Here's a rough partial transcript of an IM chat I maintained with Jacob Appelbaum throughout the day today. He's inside the Houston Astrodome, and has been talking to Katrina evacuees and tech aid volunteers who are there to set up computer banks and a low power FM station (see bottom of post for reports that FEMA's blocking that, despite FCC having granted the LPFM organizers a temporary license exemption).
I have no way of substantiating the statements of those Jacob spoke to, but I present them here as a snapshot of first-person accounts. While some misinformation may be circulating as rumor among evacuees, let's also remember that reports of deaths and violence inside the New Orleans Superdome and Convention Center were dismissed as "rumor" in early days by authorities before reporters proved them to be true.
Joel Johnson, who's traveling with Jacob, adds:
While much of the news sounds very dire -- and nobody will argue this is a bad situation for the evacuees, no matter how well it is run -- many of the people in the Astrodome complex were in very good spirits and were quick to offer praise of the people of Houston. There are plenty of issues that need to be discussed, but the evacuees are keeping the area very clean and equilaterally said they were happier to be in the Astrodome than stuck in the Superdome or elsewhere in New Orleans.Chat transcript with Jacob follows. Times shown in Pacific. Image: a snapshot from Jacob's mobile phone.
10:23: Joel just got removed. Almost arrested. Fox News is down on the floor. I'm in dome, hiding in seats. They're allowing some media on the floor, not others.
10:31 Just met members of the Polish press, they are being stopped from entering floor. Says this is like the former USSR.
10:57 Raw transcript of comments by NOLA evacuee Clara Barthelemy: "The 17th street levee was bombed by the Army Corps of Engineers to save the more valuable real estate in the city… to keep the French Quarter protected, the ninth ward was sacrificed… people are afraid to speak out… everyone who was near there heard the bombings… they bombed seven times. That's why they didn't fix the levees… 20 feet of water. Gators. People dying in water. They let the parishes go, not the city center. Tourist trap was saved over human life. A six year old girl was raped in here.. 9 year old boy killed. A man in the shower beaten. No hot food. No help for elderly."
Another evacuee: "Over 20 rapes per night happening inside this place. They bring in national guard for media purposes. Bush wants us to stay here to raise his ratings. Some workers are stealing the good stuff, like shoes."
11:16: Rough transcript of comments by NOLA evacuee, male: "We are treated like prisoners here. Placed under mandatory curfew. We are citizens!"
11:22 Now I'm speaking to someone else, another woman, who says some people report having witnessed "bomb sounds," believe 17th street levee and others were blown up to manage water flow and protect more valuable portions of real estate.
Evacuee Dianne Stafford: "They blew the levee to save the city…" Saying a barge broke the levee. She is from St. Bernard Parish. "More expensive places were saved at the expense of the neighborhoods that aren't as valuable… Rebuilding Bourbon Street matters more to the government… that's what mattered to Governor Blanco…"
11:36 I'm speaking to a man who's been wearing the exact same pair of 2XL stretch pants since the storm hit. Some clothing is available for evacuees, but he is a large man and can't find anything available to fit his body. He's a diabetic but has good medical care. This so depressing. Its so hard to not cry when you hear this shit. The very large and very old have little help.
11:59 CNN have no problem getting in. Nobody's stopping them from accessing the floor, but other credentialed press who already have press badges are being stopped.
12:09 Evacuees I'm talking to are all telling me about rapes, murders, beatings which are taking place inside the Astrodome.
12:24 Man I'm speaking to, Danny Smith, says he cannot get housing because he has a felony. Aid workers found him a house but he is a felon, so they turned him away. FEMA has agreed to pay for his apartment, but he cannot get one. "Everyone has a felony here," he says. He thinks that people are going to riot
12:29 Evacuee Irvin Skinner: We have a curfew. We're being kept inside after 11pm. Forced to stay inside. They threw guns on everyone. Said 'come inside or your out of here'. Shoved guns, pointed them at adults. I'm a grown man, I have rights. This is an instituion to us, it's like a jail. I'm a middle class man with a home being trated like a criminal because I'm black. If we were white, we wouldn't have this problem."
"We are not here by choice."
13:03 Harris County will not allow any radio station inside without a FEMA form even if operator has FCC permission. Austin Airwaves says trying to get form now, been waiting 2.5 days. No radio station inside the dome until that form is filled out.
Reader comment: Bryan says,
Seeing the stories of the violence going on... and considering how the medical system has been pumping people full of anti-depresents... and personally seeing what happens when you try to take someone on heavy dosage to cold turkey, I wonder how many of the people acting out are acting out of shock combined with drug withdrawal. Nobody seems to be asking this question.Reader comment: John B. Sibley says:
The "rape, murder, beatings" that are alleged to be commonplace in the Astrodome are a load of hooey. I've been volunteering since this past Saturday and I work the overnight shifts. While there may be isolated incidents of petty crime, there is heavy police presence everywhere.
Hot food is available several times per day. I should know, I've worked the food area several times.
Much care is available for the elderly, including a full on-site hospital with geriatrics department and complete pharmacy dispensing 1300+ prescriptions per day.
A LOT of clothing is available for evacuees - HUGE amounts, in all sizes. The main sorting area is in the Reliant Center. Anything you could possibly want can be found there.
Anyone missing any medication can go to the medical facility and have their medications replaced, free of charge. Medical care and all prescriptions are free. No one is undergoing "withdrawal" for anything (legal), unless they are doing so voluntarily. They will even arrange for people to continue methadone therapy.