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September 30, 2005

No Autopsy For Teddy?


I still think one of the biggest Katrina stories is the environmental one.

There is a lot of information on the net about the ecological situation, and most of it is pretty disturbing.  According to the Wall Street Journal (via SEEN), for instance, at least 193,000 barrels of oil and other petrochemicals were blown or carried by tides across New Orleans’ Plaquemines and St. Bernard parish. According the the paper, that volume is equivalent to the amount dumped in the Exxon Valdez tanker spill, which left 240,000 barrels of oil in Prince William Sound.

If you recall, Admiral Allen and even GWB had been cautioning
Mayor Nagin about rushing people back in to New Orleans. Nagin reneged,
but he apparently only did under the threat of Hurricane Rita. At the
time, Nagin sounded pretty defiant. The mayor said:

"The admiral’s a good man. I respect him. But when he starts talking
to the citizens of New Orleans, that’s kind of out of his lane. There’s
only one mayor of New Orleans and I’m it."

Now that Rita has blown through and the government has backed off, it
looks like the mayor is going to have his way. In fact, it seems the
EPA is now refusing to take any official stance on the return. 

Since the city started drying out, the media has been filled with
stories touting the speed of the recovery process. At the same time,
however, many of the images seems to be virtually shouting out the
dangers left behind. This is just one photo — which appeared on the
front page of the NYT about a week and a half ago — which seems to
presage future trouble. According to the caption, Darryn Melerine’s
wife asked him to return to their house in Meraux in St. Bernard Parish
and bring back their son’s teddy bear. When Darryn found it, however,
it was so caked with mold, he left without it. In this case, an
individual home owner shines a light to ascertain the extent of damage.
There are serious doubts, however, whether city, state or federal
authorities will ever officially do the same.

(A blog I discovered that is tracking Katrina’s environmental fallout is New Orleans Environment Watch.
According to the site, it is run by former Congressional and
Environmental Protection Agency staff, as well as other activist

(image: Doug Mills/The New York Times.  September 18, 2005. St. Bernard Parish, New Orleans.  The New York Times, p. A1.)

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  • buda_jenn

    Thank you for the links and the telling photo. I look everyday for mention of this environmental catastrophe in the MSN and find exactly nada, zilch, zero.
    I heard something about environmental rules being suspended to allow (force) New Orleans individuals to clean up their own toxic waste (currently illegal) – if anyone knows anything about this?

  • Phredd

    It’s been a month. People want to reclaim their homes and property and their lives, and most likely don’t trust their government not to hand it over to a bunch of Republican carpetbaggers and scalawags.
    After a month, people are still living in shelters in cities whose citizens outspokenly don’t want them. They can see very clearly that they will not be treated like citizens of past disasters who have traditionally been provided with housing vouchers and living assistance until they could recover their lives.
    It is their HOME. They want to go home. Wouldn’t you?

  • karena

    Phredd, I agree. I initially questioned Nagin’s motives, but now I think his motive is to get folks in there so the truth will come out. I do not like the fact that people returning will be in danger, but already stories are coming out that a family returned to find their loved ones dead in their home that had already been searched by the body recovery crew and they marked the home as no dead found.
    I find it odd that only 1000 bodies have been found. Are we to believe that all but 1000 escaped and are safe in some shelter? 134,000 did not evacuate initially. During the height of the storm 133,000 magically made it to higher ground?

  • Asta

    Winnie the Pooh comes home to find that the Hundred Acre Wood has been flooded, ransacked, polluted, and overrun with the hired guns of Blackwater.
    Last night we saw the news footages of the various types of mold and bacteria growing in the homes and frankly, I will be very surprised if a whole new life form isn’t spawned from this toxic sludge.
    But Karena’s post made me gasp. Oh my God. I can’t begin to imagine the family’s horror and grief and probably overwhelming anger.
    My last thought: With today’s bureaucratic red tape and protectiveness and all the other ongoing BS, it is a wonder to me how Americans have gotten this far in the first place. If FEMA had been around when Man first discovered fire, well, I guess we’d still be sitting around in a cave, wearing bearskins and shivering. (Don’t give those cave people anything combustible, they might burn themselves.) And on a more contemporary note, there would have been no pioneers or wagon trains or explorations because, you know, there is always the possibility that someone might get hurt, lost, dehydrated or eaten by their own kinfolk. (e.g. The Donner Party which ended badly.)
    Of course, the saving grace is that FEMA wasn’t around then to protect us from ourselves. I am still reeling from their disastrous decision to not use the school buses for evacuation because the buses weren’t air-conditioned. My goodness, how did we ever survive before air-conditioning was invented? Someone please tell me.
    Oh, sorry, Pooh, about the bearskin reference. Don’t take it personally.

  • hauksdottir

    Given that there are at least TWO detention camps (that I’ve read about) out in the wilderness, and that no photographers or reporters are being allowed near them, I can understand why urban-dwellers would seek to return to their own roofs as quickly as possible. Even rot and mold is better than a shared cabin full of strangers in the little “Dachaus” tucked into the piney woods… and the act of cleaning up at least gives a sense of purpose and shared utility.
    Treating humans worse than prisoners or livestock, merely because they are poor and black, is unpardonable. The returnees may face ruin, but they do it on their own terms inside their own walls.
    Also, if they have left behind cats and dogs, there is a far better chance of reuniting with them, if they are back in the neighborhood.
    I have to shudder at the environmental mess and the risk they are taking, but I understand it.

  • ummabdulla

    On the other hand, the mayor may be trying to hurry residents back because he’s afraid that if they get settled in somewhere else, put their children in schools there (and maybe find out that the schools are better), get jobs, etc… they might just decide to stay where they are, and the population of New Orleans could end up quite a bit smaller than it was.

  • tina

    I agree with Karena that the death toll is very fishy.
    It doesn’t help that the funeral company doing the undertaking is a big Texas company (known as SCI) run by deeply entrenched Bush cronies, which has been indicted in the past for, among other things, illegally disposing of bodies. In one case they burned 27 people and put them in a single grave.
    Also worrisome is how mortuary volunteers, funeral home volunteers, everyone who was not an SCI employee, were abruptly dismissed and sent home, along with the ban on pictures and reporters, etc. All very weird. They couldn’t have concluded at the time there was no need for the volunteers because they had no idea of the body count. Respect for the dead with no pictures? Yeah right, since when. Strange, very strange. I’m afraid the whole thing fairly screams out “What are you hiding to protect your company benefactor, the President?”
    Investigators subpoenaed Bush himself during his presidential campaign in ‘99 in connection with an SCI scandal and people worried then that it would hurt his White House bid, but then the story magically faded out of the media, although the court case didn’t (SCI lost and and had to pay up).
    The best article about this is in Salon’s archives of 1999, its entitled “the Texas Way of Death”. It’s not complete but its a start.
    Something needs to come out here about how this has been handled.
    As for the detention camps, and sending refugees in small groups to places like Minnesota and Puerto Rico (1,500 were flown there against their will):
    a. they don’t want citizens regrouping and talking to each other very much. wonder why? see above.
    b. investors and real estate types want them gone forever so they can build their Cajun Disneyland for weekenders from the suburbs of Houston. duh.
    I feel sorry for the danger the people are facing in trying to reclaim their homes but I think they understand that if they don’t get back now, points a. and b. will be accomplished and they will never have a home in New Orleans again, and never find answers about their communities (and they have a lot of questions, not all of which are rooted in outlandish conspiracy theory). I wish them all luck, they are going to need it.

  • mdhatter

    speaking as someone who cleans up hazardous waste for a living:
    the solution to pollution is NOT dilution
    that much oil spread over that large an area, then flushed out to sea is NOT a crisis.
    Where it is concentrated, yes, that is a problem. and yes, you might want to import clean soil for your vegetable garden next spring, but unless you smell fumes, you’re relatively safe. Most of the nastiest chemicals are heavier than water, and most of the rest dissolve in water.
    oil floats, so it catches your eye.
    but the mold is what terrifies me.

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