Sunday, September 18, 2005

A year of classes, months of apprenticeship, much brain squishage later, I am happy to report that I passed the danged state licensing exam.

Monday, September 05, 2005

By Friday we'd had no word from my mom and grandparents for four days. They'd been in a Slidell areas hospital unable to evacuate. My sister had been on the phone with my mom when the hurricane was hitting. My sister, evacuated to Baton Rouge, was tracking the storm on the internet via phone for my mom. My mom kept asking if they were near the eye yet, because the winds were so intense. I'm not sure if the hospital had lost power yet or not. My mom and PawPaw were unable to keep Granny dry from water coming in the broken window. I'm not sure if my sister's power or the cell connection went out first.
For the next four days everyone in the family tried every means they could think of to get communication into the black hole. Eventually we heard from my dad, he was able to evacuate my other grandmother out of the city. Media reports started stating that the hospital building where they'd been had fared better than most of the others in the area. That they had some supplies, some sporadic back up power, and the building was under guard. I combed google alerts of news, message boards of the lost and found people, text messages, cell phones, land lines, hospital email forms, phone lines went up but were busy, then were down again. Media reports on the hospital conditions started to seem worse. Phone lines seemed to get slightly more stable. The hospital set up a patient information hotline. It never had any information. I called the hospital again and again. No new information, but please keep calling.
Friday afternoon, my cell phone rang displaying my mom's cell number. I answered. The call was static-y, my mom was crying. Granny had died. She and PawPaw were able to escape the hospital. They'd try to make some preliminary arrangements for Granny. I let Mom know that we'd been in contact with my dad as recently as the night before. She told me they were in Diamondhead and planning to head to my great uncle's house in Baton Rouge. I was trying to dissuade them from going to Baton Rouge and send them in the direction of friends in areas that had been less overwhelmed by refugees or at least get my uncle's current address and phone number to her (they had an old one in the address book.) The line went dead. The call had been so short I hadn't even had time to verify what she meant by "in Diamondhead."
Were they on the road headed there? On the roads within Diamondhead? Were they at or headed to my grandparents house? The southern part of Diamondhead seemed to have been removed from the map. The portion where Granny and PawPaw lived had much more conflicting damage reports. I tried again and again to reach my mom's cell number, PawPaw's cell, his house line. Nothing. I had to start calling the family.
After crying a little and fretting over what to do next, first I called the Houston hotel where my 2 aunts and 2 uncles, cousin and her husband, and uncle's mom, and their three dogs were all staying, since it was the easiest line to reach, and since Granny's other two daughters were there. I delivered the news to my uncle. I had very few answers to most of the questions he asked, my phone call with my mom was about two minutes before we lost contact. I left him to break the news to my aunts and cousins. He also promised to try to get through to my grandmother's sister, her family, and the old family friends who also evacuated to Baton Rouge.
Then I tried calling my sister. Getting through to the 225 area code where she was staying, or 504 area code of her cell was impossible. I called my brother-in-law, since he travels frequently for work and had a cell phone with another area code exchange. Eventually I was able to get through to him. I told him the news to relay to my sister when she returned.
Then I had to try and contact my dad. Up until this point I had never been successful in reaching him by phone. He'd been able to contact me a few times for brief late night calls before the signal dropped out. After he reached me by phone the second time, he'd given me a land line to try, but it was dead the next day. Since then they'd found one cell phone among all the men living and working there which sometimes worked. It sporadically could connect late at night from the roof balcony of the rescue workers' shelter. I tried this cell number even though it was still early in the day. As I dialed I practiced what I would say so that if I could actually get through I could keep it succinct in case the connection was lost or someone else needed the phone. I finally got a live connection. Someone answered. I kept repeating who I was trying to reach through the static. The phone was handed off a few times and I could hear people in the background scuffling around and calling for my dad. After a minute a different man answered and said he'd take a mesage while they looked for my dad. I began the message. The line faded out. I called back repeatedly. I hit voicemail and was unable to leave a mesage. I was really afraid my dad would get a garbled version of the message and we'd be unable to contact him and correct it for days. I called back and got voicemail and this time it was woking properly. I tried to leave the message quickly and clearly, even though I knew they'd been unable to retrieve messages up till then. I kept trying for a live connection with no success. My line clicked, on the other line, one of the men who had answered the phone said my dad was out but to give him the message quickly and he'd relay it. He repeated it back to me. Wife safe. Father in law safe. Mother in law deceased.
Somewhere in there my mom called back. We spoke briefly, she was on the road to Baton Rouge, without an address or phone number, without knowing if my uncle had stayed in Baton Rouge or evacuated. We lost the connection again. My dad called and could only talk a minute. I confirmed the message but was really unable to answer any questions. My sister called back and cried. I gave her what I thought was the current address and phone of my great uncle, where mom and PawPaw were headed. My uncle in Houston called back with questions to which I didn't know the answers. I called my other grandmother to check on her and deliver the news.
Late that night I was able to get through to Baton Rouge again. My mom and grandfather had arrived safely and had at least a temporary place to stay. They had been in a complete communications black hole since Monday and hadn't yet seen or heard anything about the storm which they hadn't experienced directly. They said the medical staff had all been wonderful. Wearing security ambands, they had to try several ways to get out of the hospital which was under lockdown with several agencies and surrounded by crowds of desperate people. Apparently one of their cars still worked. They'd tried to find an open funeral home, failed, and gotten on the road to Diamondhead. They'd stopped briefly at my grandparents' house which was missing a wall and part of the roof, and had shifted off the foundation. The water damage was only rain, not flooding.They showered there and had called me. Since then the Baton Rouge family & evacuees have all called and gathered. My mom got to speak very briefly with my dad before we talked again.
She asked me to fill her in on the damage to the family houses. For days I've been asking no questions in the stilted and unreliable phone calls, simply noting the information offered, getting relevant details, relaying it to other family and friends. She'd only been in range of any media communications for several hours and her questions indicated that she still had no idea of the scope of the devstation. It was all still personal accounting. She'd seen her parents house. My other grandmother's house is still entirely under water. The dog which could not be evacuated probably drowned. My cousin's house in a neighboring area likely suffered a similar fate. One of her sister's house is also likely still entirely underwater. The other sister's house is the family house with the best chance of surviving. Appeared to have no water damage though a tree had fallen on the roof. Her other daughter's house had certainly taken water. How much was still speculation. Her own house was probably in water only up to the first story. I'd forgotten that she hadn't been talking about it and watching the news for days. "Only" under eight feet of water was how we'd already starting think about it. She wanted to know if anyone had been able to get to the house to check on the dogs which we couldn't evacuate. I had to tell her I didn't think so, but they still had the second storey to escape and had been left food and water upstairs. I figured she'd see the news soon enough, I didn't need to try to communicate the totality of the devastation from three thousand miles away on the night of her mother's death. I slept a little that night because it seemed like I hadn't in days.
Some friends of mine in Seattle were having a wedding several hours outside of town. Obviously I'd skipped all the Friday festivities and was uncertain of whether to go to the Saturday festivities. I'd been acting as the switchboard for over six days, but now that my mom was located I thought about taking a break and try to honor my friends life together. On the drive there I got a return call from one of my friends whose family I hadn't yet been able to track down. They were ill, but out of the city, in DC and Arkansas.
We arrived at the wedding grounds. The wedding was too far to get there and back in the same day so I had to stay overnight. It was really hard being in a jovial atmosphere though people were very kind and thoughtful. I felt guilty being part of a joyous day and celebration. I felt guilty sharing their joy when so many others I love are in such pain. I felt guilty being a specter of pain on their day of celebration. I tried to enjoy it but of course concerned friends would ask how I was, how my family was... It was hard to talk about in that setting. Their wedding was a beautiful personal ceremony in the mountains performed by another friend who was also beginning a new life. The rector and his wife had all of their things packed and were heading to Mexico to open the retreat they'd purchased a few months before.
I was worried that being close to the mountains, I wouldn't be able get reception and my dad would be unable to reach anyone if he was able to call that night. I left early and found a place on the campgrounds with the best reception. I did some electronic finagalling so a missed call would forward to my hotel room. Dad called, Mom called, disconnections all around. I sat outside trying to decide whether or not I was up to rejoining the party. I decided to try again to contact the last unaccounted friend of the list I'd made myself of people I needed to find. I've known her and her family since around first grade. I'd been worried about her because she and her family all lived near the levee and her father has been quite ill. I sent a text message. A few minutes later I actually got a response.
She is in a house near Gonzales with 19 other people, without phone or power. One is her toddler. Two others are also women I've known since childhood. All three are nurses. One of their mothers is missing and presumed dead. They have food and water for now, but have spent most of their money on gas to get into Baton Rouge where they've waited all day in lines for FEMA service which ran out. The baby is upset and confused. My friend's brother and sister-in-law are doctors. I'm not sure if they're among the 20 in the house now, but the sister-in-law was one of the doctors who were trapped in one of the New Orleans hospitals which was stranded. With the imprecise nature of text messages, I'm not sure where the sister-in-law is now. I think she got out of the hospital and in touch with them before it was completely shut down. The nurses all want to go help do relief in the hospitals but are afraid for their safety, and of getting stranded, and are running out of money for transportation. I was trying to get enough details to get them help but the messages stopped and mine went without reply.
Most of my family has always lived less than an hour away from each other. Actually most of them live within fifteen minutes of each other. My family isn't really that large, (I only have two aunts and two first cousins) but everyone counts, and we're in touch with almost all of them, the great aunts and uncles, the numbered cousins of several generations, the in-laws, the close families of the in-laws . With the news of my grandmother's death, people took a deep breath and started filling me in on news they'd neglected to tell me in the choppy communiques of the past week.
They'd been turning down and redirecting the aid they were offered, because as they said, "we're obviously not the real victims here." As the damage became evident, both my aunt's found temporary/permanent work within their companies in Houston. One uncle can work remotely from there, one had a recruiter seeking work for him in the area. His mother had been put in a Houston hospital for heart and vision problems and would return to her daughter in Baton Rouge when she gets out. My cousin can stay with friends and work for a branch of her comapany in Lafayette. Her husband will seek new work there. My sister's husband's office was setting up in Baton Rouge too. My sister will likely lose her job because she is unwilling to be 3-4 hours away from him to work at a Shreveport or Lake Charles branch. The family friends of 35 years, and my parents neighbors for almost 25, were setting up in Baton Rouge. Their grandkids had gone to Dallas. My dad's mom is in rural Texas with her sister indefinitely. We're pretty lucky that with the exception of my parents, all the families have at least one person who works for a company large enough to absorb and redistrute the employees elsewhere. So while they're all technicaly homeless, they still won't be completely without means.
I am very worried about where my mom will go. Her father too. I'm very worried about the stuations my dad is still in and when he'll ever be able to get out of there. Although I've been far away for years, it hit me hard to realize that it is unlikely that my family will ever all be collected so closely in one place ever again. I have been dealing with the loss of the physical places. The news of the loss of people will be a slow creep for years into the future. This feels like the loss of the community too, even of the ones who survive. My mom is always the organizer, the bossy older sister and mother who gathers everyone together to mark occasions large and small. I think she will feel this loss profoundly once it sinks in. The level of familial obligations was sometimes annoying but it was also really comforting to have such a network of people and place and history gathered around and connected. I don't know where else I'll ever feel rooted to the ground like I did in New Orleans. Sometimes that was a positive thing, and sometimes it was negative, but even when I felt like my parents' house was no longer Home, when I'd made homes of my own other places across the country, New Orleans and family and friends there, were Home. Everyone everywhere you'd go there was someone you knew, or someone who knew someone you knew. When I think about the city now and the challenges ahead, each person or place I recall brings to mind dozens of people and places, those I knew well, and those I didn't. People in the background of your mind. Ones you don't stay in touch with but exchange genuine pleasantries with when you run into them every so many years. I wonder did they get out? did they survive? I think we will all be mourning for such a long time.
Extreme hardheadedness runs in my family on both sides. My grandfather is determined to have a proper burial for Granny. With a contact from a friend, and what I suspect quite a lot of stubborness of the standing-in-someone's-office-until-you-get-satisfaction variety, they've arranged for a funeral home in Baton Rouge to go pick up her body from the morgue in Slidell. Two days went by and nothing was done, so my mom and grandfather insisted on riding with the funeral director that day to Slidell to set up the pick up (phones still down.) The women of the family had spent the day before picking out an appropriate outfit to dress her. My grandfather and his brother spent a day waiting in the emergency room for a doctor to check on his recent surgery recovery. In a normal situation he'd be monitored by a doctor twice a week, they told him he seemed ok, come back next month. I can't believe my mom and grandfather got back on the road and headed back in that direction. I feel slightly guilty at the amount of resources they are directing toward a funeral when so many living people are still suffering but I guess they are coping and trying to get closure in an awful situation.
My sister and brother-in-law, in my opinion foolishly, decided to try to get back to their house in the 12 hour window allowed by Aaron Broussard. I spent a lot of today worried about people in dangerous situations on the road or getting re-stranded somewhere. The idea of people returning to check on "stuff" makes me angry , because it is resources spent resaving people who were already safe. It prolongs the amount of time people like my dad remain in danger trying to save people. At any rate my sister returned to her house. It had taken three feet of water which had mostly receded already. She tried to salvage a few things and grab some work clothes which looked cleanable so she can start job hunting again. I heard of their safe return from my mom.
Shortly thereafter I heard via my sister that my dad had been in contact with news from my parents' house. My dad said things are slowly getting a little bit safer, which indicates to me how bad they must have been before. Crews had been working in their neighborhood area and had found our dogs in the house alive. The old dog was very weak and both dogs were very frightened. They got to my dad and hope to get them to my sister and mom in Baton Rouge if my dad can get a couple of hours to be reunited with my mom he'll bring the dogs too. The older one probably won't make it, but I think it will comfort my mom to get to see him again. I feel guilty that dogs were saved and so many people weren't, though I love those dogs and I'm relieved at one fewer loss. My sister also delivered word that a police officer cousin on my dad's side, who'd been presumed dead, was actually located and had been pulled from a flooded rooftop. His son, (my fourth cousin?) tracked me down and we checked in, compared the lists everyone from here has, of those who are found safe, and those who are still lost. A (second?) cousin on my mom's side was able to contact me from where they'd evacuated to Baton Rouge. Her mom (Granny's sister) and dad were further evacuating to a son in Colorado, who could ensure that my aunt contined to receive medical treatment. They'd heard about Granny from the hospital. I put them directly in contact with my mom and grandfather at my great uncle's house. I kept trying to send more text messages to my friend the nurse. She finally responded that they'd had to rush someone in the house to the hospital. I'll get more information later if she can get through. If I can figure out where exactly she is, I can get them to some alternate shelter with friends in the region, or at least get them some food. I'll just keep trying.
If my family can arrange a service, I may be in Baton Rouge by the end of the week. I was told by my mom and grandfather to "absolutely not even consider" going. Again with the genetic hard head. A temporary mauseleum will be arranged, and Granny's body will be moved to New Orleans in a year or more, whenever such a thing is feasible. I'll probably spend some time with family near Houma, but I may need to find a place to stay in Baton Rouge for a night or so because I don't want to further burden the already overfull family homes there.
I can't easily imagine what it is like for people who are where the storm hit. Being here is awful enough. I've been so busy trying to track people down and relay messages that I haven't had too much time to reflect yet. Different things trigger a jumble of memories of people and places and things. I worry that what I am doing isn't the right thing, or isn't enough, cause it can never be enough. The feelings of loss are not prioritized, here a lost pet, there a restaurant I'd looked forward to revisiting, a particular tree, the greatgrandchildren Granny will never hold, a photo in my parents house, the buildings where I attended school, and the people and the people and the people, the ones I knew and didn't. I'm trying to do whatever I can to help my family and friends. I'm directing people where I live on how to help, and not to forget this once it is no longer top of the news. I'm so sad and angry and sad. And sad.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Those of you who know Johnny, might want to know that Johnny's safe and sound. He evacuated before the storm and has been living in Florida for a week now. Through some okay luck in a time of terrible, terrible luck, it looks like his house and possessions might have been spared in the flooding. There's no way to no for sure until he can return, but it seem our Johnny have been uncommonly blessed in this situation.

Thanks for the updates, Shell. And congratulations on your house.

I saw this at CNN.com this morning. I hope all is well.

"The North Shore Regional Medical Center in Slidell, La., just outside New Orleans, remained fully operational with 174 beds, said Steve Campanini, spokesman for Tenet HealthCare, which operates it. Nurses have been flown in from other Tenet hospitals, and Tenet has launched its own private rescue flights, he said, aided by Coast Guard helicopters."

Friday, September 02, 2005

i used the hospital website "send an email to a patient" function, though printing these and delivering them to patients is probably not priority for the staff there right now.

allegedly the hospital is being used as a temporary evacuation layover for patients from other hospitals being evacuated. they plan to eventually evacuate all of the patients. also allegedly the building has some energy and supplies and is being guarded from looters by machine gun.

when i tracked down and reached the hospital parent company PR/media department by phone, i was informed the general condition of the building, that electric and phone service were being restored.

i spent several hours redialing the hospital directly. through the hours of carpal tunnel busy signals, (not the recorded "hurricane" mesages, not the "circuits are busy" message, not the too-fast disconnected line busy signal, but a normal, "someone else is already on this line" sound of times before call-waiting.) the first time i actually got through an exhausted and slightly annoyed female voice answered "mmmhhello?" and hung up when i asked about the hospital.

thinking i'd dialed wrong (for hours) i verified the number (but it was correct) and decided to try another general info number for the same hospital. when i eventually got a ringing tone, voicemail picked up. a random, personal home voicemail message, not a business office or hospital desk. apparently the phone lines were crossed somehow and misconnecting.

this evening, the hospital opened a hotline where you can call to get information about patients and employees. got through, but so far the only information in my grandmother's file which they're allowed to share, is that she was indeed admitted to that hospital.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Shell/Steph, I'm so glad the families are OK.

This afternoon, I read in horror about how there were sniper shots at a helicopter carrying supplies, and how a truck filled with provisions was held at gunpoint. Truly unreal.

Many reporters are being reassigned to cover follow up stories about the hurricane. Two people cancelled out on stories for me, but at least they are covering something near and dear to my heart.

My school is taking displaced students so that their studies are not interrupted. So I've been trying to send out info on that, in addition to keeping up with the news, looking after my family and convincing displaced refugees to talk about their experiences. It's been exhausting, but every little bit counts.

The very best part has been the generosity toward my family. Many friends that have absolutely no ties to the city are donating money to relief efforts. One friend dropped off a Target gift card last night. Former co-workers are putting in for yet another gift card. This morning, a 70 year old neighbor gave me a pack of chocolate chip cookies that she made.

Keep it up, kids. There's plenty more to come.