Katrina: a cameraman's journal in NOLA

Excerpt from a personal diary written by a friend who's a news cameraman working in New Orleans. Name and affiliation withheld by request. This was written on Sunday, September 4th, six days after the storm hit.

New Orleans – The Real Story

It's September 4th in New Orleans, and unfortunately – no one is getting it right, not the Feds, the State, the Local folks or the media. I'm sure that many people are trying, but for what ever reason- it is a rotting, deteriorating mess.

I'm only writing this because of what I watched on tv last night. It was the first chance I've had to see some of the coverage and what I watched was pathetic. I sensed it yesterday when, amongst the chaos of the unfolding disaster, you realized some of the differences between what is happening here compared to major calamities we've endured recently.

There are almost no news crews in the field trying to cover the story. Hundreds, if not thousands of media people are in the region – but I have driven back and forth through some of the worst neighborhoods in the city and you don't see them. You don't see the National Guard…..you don't see ANYONE, except for the poor unfortunate souls wandering the streets looking for food or water. Many of them are on their last legs; they are literally not long for this world. It is surreal; it's like a zombie scene from Dawn of the Dead. It's disgraceful that in our times, we are seeing the complete disintegration of our ability to care for our own.

This is a racist issue, there's no other way to look at it. These are the poorest of the poor. The people left behind in New Orleans are there for one reason only; they had no means to remove themselves from the city. Everyone who could get out, got out.

What's missing from the rescue is apparent to anyone. A simple plan. It's like no one ever gave it a real thought. Simple things like storage of emergency rations, clothing, tents, etc. in strategic locations….communications that allow different entities to talk to one another, emergency plans and routing for moving large numbers of people (easily done with the hundreds of public and school transit buses available locally), and the list goes on. Everyone on the street that I have met is so grateful for anything that you can give them. You have to be careful or you could start a riot just giving away a bottle of water.

Driving or walking through the flood area, you see people in the shadows on every block. As you walk around – they come out and they are so dehydrated, carrying babies, or leading you to their father or their mother or a friend who needs help. They all say that they want to get out; they just don't have a way. And they uniformly complain about the police not stopping to help. Over and over you hear the same thing…."They just drawin' down on people", meaning they are pulling their guns.

I can only judge from what I saw, but in walking through the worst areas, every looter I saw was taking food and water. They could be shot for entering supermarkets, which by the way are mostly fully stocked with food, water, juices and soda. It's disgraceful, it's been almost a week and yet there seems as though no one in Washington, or Baton Rouge who gets the enormity of what is unfolding.

There are dead bodies on the street. Yesterday, I watched as a man tried to flag down a cop. There was a middle aged woman who had been dead for days, and yet no authority seems concerned. We can see that there was no plan for the living, but you would think that there would be some respect for the dead. When he was finally able to get a cop to stop – not an easy thing to do since they drive through at such high speed…. the cop said that they didn't care about removing bodies. Someone's mother, or child, she was still there late last night as I drove out.

I have driven from one end of New Orleans to the other – a drive of over 7 miles, and repeatedly not seen one cop, guardsman, trooper…. And where is the Red Cross? Not ONE. Everyone on the street says, "Where's the Red Cross? I gave them so much money after 9/11 and the tsunami – where's the Red Cross". The cops I've asked say they are not here because they are afraid. The Red Cross says that the authorities are not letting them in the city. I find that hard to believe. The police can't even secure a few blocks, let alone keep the Red Cross out. Helping victims in New Orleans is exactly why the Red Cross was created.

People are dying, I've seen it personally, and the main organization we look to is no where to be seen. Just like the media who sit on a safe block, or hang around the Superdome or the convention center because it is safe, maybe they are shunning the poor because they are scared. If they are being truthful, then they should take a stand, and deploy their personnel. Otherwise, they are complicit in an ill conceived plot to starve survivors out.

What is particularly sad to me is that I'm no hero. I'm basically a coward, but I don't find anyone I've met on the street to be threatening. They are suffering and desperate and no one has uttered a word other then "help me" or "thank you".

I watched one of these news robots on the air last night standing at Camp and Canal Street – where it is safe – doing a national live shot saying that "everything is in place now" and "food is being distributed", and "the National Guard is deployed in force….on the street" – it was pure fiction. This guy hasn't left the safety of his air conditioned trailer complete with Subway sandwiches (from Baton Rouge) and Gatorade. It's pathetic.

One can only hope that our Federal officials will get a handle on the Herculean task ahead and that the citizenry will hold them responsible for the unnecessary loss of life.

As for the media… do a little fact checking, read more than one paper. Stay away from CNN, MSNBC and Fox. NPR and Nightline do a good job of looking beyond the headlines. By the way, The Salvation Army is here and they have been able to help in some places. This is a racist/socioeconomic situation.

We all know that if it were somewhere else, like an affluent resort town or a Bush county in Florida, things would be different. Yes, there was looting and gunfire, and there are criminals out there, but they were a small minority of the population. There were tens of thousands of poor, black folk who stayed out of it, and they are still waiting today for any kind of help.

Image: Razorwire first, supplies second. Shot by Jacob Appelbaum.