New Orleans is drowning

On Tuesday morning, the Times-Picayune posted the following on its breaking news blog:

The Times-Picayune is evacuating from it's [sic] building.

Water continues to rise around our building, as it is throughout the region. We want to evaucate [sic] our employees and families while we are still able to safely leave our building. [Here's more on how that happened.]

By early evening, the mayor had called the disaster of New Orleans "a nightmare that I hope we wake up from" on WWL-TV (now broadcasting online). At 6:40 p.m., the station reported: "Efforts to stop the levee break at the 17th Street Canal have ended unsuccessfully and the water is expected to soon overwhelm the pumps in that area, allowing water to pour into the east bank of Metairie and Orleans to an expected height of 12-15 feet."

There is no electricity in New Orleans, and no safe drinking water. Some 80 percent of the city is underwater, as are both airports. Orleans, Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes are under martial law. 60,000 people have gathered in the leaking Superdome to take shelter from the floods, and must now be evacuated. "What you see on TV, you have no idea what the level of devastation and frustration is on the street," says New Orleans Councilman Oliver Thomas.

The best places to keep up with the news are WWL-TV and its blog, and WDSU and its Katrina Blog (apparently abandoned yesterday), along with the Times-Picayune blog (still going) and Fox and CNN. There's also running commentary at Metroblogging New Orleans, and a set of neighborhood-specific message boards (for Orleans Parish only) at the N.O. Pundit blog, though the WWL-TV forums are larger.

Don't call the city unless you have to. I haven't been able to get hold of Katy Reckdahl, a former City Pages colleague now working at the (currently offline) Gambit Weekly. Katy had a baby in New Orleans two days ago, and I hope she and other friends are safe, though it appears half of the town got out of town this weekend (with WWOZ signing off the air, Tulane evacuating, and most New Orleans bloggers now reporting from other states). As a former New Orleans resident, I feel like I'm watching a relative die. I'm also angry. It's not as if the ecological dangers and inadequate technological solutions are news to scientists. Will New Orleans become the Atlantis that global warming made?

This afternoon I reached Philip Frazier of the Rebirth Brass Band at his hotel room in Atlanta, where he has fled with his family from his home in the flooded Gentilly area of New Orleans. Three members of the band are still in the city, and Frazier hasn't reached them yet. He says the group still plans on keeping its September 10 date at the Cabooze in Minneapolis, though you might not want to hold your breath. As I speak to him, he has the news on in the background.

Any news about the Treme [neighborhood, reputed birthplace of jazz]?

Last I heard it was underwater. We've always lived in the Treme, but we all moved out of the Treme [in recent years], you know.

Before all this, your [soon-to-be] wife was organizing the Soulja Slim Hip-Hop Festival. Could you tell me about that? 

The stuff that she was doing, it was called the Silence the Violence Festival. It was in honor of our son, who was the victim of a crime, he was murdered three years ago. What she was doing was trying to do something positive by putting on

- that festival, to help our kids, and maybe if she could reach out to someone, so that nobody else would fall victim, or to tell them that them that that's not the way to go. We were going to give out school supplies, bring a bunch of bands, and get guest speakers.

Seems like New Orleans will need more than a benefit now. Are you thinking of doing something like that?

Yeah. Soon as I regroup with my band, we'll put everything on the table and decide where we'll go from here.

I've been hearing for years about how the levees need to be looked at. Is anybody down there angry about this?

Oh, yeah. Including myself. I mean, they knowed the storms was coming, and the levees were built back in the '60s and '70s. I guess they were just putting the money in other places. But they should have put the money to save the city, save the people.

UPDATE 10:50 P.M. More about why, and how, Katrina is swallowing Tipitina's

The vital Josh Britton blog, a detailed explanation of the levee failures, a full list of emergency contacts, a place to make Red Cross donations, an article in the Washington Post explaining why FEMA has been killed slowly by the Bush administration, and older article about funding cuts to the Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans, blacks "loot" while whites "find," a Katrina photo group, a list of blogs covering the topic, BBC's messages from Katrina survivors, an ILE debate on whether this is global warming or not, a story on the fallout for gas prices, the Eye of the Storm blog and discussion, Rush calls the storm "Katrina Vanden Heuvel," article on these Titanic-like looters, Katrina's Wikipedia entry, a map of affected oil rigs, Slidell Hurricane Damage blog, Yahoo's most viewed photos, and New Orleans goths defending their favorite bar with guns. Most of these were taken from an informative thread at ILE.

UPDATE 11:04 P.M. email from a friend of my friend Machelle

"I just got a text message (forwarded) that Machelle sent out earlier this morning informing that she is alright and not to believe the press hype. Earlier this afternoon, she sent out email letting us know that our lower Garden District and some French Quarter residences and businesses are alright. However, this is an earlier message and we just got word from another friend of a third levee break and that rioting has broken out in the city. Honestly, I really don't know what to believe any more."

I can't take anymore. I'm going home singing "Katrina tra-la-la-la" to the tune of "Tipitina." My thoughts are with the people in the darkness of the New Orleans Superdome.


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