Saturday, September 03, 2005

Refugee letter from Houston

This letter comes by way of a friend of its author. ---- We are fortunate to be in Houston, safe and sound. We cannot be reached on cell phones right now but this week-end we will get new cell phone numbers. Email works. We expect to be here six months to a year, although some say they'll clear the city of water very quickly and restore power much faster than the news is suggesting. Still, the truth pronounced by Thomas Wolfe resonates: you can't go home again. We can return to New Orleans. But we will find a different place, one that we must get to know all over again as if for the first time. The citizens of Houston are remarkable. They have extended a gracious hospitality to New Orleans refugees and their pets. We are touched beyond what language can express by the generosity of friends across this country as well as in other countries. Our friends have been steadfast and terrific. We rank among the most fortunate, for which we give humble thanks. The nature of my work makes basing here no sweat for me. I can do my work from anywhere. Gay, an investment banker, is more inconvenienced but can work out of Houston and many of her M&A deals are here. That's the good news. New Orleans is ailing. Levee breaks poured water into the city. 80% of it flooded. Luckily, neither the area around my office nor our home were flooded. I hope they have not been looted. My mom's home is lost. We do not know about my sister's home but she lives in Jefferson Parish and may have escaped the high water. The flooding elsewhere has cost lives. Businesses are shut (though others, like Gay's, are reestablishing in Houston, Baton Rouge or Atlanta). There is a human catastrophe unfolding to which government, never a supple instrument, has been painfully slow to respond. Looting is a national disgrace. It's like a scene from the movie ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, minus Snake Plissken to set things right. While valiant Tulane Medical Hospital workers evacuated critically ill patients up stairs, hooligans looted their cars parked in the Tulane garage. The manager of a hotel chartered a bus to evacuate guests. It arrived. He went outside, only to be confronted by a gang wielding AK-47's. One set of elderly friends who imprudently stayed behind managed to make their exit amid armed guards, to a place where they were flown out by private jet. Would that more people had access to such resources. Murders have taken place in the Superdome and when police were dispatched, they were beaten back. A nurse who stepped outside of Charity Hospital was robbed at gunpoint. Helicopters executing rescues have been fired upon, as if this was Fallajuh. Sources within the police department reported privately last night that the police force is dissolving. Our police have been courageous, dedicated, and they have taken risk after risk to protect lives and property. Today they are exhausted, their resources are depleted, they are physically overwhelmed, and their ability to keep order was [sic] I am sorry to report what follows by statements made by Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco that encouraged anarchy. The stunningly incompetent performances of Blanco and Nagin are an embarrassment. Today there are scattered rumors of more security but I have yet to see it. The tough-minded Haley Barbour, Governor of neighboring Mississippi made clear that looters would be dealt with harshly. Blanco and Nagin excused the looting of groceries and pharmacies as foraging for food. But we all know once law breaking is sanctioned, matters spiral rapidly out of control and this is exactly what followed. Blanco bears much responsibility for the anarchy. Without the slightest comprehension of what her words and actions signified, she gave it her imprimatur. Then she delayed action until things had gone to hell. Yesterday, pressured from all sides, she did ask the federal government to assume responsibility relief, but specifically denied them authority to assert security. The White House is tactful. But it is rightly appalled. She has been the key roadblock. She complained that this calamity has brought out the worst in people. Hers remains an empty pronouncement. A National Guard representative stated that they were coming to support local law enforcement authority authority that is fast evaporating. Today Mayor Nagin gave a bitter interview blaming the federal government, while failing to acknowledge his own responsibility. He joined Blanco in first excusing the looting as the acts of the few, looking for food or drugs. When do the acts of crime shooting at rescue helicopters, home burglary, stealing guns, theft of TV's, qualify as foraging? Nagin admitted to WWL that he had no idea what the Governor was doing. Huh? In politics, getting things done takes networking, staying in touch, lobbying relentlessly for what you believe in. This is a familiar pattern for a Mayor who mucked up efforts to elect reform Judges or a new District Attorney. He never mobilized the Congressional delegation to ask the President for help He put no pressure on Blanco, allowing her to adhere to natural instincts to dither. Ironically, while imploring folks prior to the arrival of Katrina to evacuate, he took scant action to put in place security assets that could be deployed to address what he called the greatest disaster was about to befall New Orleans. This week, the federal government is moving as fast as it can. President Bush is a great champion for New Orleans and his commitment to us is solid. But government by nature moves slowly. Real life is not Hollywood. Military operations depend on planning. Only Chuck Norris pushes a button and makes, moments later, Blackhawk helicopters appear in the skies. My personal view is if that Blanco resisted a tough crack-down because, in addition to her characteristic indecisiveness, she stupidly believed that a tough crack down would offend black voters. That is patronizing, demeaning, stupid. Every New Orleanian, no matter their skin color, desires order and opposes hooligans. Only Blanco failed to recognize that self-evident truth. The ransacking of property is terrible. But we can replace property. Anarchy eats into the soul of New Orleans, and ravages the civility that has made New Orleans distinctive. Ironically, the one political leader who would have been incredibly effective is former Governor Edwin Edwards. Typical for our depraved politics, he's in prison. A former Congressman observed: the thing about Louisiana is that half of it is under water and the other half is under indictment. The national media seems astonished and shocked. We always knew this could happen. There's a huge colony of New Orleanians in exile in Houston. We are less surprised. But we are shocked. Mostly I feel for the city that I grew up in and love. The citizens comprise a hardy group. The music of time gives rise to unexpected forms of dance. We'll make it through, for the city always has and one must retain high confidence that it will. Besides, it's too much of a party town to shut down. We're not happy when the music stops. I am thankful that we are safe, our family is safe, and that our friends, are safe although scattered around the country. We remain close and we are in close touch with one another. That's the latest from here. Thanks for your concern for us. It means a great deal to us. I pray that all of you are well. Please stay in touch. Cheers. With hope. James Farwell