Skip to comments.Silence from New Orleans, as daughter waits for word
Posted on 09/01/2005 2:14:29 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
The last time I talked to my dad, he didn't seem too perturbed. He was a little tired and amused that my brother and I had taken turns calling him in New Orleans from our Florida homes all morning.
At 8 a.m. Monday, I could hear the hurricane creeping up on his end of the phone. A tree limb that had threatened our roof for years was pounding a loud hole into my youngest sister's room. A neighbor's tree had fallen in our front yard.
"Luckily it missed your sister's car," he chuckled.
That was hours before the levee hemorrhaged.
Before 20 feet of water consumed my high school, my neighborhood coffeeshop - and, I can only assume, my family home.
I've heard nothing from my dad since.
His name is Frank Liberto. He's 60. A chubby Italian guy with a shiny bald head and graying mustache.
He's one of the crazies who didn't leave.
Not sick or crippled or without a car. Struggling financially, but not impoverished.
As I comb pictures of devastated New Orleans and search Internet message boards for the slightest clue of his whereabouts, I keep thinking: "If he ever makes it out alive, I'm going to kill him."
We had all pleaded with him to leave. This was the big one. The one we never really talked about among ourselves. Before Katrina, we chuckled with tourists who questioned our topography, calming their nerves with drive-through daiquiri shops.
Most of my family is fine and currently traveling from Houston to Fort Worth. My mom was a child when hurricanes Betsy and Camille tore up her home and neighborhood, souring an economy that left her family of eight struggling for years.
My dad is originally from Shreveport. But after college at Loyola University in the late 1960s, he turned into a typical New Orleans character. Laid back, never in a hurry, turns everything into lunch. He doesn't give directions to lost tourists but instead walks them where they need to go.
He loves New Orleans. He lives to watch the sun set on Lake Pontchartrain during afternoon walks on the levee. Every morning, he goes to Mass at St. Dominic's church, then has coffee with the "old codgers," an octogenarian clique that forgives his youth. He likes to tell us their tales of growing up in New Orleans.
Even when the city regularly chewed him up, he rarely thought about leaving. We spent nearly all of our most exotic family vacations in Destin, a mere five hours away. He evacuated with us once in the 1980s and swore he'd never do it again.
That's only part of the reason he stayed. The rest is more complicated, as I'm sure it is for many who ignored the evacuation order.
Our house in Lakeview is the only thing of value my parents ever owned. Long ago, it was a symbol of prosperity.
They bought the two-story house in the mid 1980s while my dad was a successful private attorney, mostly defending people injured on oil rigs. The house cost a fortune at the time, about $190,000. It had four large bedrooms and nice built-in touches like floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, a dishwasher and a refrigerator that blended with custom-made cabinets, and winding closets that sprawled out like small caves - perfect entertainment for my younger brother, two sisters and me.
As the years went by, New Orleans' economy changed. Lawyers grew more plentiful, while the oil and gas industry picked up and moved back to Texas.
My dad lost work. His friends lost jobs.
The gap between the rich and the poor grew, along with crime. My dad's Uncle Benny, a distant relation, was murdered trying to stop a robbery uptown. A family friend was shot in the French Quarter on his morning jog.
Eventually, tourism and hospitality turned into the city's lifeblood.
My dad refused to give up law.
But he moved his office to the house, and spent his growing free time crashing conventions downtown, pocketing free squeezy balls and laser pointers with company logos. He also bought weird things in bulk at the burgeoning number of dollar stores that infiltrated the city: a dozen hockey sticks and at least 10 fuzzy bunny ear headbands.
Meanwhile, New Orleans aged. People left the city. Behind the Mardi Gras masks and charming oak trees were structural problems, like aging pumps, levees and flood walls.
The city always flooded some, but people survived. We lost a car during a flood in 1995 - that was the worst we knew.
Over the years, buckets took up permanent residence in the kitchen to catch the rain that leaked from the roof.
Then, one day a few years ago, my parents gambled. The real estate market had so improved that even tiny houses were selling for more than what it cost to buy ours.
My parents could hardly make the tax payments, let alone pay the insurance. And it was costing money to send my mother to nursing school, a last-ditch attempt to bring in more income.
So, they dropped the insurance policy.
I'm sure that is what was streaming through my dad's head last Saturday, as my mother and sister packed up the car. He pretended not to care as he headed downtown to what was probably the city's last convention.
As the hurricane strengthened, I tried all weekend to reason with him. He wouldn't budge.
Now, he is missing. The house stood less than a half mile from the levee break that has poured Lake Pontchartrain into downtown New Orleans.
I see the aerial shots of rooftops peeking through floodwater and wonder if one is mine.
With cell phones completely down, family and friends have communicated through text-messaging.
"Flooded and scared on the third floor," wrote my sister's friend Al who took refuge at Kenner Regional Hospital near the airport. "Everybody's crying and panicking."
"In Dallas, so safe, where r yours," wrote my best friend, Leigh, asking about my family.
But there are no messages from New Orleans.
I spent all day Tuesday dialing busy numbers, trying to get my dad on rescue lists.
Every picture and story I see punches me in the stomach and leaves me unable to breathe.
I can't eat. I keep thinking of all the hungry, thirsty people wandering around my hometown, and wondering if my father is among them.
We all can't help but think of the dollar-store rafts that he kept stashed in drawers and closets for years.
Like everyone else with family missing in New Orleans, I can only hope. And pray.
Jennifer Liberto grew up in New Orleans. She covers federal courts for the Times in Tampa.
Preserving New Orleans History
Park Service Team Set to Rescue Years of Artifacts
***......The curators, archaeologists and historians of the Park Service's Museum Resource Center are not the bookish types who dwell in dusty stacks.
These are people who are trained in outdoor survival skills, are immunized against disaster area diseases, have helicoptered in and out of work sites and know how to identify poisonous snakes and spiders, said Pam West, director of the center.
Their biggest enemy is mildew.
"When we do retrieved artifacts, we're dealing in extreme mold," West said. "Anytime 48 hours pass, you get mold. You have to fight mold. We've seen it turn the most amazing colors -- bubble-gum pink once."
The preservationists dried and blotted a million artifacts from colonial Jamestown in Virginia after Hurricane Isabel hit in 2003. Last year, they used boats to get to 300,000 artifacts in the Fort Pickens museum near Pensacola, Fla., after Hurricane Ivan.
Once it gets the all-clear in the coming days, the preservation team will head to the Crescent City to retrieve documents, photographs, furniture and other pieces of history that have marked the rich life of a city founded in 1718 and occupied by the French, Spanish, Creoles, Americans, Confederates, fire, disease and water -- again and again.
There are photographs and musical instruments in the Park Service's jazz museum, musical scores in Louis Armstrong's home, archives at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve museum and the Chalmette Battlefield and National Cemetery, all floating in swampy, oily, polluted water.
Once the artifacts are pulled from the water, Park Service specialists can begin the work: laying out, sorting, stretching, drying. "Papers can be freeze-dried. Photos, furniture and furnishings can be washed and dried," West said........***
This time its different. With so much of the city flooded to the roofs one really has to question rebuilding there.
Personally, I think any place that flooded to the second floor should probably be bulldozed, filled above the lake level before any rebuilding is allowed.
The cost of repairing a flooded home usually is about a wash with a rebuild from scratch. After a house stands in water for a very short time, all you have is a frame, as even the sheet rock disolves, the insulation, flooring, wireing, siding, roof, and all furninshings needs replacement.
Doze it all.
What a sad story. You're right - we will keep seeing stories like this for some time. Prayers for them all, both those who are trapped and their families outside.
N. Texans welcome displaced relatives
THE COLONY It's not very roomy, but it's better than the Superdome.
James and Rita Lenoire of The Colony have opened their house to 27 relatives who fled their homes in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina approached, leaving behind everything but a change of clothes.
The small three-bedroom, two-bathroom house on Ragan Road is now a shelter hot and stuffy and packed with bodies.
More relatives are on the way.
"We can't even picture right now where we're going to live," Mr. Lenoire's brother, Lewis Lucas, 48, said as he stood in the kitchen watching CNN while his son helped pass out ham and cheese sandwiches.
The Lenoires aren't the only ones to take in family members displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
As refugees pack into arenas and schools across Texas and the South, some people are opening up their homes to family members.
Dixey Arterburn's four-bedroom Preston Hollow house in Dallas is now temporary home to 17 additional family members, including her 77-year-old parents whose Gulf Coast house was washed away. By this weekend, it will be 22 relatives.
"We're just in survival mode right now. I'm overwhelmed," said Ms. Arterburn, a real estate agent whose office is helping with food and provisions. "They have a roof over their heads, and they're blessed."
Mr. Lenoire, 54, who drives a street sweeper for The Colony, said he doesn't know how long his displaced relatives will stay with him. As far as he's concerned, they're welcome to stay as long as it takes.
"Right now, they don't have anything," said Mr. Lenoire, who moved to The Colony from New Orleans 15 years ago. "They don't have anywhere to go."
Mr. Lenoire doesn't know how he'll be able to continue feeding them.
The Colony pitches in
So far, he has had help.
City employees have given him clothes, blankets, sheets, food and other items. City spokeswoman Diane Baxter said the city has collected $900 in cash, enough money for food and to pay the couple's high electric bill. She said an anonymous city staff member has paid the family's utility bill.
The Colony Chamber of Commerce is asking local businesses for help, she said.
"It's sort of like The Colony takes care of its own," Mayor John Dillard said. "Helping these people is something we've got to do. We've got to come together." ...........
I've been thinking the same thing but there will be outcries and a lot of lawyers.
America will be stronger for this.
BILOXI, Miss.***........Searching rubble
Everywhere along the coast, people searched the rubble among fallen trees, downed power lines and smashed cars and appliances. They'd stop, bend down, reach into debris, come up with a piece of something and move on.
Mrs. Pitts, 47, cradled a cookie jar in the shape of a rabbit that she'd recovered in the remains of her home in the Point Cadet area. Inside, a small tennis shoe, a memento of her 19-year-old son's childhood, the only personal things left.
Alternately weepy and strong, she tried to make sense of it all. "This was the home that we created ... and there was nothing we could do. This is just the fury of Mother Nature," she said. "And I'm trying hard to realize that all of this devastation is in God's plan."
All she had left, she said, was a car and a dog, named Prissy. She wasn't even sure about her job as a nail technician. "Do you think people are going to be having their nails done?" she said with sardonic laugh.
Kimberly Ras and Steve Howard, both table game dealers at the Imperial Palace Casino, were worried about their jobs, too, as they picked through the remains of her apartment in a demolished old house further west on Beach Boulevard.
She had ridden out the storm at the apartment of Mr. Howard, her boyfriend, on the inland side of Biloxi, and they were looking mainly for pictures of her two children, 16 and 13, who live in Michigan.
The casino, located away from the beachfront, appeared to have escaped major damage but "is closed until further notice," she said. "We've got unemployment and FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency], but it won't make up for everything."
"Keep your options open," Mr. Howard said, suggesting they might have to leave the area to find work.
Not far away, two men in a pickup stopped to recover a vanity top laying undamaged amid the debris. It wasn't theirs, they said, but one of the men said he was a preacher and his demolished church could use it.
"This will be a blessing to the church," said Bishop D. Bruce Nelson of the Lighthouse Holiness Apostolic Holiness Church, who said the storm was God's way of getting the attention of a society preoccupied with unholy things.
"He's got His way of bringing us back to Him," Mr. Nelson said.
Ida Pungo, who said prayer and faith helped her ride out the storm in her Beach Boulevard apartment, was unbowed. She hung an American flag out front and announced plans for a Mardi Gras party next year.
"We'll be here," she said. "I'll cook gumbo. We'll have a jazz band. And everybody eats, drinks and parties all day long." ..........***
That's how I see it. I really believe New Orleans is dead.
Well, that's why Congress mandated that all Flood insurance be issued only by the quasi-government organization set up to do this. It was always with the stipulation in law that they would acquire rights to the properties in exchange for huge payouts, and retire these properties to vacant land or farm land.
Odd-ball engineering idea:
There is enough overburden carried down by the Mississippi to fill the N.O. bowl several times over. Nature would raise that land for free. (Not that silt makes the best building sites).
(September 12, 2004) PUNTA GORDA, FLA (after Charlie)***........Alan Waserstein is an old hand. After Hurricane Andrew ravaged south Florida in 1992, the Miami Lakes developer bought and sold more than 60 damaged homes and added roughly a dozen commercial buildings to his portfolio, he said. He and his family-owned company, Jerika Properties Inc., would like to do the same in Charlotte County, so long as they can clear a minimum profit of 25 percent to 33 percent. They are banking on finding homeowners who are underinsured and can't afford to rebuild.
Ken Scarpetti, an Auburn, N.H., real estate broker, said he is aiming for owners who would rather sell now than deal with the hassle of rebuilding. "Reputable individuals w/references ready to purchase your hurricane damaged saltwaterfront home," said his ad in the Charlotte Sun.
Fred Paine of Superior, Wisc., has a somewhat humbler goal: to buy a waterfront home for his grandparents, and make a bundle selling it after the local market rejuvenates.
The profit potential is substantial, drawing amateurs who in better times might have invested in the stock market. Consider the offer that Robert Milligan, owner of Shells Realty, received on an investment home he owns in Punta Gorda:
A speculator offered $200,000 cash for the storm-damaged home if Milligan would sign over the insurance check, or $50,000 if Milligan kept the check for himself. Milligan declined.
As it turned out, the home had to be demolished, and Milligan's insurer gave him $200,000 to cover the structure. If Milligan had taken the $200,000 cash offer, the speculator would have gotten the lot for free. If Milligan had taken the $50,000 cash offer, the speculator would have gotten the lot for a mere $50,000.
One of the more interesting matchups in Punta Gorda is between real estate agent and speculator. In newspaper columns, radio ads, home visits and casual conversation, real estate agents have tried to educate homeowners about safe selling - and assail the scoundrels who seek to prey on them.
"I think any professional real estate licensee would have some very strong words for the type of people that are trying to (speculate)," said Nancy McClary, president-elect of the Punta Gorda-Port Charlotte-North Port Association of Realtors and a broker associate at Caldwell Banker Morris Realty. "They're taking advantage of a very, very emotional situation."
"I call them "whores,"' Prudential agent Sue Lackey said. Lackey said she takes great pleasure in ripping down the illegal "cash for damaged homes" signs, few of which remain on city streets.
Lackey's boss, Dottie Johnson, said real estate agents have much to offer the homeowner, including free market analyses, which provide a realistic idea of what a given home might be worth; widespread advertising; and wise counsel.
George McKinney, a retired pool contractor and Johnson's neighbor, was in Cincinnati with his cancer-stricken wife during Hurricane Charley when another neighbor called to say he'd better come home soon.
The front doors to his Port Charlotte house were swinging open, the windows blown out, the roof destroyed, the interior flooded and strewn with broken ashtrays and pottery.
When Johnson stopped by later to check on him, McKinney was splayed on his bed, atop a blanket of broken glass, with hundreds of mosquito bites. His mailbox contained offers from three speculators.
"He'd given up on life," said Johnson, whose family took him in for the night.
By last week, McKinney was a new man: his home was under repair. He had an insurance check in hand. "I'm not gonna sell," he said.
Because real estate agents work on commission, they have an incentive to discourage speculation that would slash sales prices.
But at the same time, agents are professional middlemen who earn nothing when a speculator deals directly with a homeowner. As a result, some real estate agents are searching for homes on behalf of the very speculators their profession disdains.
Paulette Butcher, broker/manager of a Century 21 Award Associates office in Port Charlotte, said a Miami real estate broker called the day her office reopened and asked for help finding and buying 80 damaged homes. .........***
8/22/05 ***Charley didn't dampen interest in area real estate
When they were ready to move to a warmer climate, Jo Lapinski and her husband, Tom, considered Wilmington, N.C., but skipped over it due to the threat of hurricanes.
They started going down the west coast of Florida and stopped at Punta Gorda, buying a condominium in a high rise that overlooks Charlotte Harbor in 2000. Here, they didn't think they would have to deal with hurricanes.
"We didn't think (a hurricane) could come up through the Gulf and turn east," said Jo Lapinski, who moved to Florida from Pittsburgh.
The Lapinskis are sticking around, though, and snapping up investment properties. They're banking on the fact that another storm won't follow Hurricane Charley's path.
"I figure now that we've had one, chances are slim that it would happen again," said Jo Lapinski, who is building a home on a waterfront lot in Punta Gorda. "Maybe that's unrealistic, but I don't think it will."
The Lapinskis are a sample of the homeowners and investors in Charlotte County who find Southwest Florida just as desirable as before Aug. 13, 2004.
Four hurricanes barely made a dent in the real estate market in Florida. The number of homes changing hands sunk for a few months following Charley, but selling prices continued to escalate.
The most dramatic month was September, when the number of homes sold in the Fort Myers/Cape Coral area dropped 68 percent below the previous year's transactions, while the median price shot up 35 percent, according to the Florida Association of Realtors, which tracks sales of single-family existing homes. ...***
I wonder how much silt goes down the Mississippi a day?
Time to start reclaiming that dirt and fill the "bowl".
You know it can be done- the Netherlands deals with North Sea storms every year, which are hurricanes with ice & snow. It's an engineering problem, with the real sticking point being politics and money.
On another post, clee1 mentioned being a NO pump technician 20 years ago, and even then they knew if two or more pump stations failed during a storm the city would start to flood. There's no excuse for the levees being so poorly maintained, the pump stations not each having a standby powerplant, etc., etc.
I bet the money got diverted elsewhere.
I was just reading the "hurricane thread" and the scarey details of all the violence in NO now, even in the Super Dome where there is somewhat of a police presence.
You're constantly hearing the news people explain why this is happening, desperate people, desperate situation.
Yet there was no looting or civil breakdown last year in the back to back storms that hit Florida.
But this article gives a little insight, because NO was a crime problem long before the hurricane hit.
I found this website that lists NO as the third most stressful place to live in America because of the violent crime rate (and that was before the hurricane.)
God help those that are trying to control the situation.
I wonder what part of "Thall Shalt Not Steal" this preacher doesn't understand..
Yes. Its police department has rampant problems and said they were cleaning up their act. I expect much of LA government is problematic and that is systematic of a bigger picture - too much government money and corruption leads to a rotting city infrastructure.
I bet the money got diverted elsewhere.
Before the levee broke, it looked like New Orleans had survived the hurricane with minimal damage; afterward all hell broke loose. It really would be criminal if it is discovered the levees have not been properly maintained.
Yes. That was disturbing.
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