Have the Hurricanes Slipped from Your Mind?

I just received this e-mail from Joel Daniel Harris, a friend who is currently working as a volunteer with the Red Cross in New Orleans. The images he paints with his words are haunting.


Late yesterday I got a call from the warehouse that my team would have today off because the warehouse is running so low on product. After informing my team (who were disappointed, as I was), I managed to get a car from the Red Cross to have for the rest of yesterday and all day today. With my new wheels (a sporty little Pontiac GrandAm), a good night of rest (I got to sleep in until 6:30!), and a desire for some alone time, I took off this morning to travel east into Mississippi, another area where the hurricane caused massive devastation.

It is overwhelming.

I do not have a camera and so did not take pictures. Part of this is out of respect for the people. There was an eery feeling to today...akin to being a tourist...except of destruction. But I wanted to be able to really understand the terror of what happened here and communicate it to you. And so I use words, because our imaginations paint better pictures than 3 x 5 prints.

I passed a car lot full of cars. Except on a closer look you realized they were covered in a gray filth that marks all vehicles that were under the floodwaters. The entire lot had been flooded...above the top of every car. And they sat there...quiet and still.

Further down the road, I'm surrounded by a broken forest. The trees were bent and busted up...maybe if I tilted the world 45 degrees it would have felt a bit more straight and proper.

It's a Sunday afternoon and the stores are closed. Not because it's a Sunday but because they haven't been open in months. Mile after mile of storefronts line the roads on either side of me...and maybe one in ten is open.

The most reliable signs are found everywhere with red spray paint. On walls, on cardboard, on broken down vehicles or rubble. Signs saying "we're open" or the house number or marking the date that they were inspected after the hurricane.

At one point I'm forced to turn around and find another route because the bridge is washed out. A full-fledge highway bridge. I can see the concrete pylons sticking up out of the water...the road is gone.

Lining either side of the road are pile after pile of debris. Trash, refrigerators, siding, trees...anything and everything you can think of. Many of the piles are 8 or 10 feet high. At points I feel as if I'm driving down a walled-in road.

Along Rt 90, marked as a "scenic drive" route, I see the worst destruction I've ever seen anywhere. House after house...except the houses are gone. Driveways, foundations, and concrete or brick patio steps leading up to...nothing. The entire house is gone...sometimes lying in pieces around the foundation, sometimes washed further ashore to where I can't even see it.

I come across a house that's gutted...the frame still mostly stands, but it's like a giant doll house after the kids have grown. No walls, and totally gutted. Further down the road I see a Walmart. Again the entire fram of the store is still standing, but the walls equal to the first story have been totally washed away. I stare through and see the woods in the background. Nothing is left in the store...just torn walls and frame.

And this is nearly three months after the hurricane came through. Nearly three months later, recovery is barely begun in these parts.

A van sits squashed in a ditch on the side of the road. Bent and beaten, only half of it is visible as the other half is sunk in the ditch. It's been there since the hurricane. Scrawled across the top, in giant, red, spray-painted letters:

"Please Don't Loot...It's All We Have Left."

Joel Daniel

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