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October 9, 2005

Dateline: Devastation

New Orleans â€“ Even though traffic is picking up on the roads in and out of New Orleans, the remnants of people’s former lives in this city are still strewn over the highway. Artifacts of disaster: a broken laundry basket, a soggy mattress, shreds of insulation, a fractured pet carrier, a child’s blue stuffed dog – lay deposited on the concrete, exposing just initial details of the loss endured by this city.

I have found no good way to describe the physical landscape of this battered and mostly abandoned place. My camera cannot capture the 360 degrees of desolation and ruin here. My words feel completely inadequate. So I will mostly leave the daunting task of describing Katrina and Rita’s physical damage to others with better equipment or eloquence.

Instead, I will focus on the human facets of this disaster – the stories of institutionalized suffering imposed by people in roles ostensibly intended to alleviate the impact of storms and their aftermath, and the people most affected by authorities’ incompetence, negligence and brutality.

With only two full days on the ground here, I’m still gathering the initial details of the stories I will soon be filing. Though I’m not ready to file any of the several articles I have begun researching, I will give you a sneak peak of what I have done so far.

I am staying in the Algiers neighborhood, which is across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans. This part of the city sustained a lot of wind and rain damage, but was spared Katrina’s floods. I am sleeping in the rental car, across the street from the headquarters of the Common Ground Collective, a grassroots organization that sprung up in the early days of the disaster. Common Ground is an evolving mesh of volunteers from New Orleans and all over the country who are sleeping in tents and working nonstop to get donated supplies into the hands of needy hurricane survivors.

I will be writing a lot more about Common Ground and other organizations working under the radar of the government’s aid distribution – groups that are working not only to serve areas and populations that continue to wait for real (or in some cases any) help from FEMA, but that have an alternative vision for what relief work and rebuilding should look like.

Yesterday, I traveled almost two hours southwest to the Houma area, a region hit hard by Rita’s storm surge and largely neglected by FEMA and the Red Cross. The area has a large Native American population and many residents lived in poverty even before Rita hit. Residents I spoke to there had yet to see anyone from FEMA and have only begun seeing Red Cross aid in the last couple of days.

house in houma
[PHOTO: A house on Shrimper's Row in Dulac, Louisiana, a region devistated by hurricane Rita.  © Copyright 2005 Jessica Azulay/The NewStandard]

Today, I visited a temporary detention center in New Orleans where some people are emerging bruised and bloody. Police hold most people there only 24 hours and then either release them or send them on to a more permanent jail. I was able to enter the converted bus station and see the conditions in which prisoners there are being held. There is still a lot to this story that remains to be uncovered, and I will have more details soon in the form of an actual article.

[PHOTO: Detention pens in the temporary jail in New Orleans. Inmates are generally held for 24 hours here. They sleep on the concrete and are given only one blanket. Â© Copyright 2005 Jessica Azulay/The NewStandard]

Lastly, I just want to thank everyone for their support of our work here and for patience as the rest of the TNS staff struggles to put out the daily news while I’m on assignment.


Jon: Dateline: Devastation

Bravo! Glad to hear this from-the-field reporting. I eagerly look forward to your future articles on this...keep up the excellent work! - Jon

Gabriel Thompson: Dateline: Devastation

Jessica and TNS: This is wonderful work you are doing--wonderful and necessary. There are times, and sometimes they feel all too rare, that journalism feels as important as it is. This is one of those times; I will be sending along your articles to all my friends, relatives, enemies.

2lizards: Dateline: Devastation

Hi there, Jessica. I'm so glad that you've written this log entry. For one thing, I was unaware of the existence of Common Ground, and I'd love to hear more about what they're doing and what they've achieved.

Keep up the good work!


fgriggs: Dateline: Devastation

Jessica, I'm happy/worried to see that you once again have gone where the action is. Be safe. xoxo Frank

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.