First Hand Account of Lakeview By Canoe
This was the most surreal experience of my life.
The neighborhood that I've lived in for fifteen years is under water. A lot of water.
My father and I took a ride out to the Lakefront today, I had been yesterday and he had to see the neighborhood that he grew up in first hand. He needed to see it for himself.
We made the circuitous journey through marinas and condos until we reached the intersection of West End and Robert E. Lee. There were two soldiers from Massachusetts (Thanks Massachusetts) and a search and rescue guy from Oakland, CA (Thanks Oakland). The guy from Oakland had been in the city since the first Tuesday after the storm. He told us that they were still even now picking up survivors from the Lakefront -- but that phase was winding down. Today alone they had pulled out six bodies... from Lakeview.
As we walked around, we discovered a canoe. So we went canoeing. Our house is down on Catina near Harrison, about 10 or so blocks. We started out paddling through the Robert's (pronounced Roe-bears) Grocery parking lot, passing between around seven or eight cars left in the lot. The water was up to the windows and they were parked on the raised divisions between the rows. One car had the license plate DGOOZER.
The water is disgusting. It stinks. It's soupy. Their are different colors in it. The freakiest was the areas where it was clay grey on top, but when the paddle would disturb it, a black plume of nastiness would fight its way to the top only to be forced back under by the grey. Other parts were more typical of Lake water, but it was all foul.
Remember that our family has four generations in Lakeview - we love that neighborhood and acted in NO way disrespectfully - As we paddled down our street, the truly bizarre nature of this new world was hitting us in the face.
Oddly enough, in many ways, it was kind of beautiful. We were paddling through the canopies of majestic oaks, their reflections still in the water until we passed. The only problem was the rooftops and second stories. Seriously your mind has a hard time grasping what it's witnessing. For moments it would appear that we were simply paddling down a bayou or an engorged river. I even started having memories of the last time I had paddled around with my Dad on a trip in North Louisiana when I was 10 or so.
Those memories would crash though the second we would snag on something, and after a moment, realize it was the roof of a van, or someone's grandmothers antique chair.
There were several boats around, floating. We saw at least three jetskiis bobbing around. Even a Hobie Cat. And garbage, lots of crazy floaty stuff, DVD's, gas cans, little keep-safe type boxes, books - I was hard pressed not to pick one or two of those up in order to check out the title, looking for some mystical message. I dared not. The water is ill.
On several occasions, our expedition got thrown off by enormous downed trees blocking our path, and twice we had a blackhawk hover over us making sure we weren't in need of saving or in need of being shot for looting. Without the helicopters, it was dead quiet, other than the sound of birds who will probably all die from drinking this water.
As we finally approached our house, I expected for both of us to breakdown... but I think we're all past that now down here. We've hardened I think, or maybe are still not comprehending what we're seeing. The permanence of it. The massiveness of it.
We paddled straight up to the front porch, and just sat for a few minutes. My grandmother's antique brass planter that we use as a mailbox sat next to the door quietly, lapped by water. The window immediately to my left looks into my three month old Godchild's room. All the clothes for him until he's three, all of his stuffed animals and future toys, his antique crib sat right there through that window. I didn't look in. I couldn't.
We paddled our way through to the backyard. A large woodsy area where I've had countless crawfish boils. Crazy beer drinking parties. Barbecues. Or simply just sat and read the Sunday paper over coffee. The brand new porch that was finished three weeks ago sat and looked back at us. The only damage on the entire house from the actual hurricane was one torn screen on that porch. One torn screen. ONE TORN SCREEN.
This house that we've lost. This home that has sheltered four generations of my family has been lost due to a levee breach.
I thought of many things while paddling back to higher ground... I worried for the grand oaks and pines, our mature urban forest, how long can they survive with their trunks covered by 14 feet of water? How toxic is this water? Will the EPA demand it all be bulldozed? After the water recedes, will any family be allowed to return and collect their silver, their heirlooms that could be salvaged? How many dead had we paddled by in those short ten blocks? Would we ever see any of our neighbors again?
After returning back onto Lake Marina Ave., we spoke with several groups of soldiers, most from Massachusetts and all young. They treated us with the utmost respect. They were kind. They were watching out for our safety and the safety of our homes. They were all heros.
When I shook the hand of one soldier, probably 20 years old, and thanked him - he replied to me... "We're honored to be here."
As we walked back on the levee towards the Jeep, Dick Cheney's helicopter was landing. On the top of the levee journalists and reporters were starting to line up for his photo-op. My Dad and I didn't even have to ask each other if we wanted to stay and watch.