasn’t going to have any functioning schools for months. We called George School, where Lianna had been accepted earlier in the year and asked if they would take her now. They said yes, though in our currently changed circumstances it is unclear how we will afford it unless the school comes through. That isn’t known yet.

Thursday and Friday we made the 1500 mile drive to Philadelphia, taking the long way out of Baton Rouge to avoid I-12 and I-55 where traffic was extremely heavy and gas extremely rare. We got in at midnight Friday and are now staying with our good friends Robbie Fallon and Steve Kimbrough. Chuck had been there just two weeks earlier when he and Alex drove to Ithaca, New York, where Alex was starting school at Ithaca College. (image is stream of utility trucks from many states flowing into the south to help. see bigger.)

We are not sure where we will go next, but have received offers for lodging from everyone we have ever known. THANK YOU ALL!! Our biggest concern of course, is to rescue the items we left behind and hope that our house is not lost to fire. A satelite image from Tuesday that Alex located shows the house surrounded by water, but apparently intact. It looks like the Oak trees stayed up and protected the building. Where we go from here is uncertain. We’re hoping that the city allows people in to gather belongings sometime in the next week or two, but who knows? Chuck will be called back to work sometime soon to help move the museum collections to a safer place. Iris is trying to find any way she can to return and rescue what remains of her lab. She has lost decades worth of irreplacable tissue samples that were kept in freezers, but some of the cell lines she had in liguid nitrogen may still be alive and could be taken to Baton Rouge for safe keeping.

We feel simultaneously very lucky and very shocked and very sad. This had been especially difficult for Lianna whose room was a work of art and whose friends are now spread out all over the country. It is heart-rending to see what has become of the city and wonder where is our government? What took them so long? Where are they now? Will the part of the city that didn’t flood fall victim to uncontrolled fires?

Iris, Chuck, Alex and Lianna