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NOLA update — bugs, rot and limbo


[Ed. note: My New Orleans friends Chuck and Iris, whose evacuation saga I’ve told you about before, have been living in the Bronx for almost two weeks now where Iris was offered lab space and housing by Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Yesterday C&I put this report on their website about themselves — and about conditions back in their poor clobbered city. I’m posting the whole thing here.]

From Iris Lindberg, Chuck Patch and Lianna Patch

Dear Folks,

We are now closing in on the end of week 6, our second in New York, although it seems as if we have been here much longer than that. The stay has been punctuated by two trips back to New Orleans; one by Chuck and another by Iris, with a visit from Alex in between. Another trip to NOLA is coming up next week. Thank God for JetBlue’s cheap fares!

There is unquestionably a fatigue setting in with us, almost made worse by our approaching return to our home, where difficulties abound. Here in our little apartment in the Bronx, where our lives are pretty much on hold, we decorate with drapes from the dollar store and struggle to adapt to the civilized, but unfamiliar “normality” of New York. Then there is the sudden jarring change to New Orleans, where nothing is normal at all. From the first step out of the airplane into an airport that is all but shutdown, to a ride into the city where most businesses are closed and hand-written signs offering work alternate with piles of wet and molding debris stacked 5 feet high, everything feels wrong. People were slowly beginning to return to the neighborhood earlier this week.


There was still no electricity, gas, phone or potable water at our home, but here and there people were moving in to camp. Getting everything fixed begins with tearing out everything that has molded, which must be done before an electrician will enter your home to replace all the wiring that got wet and certify that the power can be reconnected. And this must be done before gas lines to water heaters can be replaced and air conditioners repaired. And all of this is essential before the minor things like replacing broken panes of glass and clearing the mountains of tree branches and dead plants, killed by the brackish flood waters, or the new washers, dryers and refrigerators can be purchased. It will all take huge amounts of energy to accomplish and we have it very easy compared to many people we know who have lost all of their possessions. Cell phones still hardly work. You have to drive out of the city to get gasoline. Almost none of the traffic lights or street lights work. (image above is from Chuck’s flickr site. it shows bugs in the kitchen which was spared flooding but not six-legged invaders.)


The Historic New Orleans Collection held its first staff meeting this week, but Chuck missed it, even though he was in town. Instead, he was rigging a small two machine network so that the Collection’s finance officer could get to her accounting data and pay bills. The rest of the time he was in town, he was dealing with contractors, plumbers and electrician and hauling rotting rugs, furniture and books to the curbside from our dark and stinking basement. He will do what work he can for the Collection, but until we have a place to live in New Orleans of our own, we are reluctant to return permanently. (image is of the water line mark — half way up the Matisse poster — in the basement)

In fact, for Iris, the situation is almost reversed. Her building in New Orleans will apparently not be open until the end of December, in which case she will continue working in New York so that she can maintain some sort of momentum. She is hoping her technician joins her to start to rebuild their protein collection and that some Katrina aid will actually emerge to help with the dual housing bills of both of them.

Another growing source of consternation is the realization that we will have to live apart for a while until LSUHSC is back in town. We are determined, though, to celebrate Thanksgiving in our own- repaired- home. Will Molly the cat return to NO too? She hates the Bronx, but Iris loves her company. In the meantime, we are looking forward to a possible visit from the elusive Lianna next week. Stay tuned.

As usual, you can see more images (just snapshots) at Chuck’s Flickr site.