Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Week Away From Isaac

Here in New Orleans today, things are “literally back to normal,” as the mayor told us citizens at one of his gang bang news conferences the other day.

One week after our battering and soaking by Hurricane Isaac, we had sunshine outside and, inside, electric power. Fewer than 17,000 of Entergy's nearly 200,000 home and business customers were still without power earlier in the day, but we were told that Entergy crews were on the streets and up in their gondolas repairing lines downed by falling trees or tree limbs or simply high winds. The executive suite crew were summoned to appear before the City Council to explain why the repairs have taken so long. 

In our neighborhood, a venerable pecan tree was uprooted by the wind, and much of it toppled into a neighbor’s yard. The ground had been saturated in this summer of heavy rains, and in other areas I passed in my travels after the storm other perfectly healthy trees had been uprooted from the soggy soil by Isaac's Category 1 winds. Around the corner, the upper trunk of an oak tree was diseased in the center (it became obvious), and in the wind, the healthy portion could not hold, broke off and took a power line into the street with it

We lost power at our house at about 10 p.m. last Tuesday; it was restored at about 10 Saturday night. Fortunately, a next-door neighbor with a large generator invited us to plug an extension cord into one of its outlets, and I alternated hooking up our refrigerator and a small freezer we have in the shed in back. That saved most of the food. For light, we had a couple of candles and three small LED flashlights.
The missus bought a battery-powered lantern at Loew’s, but she neglected to buy the eight D batteries that would power it. Surely, she thought, we had D batteries at the house. Yeah, two or three. But they, I found, were two or three more than any store in our area that I visited had in stock. By happy accident, returning home empty –handed after an hour or more of battery hunting, I spotted a hand-lettered sign at an intersection along the streetcar tracks telling me that my favorite small hardware store, just down Oak Street, had D batteries. How was that possible when Radio Shack, Home Depot, Loew’s, Walgreen’s and other big stores had none? I made a hard left across the tracks (the streetcars are safe in the car barn these days) and pulled up in front of the store. I bought an Energizer 8-pack, and took it home,in triumph. If only I had had an ear of the bunny to nail to the wall.

Our cell phones ran low, and I had not thought ahead to getting a battery-operated power source for them. My daughter‘s house in the suburb of Jefferson, about five miles upriver, never lost power , while all around them, other houses were black. To get the phones juiced, I drove there through mostly empty streets , plugged in the phones, had a beer with my son-in-law, talked about the storm with him and watched my grandsons play video games.

With power out, news was hard to come by. We missed two days of the Times-Picayune. On Thursday, a plastic bag thrown on the lawn held the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday editions. The Wednesday edition had been printed in Mobile and was on that narrow, shorter newsprint that a number of papers have gone to, including The World’s Greatest Newspaper. The staff had done a fine job of pulling the story together, and their stories made of interesting reading even two days late. But readers were reminded that we could have read the news online on Nola.com: “I would have liked to,” my unsent diatribe to the new publisher began, "but I had no electricity and my Internet service provider was down.”

The NY Times covered the reporters covering the story: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/03/business/media/hurricane-isaac-coverage-online-hints-at-times-picayunes-future.html?_r=1&smid=fb-share

If great online journalism is done and no one can get online to read it, is it still journalism?

At my house, we turned on a multi-frequency portable radio I bought for some weather emergency years ago. The staccato voice on the weather frequency repeated the latest forecasts and warnings over and over. WWL-AM (the big 870) spilled onto most all the frequencies. Callers mostly complained about the slow response of emergency powerline repair crews. The talk show hosts pontificated, whether informed or not, and called out “next caller.”

The best call of the week, I judged, was from a fellow who said he did not go into Bourbon St. strip joints for the usual reasons—whatever those are; he did not say. But he liked to stop in one fairly often just to relax. And in that one, he said, he saw lots of linemen drinking beer and ogling the dancers.

The talk frequently gave way to the gang bang news conferences the mayor, area parish presidents and the governor like to perform to demonstrate that they are on top of the situation. They faced the cameras surrounded by department heads who stepped to the mike on cue to tell us they had everything under control. Hunker down, they told us, and take comfort in knowing that the National Guard has boots on the ground and Entergy is on the way.

The only tv signal was carried on the fm frequency of the local NPR affiliate. I had no problem listening to stories from reporters and anchors. But making sense of the weather was a chore, specially when I kept hearing that we were not out of the woods yet. Put on a blindfold some evening and try understanding a station’s weathercaster describe what you are not seeing on his map.

My favorite weatherman won’t have much to complain about tonight—only the heat, I suppose.

I certainly can’t complain about our situation. Like almost all others protected by the levee system we suffered only minor damage to the house. But hurricanes always leave behind people who have to rebuild their homes and, many, their lives. We are being shown their plight now in the wake of the storm. Give a thought to them occasionally, and, if you are so inclined, say a prayer for them.

1 comment:

beatstalkingtomyself said...

Such a relief to read this and know you're only a little-bit worse for wear. I love the part about the D-cell batteries. Hooray for neighborhood merchants.