Monday, September 05, 2005

Poppy Z. Brite, a truly talented author of dark fiction who in recent years has begun to write in a less bloody vein, is, like Anne Rice, an author many strongly identify with the city of New Orleans. Like Rice, Ms. Brite has set some of her own vampire tales in that city, and has written a great deal of rich and evocative prose about the Big Easy.

Poppy's blog is Dispatches from Tanganyika, and if she were not a pretty well-known author, her blog at first glance could be the witty daily musings of any highly intelligent and creative young professional.

In light of the events of the last week or so, Poppy's blog is living proof available right on the worldwide web that a disaster of this magnitude touches everyone; the famous and wealthy, the poor and ignored. She and her partner Chris escaped the worst wrath of Hurricane Katrina, but they had to leave a number of pets and their home behind.

September 4, 2005, Poppy updated for the first time since September 1st. When someone has a gift of writing it is always worth quoting them at a time like this, because the beauty of the author's art sometimes is their ability to put what people less facile with our mother tongue feel into words and images.

From Poppy Z. Brite's Livejournal entry written September 4:

There is no way we can get to New Orleans in the foreseeable future, but various animal rescue organizations are trying to help the cats. We're incredibly grateful for that and for all the financial help you have given us. Chris has no livelihood for God knows how long, my eBay business is dead for God knows how long and may have no stock left, and I can still work but currently have no way to receive income other than Paypal, though I'm hoping my mom's mail service will resume soon. These donations will help us more than you all know.

We spend our days waiting in gas lines, picking up ice from FEMA and Red Cross sites, crying, and reading. At night we read by flashlight or candlelight...

I was long ago disabused of the romantic notion that the writing life, once it provides your means of living, was some sort of ideal existence of wealth and independence. Still, seeing just how an author who, to my eyes, has achieved a perfectly acceptable level of success -- as in, I'd be happy to have a career like hers -- has to deal with the same deprivations as everyone else, seeing how decimated her life has been by this storm brings home just how vast the swath cut through the lives of southerners really is. No one has been spared. Politician, writer, cop, accountant, computer genius, webmaster, blogger, garbageman, busker, homeless person, criminal, lawyer, infant, centenarian... all who still have voices do like Poppy Z. Brite, they wait, they get help, hopefully, and they cry.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

"We Covet Your Prayers and Remembrance..."

The first story I've received via e-mail actually comes from a friend from high school who resides in the Jackson, Mississippi area. Sara was my date to senior prom, nearly 20 years ago. Now she has two blonde blue-eyed kids and an easygoing, soft-spoken husband, and is often the glue that bonds many of us who might have lost touch ages ago together, which is in and of itself testimony to how big her heart is. I've made minor changes, things like removing wherever applicable information Sara might deem too personal, and altering the structure of some sentences for clarity.

The convention for this blog will be that whenever I am posting the words of another, even if I have to paraphrase or edit, the writing will be in italics, but not off-set as blocked quote. My commentary, if any, will always be in non-italicized text.

We have been without power and phone service since Monday about 2:00. Everything came back up tonight (Friday) at 8:00. We are OK. We had a tree down in the back and are missing LOTS of shingles from the roof, but we are just fine. Civil unrest, tempers, stress-levels and heat are really making people crazy here. We are lucky. Over half the residents of Jackson are without power. The weather here has been better, though. 75% humidity instead of the usual 95%. At night it's gotten down to 65 this week! (Unseasonable cool for us, but a welcome relief!)

We had only 80-90 mph winds here at our house. An hour south is Hattiesburg, and they had 130 mph winds and the city is in ruins. The most unbelievable part is because Katrina was moving so slowly, we had sustained winds like that from before daybreak until right at 6:00 pm. It was just over 12 hours of being hammered! The sound was so loud you cannot imagine. It was eerie, exhilarating and terrifying. Even the trees still standing are severely misshapen from the winds coming at them all day from mostly the same side.

Our city has over 25,000 refugees from this storm and thousands of children misplaced. Now we are begging for teachers that will be needed for the extra children. This is in addition to no gas - long lines, a difficult housing market, economic uncertainty, and many personal tragedies, etc. Jobs around here were scarce before and now there are so many more needing jobs and housing. It is crazy.

What you don't hear much of (because of the atrocity in New Orleans) is how well Mississippi's hierarchy of government, infrastructure and emergency plans are working. Our governor (a Yazoo Co. native and republican that I did not vote for...) has really done an excellent job of giving leadership. The plans that they had in place -- and had practiced, the organization, even telling FEMA what MEMA has covered and what the state needed from FEMA, where they specifically needed help, etc is great.

Mississippians have an amazing amount of patience, an altruism -- helping others for no gain. There is an amazing character of MOST people that is really coming through. Literally what many in the outside world don't understand (and some here that don't have radio or television, but sit and wait for help) is that it is difficult for rescuers and samaritans with food to even reach many places still and it is 4 days after the storm. Roads that have finally "opened" are only cleared with one lane and tree limbs and debris pushed to the side so that there are no shoulders. Many rescue vehicles have had flat tires - news crews, too. It is unbelievable the magnitude of the destruction - and overwhelming the cleanup needed.

The plan and progress of the county and state government is running very smoothly here. On Sunday night before the storm even hit they had people called "scouts" positioned to ride out the storm to begin assessment as soon as the winds subsided. I am proud of what has been accomplished by the prepared, organized, well-led local governments here. Many in the country would do well to follow this state's example as far as that is concerned. Our economy is devastated, however. It is bad...and far-reaching. Many are just realizing HOW bad it is and how bad it is going to be before we get moving with some sense of normalcy again, albeit with much higher prices and fewer conveniences. Everything here is mostly still on a cash-only basis -until today. Banks are finally going again today, but the feelings of uncertainty, frustration and realization makes things everywhere a bit shaky, nonetheless. I don't think that many other cities realize yet that this is a permanent "evacuation" of "refugees" for most of them. It will impact their children in school and their economy as well.

All of the firefighters and police from communities above I-20 will soon begin taking mandatory shifts of 4 days to go for relief efforts on our coast. The first team left yesterday. They have been busy helping in their own communities and with their own families and now will help other areas. They are glad to do it, excited to "do" something about it, but getting tired, too. I have several friends who are local firefighters. It begins to take a toll on the families "giving" their dad or mom in these relief efforts, too.

We are fine. [Prayers] are still much needed for the many, many in this state separated from family, (lost children who cannot find parents), people in the Mississippi heat with no fan or water, and rescue workers worn out and wearing thin. We covet your prayers and remembrance.

I thank Sara for sharing so much of her experience with me. Hers is only one among millions of stories to be told. Some, hopefully many, like Sara's, will be uplifting, insightful. Others will be, to use Sara's word, "harrowing," like something out of a horror film. I will not shy away from posting it here, no matter what. Remember, if you have a story like Sara's, or a story that is radically different, you can e-mail it to me at

There was more in Sara's message, which I will make part of a different entry later. Her words were powerful, and inspiring.

I will edit what you mail as needed for clarity, sometimes for brevity, spelling and grammar, but I pledge to anyone who wants their tale to be known that you will recognize your own tragedy or triumph, or both, and your own voice.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

"... Under mattresses in the hallway..."

What follows is a quote from the Livejournal of author Poppy Z. Brite. In the past Ms. Brite has been known for her dark fiction, but in recent years she began to write in a decidedly different vein. To some, she is as quintessentially a New Orleans writer as Anne Rice.

A blog entry written August 28, 2005:
It took us eight hours to drive the approximately 80 miles here and I am exhausted. The only cool part was that as we drove through Bayou Sauvage, we saw about a hundred Magnificent Frigatebirds hovering low over the highway. You seldom see these birds over land unless a hurricane is coming or has just passed. These appeared to be all females and juvies -- I guess the men ride out the storm and send their families inland.

Besides the two animals and a few clothes and toiletries, here is what I brought:

-- My computer.

-- My copy of A Confederacy of Dunces signed by Thelma Toole.

-- My copy of When the Saints Go Marching In signed by Buddy D.

It's at times like these that you find out what you really cherish, I guess.

From an e-mail sent on August 30, 2005, information edited at the writer's request:
Ginny and Steve E. have not been heard from since I spoke with Ginny at 11:00AM yesterday(...)I have contacted Red Cross but have heard nothing yet. Ginny's last words to me were "We just lost 2 huge oak trees... my God,they were 300 years old! Listen... we are going to get under mattresses in the hallway..." Hopefully you can send up a Prayer,and maybe...find me someone in the Red Cross besides the robot that answers the phone...
More from the same correspondent, an out-of-state friend of Ginny's, the following written to the author of this blog later the same day, August 30:
I'm Ginnys out of state contact...She and Steve went through Camille when they were youngsters.

They live in Dixie, by Hattiesburg, on 5 acres. Ginny and I were in constant contact Sunday and Monday... till trees fell...

Dixie is tiny town so hoping someone will know something. They have children,too. She promised she would let me know, or have another contact let me know if they were ok...

When airplanes plowed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, it was obvious to anyone watching that in a moment the world had changed, irrevocably.

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is a disaster of a very different kind, much more slowly revealed, and in its way, equally horrific. It may even be the death of an American city, or at the least the worst blow of any kind to strike a major American city since the ravages of the Civil War, 140+ years ago. New Orleans seems to slowly be turning into the new Atlantis.

And truly, at this moment, no one has a grasp on the destruction that has been wrought in the region of southern Mississippi where the Ginny and Steve about whom you read above live. In Biloxi and Gulfport, the true number of dead may not be known for months to come.

For a different view of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, take a look at the following links to

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

I'm in California. I am saying my prayers and watching and waiting as the worst hurricane in history heads straight for New Orleans. Years ago, my son told me that one like this could hit. But I didn't believe him. Now it looks as if the entire city might be destroyed. Those I love have fled, some with their children. Others are simply trapped there.

A great deal of what I own may be lost forever; but as I sit here, I think these morning glories can bloom as beautifully some place else, too. They don't bloom only here on this mountain with its serene view of the sea. If my life is changed, I will survive. So many many others stand to lose all they possess, and even their lives. Such a terrifying time.

...The words above are a paraphrase of an e-mail from a writer who lived much of their life in New Orleans; identifying information was removed, the structure of some sentences altered slightly to preserve this person's privacy.

The news seems only to get slowly, sadly worse with each passing hour. Now there is news of some kind of riot in the Orleans Parish Prison.

There was also recently a report of two men with AK-47s firing into a police precinct in downtown New Orleans, from Jeff Goldblatt of Fox News.

To see your Storm Stories in this blog, e-mail them to
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina, a category 4 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, came ashore near the border between Louisiana and Mississippi. Prior to the storm most of the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, was evacuated, but a number of people unable to leave the city took shelter in various places there, including the Superdome, a covered stadium normally reserved for professional athletic events.

By August 30, 2005, the toll this storm took on the Gulf shore communities in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama began to be apparent. In the mid-morning hours of that Tuesday the death toll rose in short order from 55 to 80, and the streets of the storied party city of New Orleans, at first thought to have been spared the worst of the storm's fury, were slowly filling with floodwaters seeping out of Lake Ponchartrain.

As a child I experienced a different kind of storm -- the massive tornado outbreak of April 3/4, 1974. On that single day at least 300 tornadoes, many of them in the F-4 and F-5 range on the Fujita Scale of Tornado Intensity, ravaged a zone stretching from northern Alabama through northern Ohio -- my own family home was narrowly missed by an F-3 twister that brought widespread destruction to the suburbs in the southeastern neighborhoods of my hometown.

I realized at least 20 years later just what an impact that single day in April had on my life, and that the story of that day was important to me, needed to be told. The story of the weeks after the twisters with no electricity, cooking supper on Coleman stoves on the front porch, even the story of the hour after the storm, when I looked up to see the steel-gray clouds sweeping away at impossible speeds, revealing a few minutes of crystalline blue sky before yet another storm's wrath barrelled in from the southwest.

This blog's purpose is to give voice to those who survived Hurricane Katrina and other storms like her. Stories of storms past and present are welcome.

As the blogger I will function as an amanuensis -- one who "takes dictation or copies manuscripts." I blog, myself, and at least two of my blogs are very popular, but because of the purpose I have set for this particular weblog, I don't feel my identity is important. My own weblogs will not be referenced here or linked.

The way I will be an amanuensis is by soliciting your stories. The method I have chosen to use at first is e-mail. The e-mail address reserved for correspondence and entry material for this weblog is the following:

A large number of people who might have stories of contact with this storm and its aftermath have no internet connection at this moment, but there are probably enough to begin this endeavor. And while this blog begins by seeking stories specific to Katrina, having survived that storm, lost something or even someone to that storm, I felt this journal might have longer life if I made it clear that all stories of survival, hope, even tragedy, from storms past and future are also welcomed.

Submissions to the e-mail address above will be edited for grammar and spelling. I may at times respond to submissions with requests for additional information and clarification. You, the submitter, may remain as anonymous as you like -- it must be made clear as part of your submission how much or how little you would like the readers to know about you.

A secondary source of stories can be the comments for any post, however I would prefer e-mail if your story is lengthy.

I will not respond to requests for personal information about myself or queries to the e-mail provided directed at determining my identity. If you think you know who I am, feel free to e-mail my personal e-mail address, if you believe you know it, to ask, and I will consider telling you. It isn't my intention to be mysterious; I just feel the telling of these stories from The Storm is far more important than knowing who I am or promoting myself in some manner. Make no mistake; I'm not that altruistic -- in my other blogging endeavors I am anything but shy about getting my name 'out there.' But humanity's bewildering, and often terrifying encounters with the implacable forces of nature lend themselves to narrative, and also call for, in my opinion, an effort to preserve the recollections of victims in whatever way possible. The advent of blogging, of "citizen" journalism, provides something many who shared the experience of that massive outbreak in April of 1974 never had -- a place to give voice to the experience, to the fear, to the grief, and even sometimes in the midst of disaster, the joy.

It is my hope that no one will think their story too insignificant to offer, and that I will do your words, your memories, justice.

Again, the e-mail address to submit your stories from The Storm --

For clarification, I am interested stories from anyone who feels they have one to tell. If you are a reporter who covered this or another, similar event, and you have a wealth of stories that you've never been able to detail, let me hear it. If you are a stormchaser of any sort, write me. If you are just someone lucky enough to have survived and you aren't even comfortable with e-mail but you need to get the experience off your chest, please write a submission and send it to

I welcome all submissions, and should I ever not use one, I will take the time to explain why and in detail -- the only criteria I have is that your experience is connected to The Storm. At the moment, a priority will be placed on stories about Hurricane Katrina, but all stories will eventually make it here after I've reviewed, and if necessary, edited the submission. An example of what I will accept; say you live very far from any of the most recently storm-ravaged zones but you have family there, and you have not been able to reach them, or had an experience where you could not contact anyone to reassure yourself they were okay. This would be an instance where you didn't directly experience the event, but that doesn't make your story any less worth telling. Completely non-event related blather, personal screeds, politics, whatever, won't make it into this blog. So save the rant you've prepared about the true and dark calumnies committed by the Bush Administration or how Bill Clinton really fathered an alien baby by your half-step-sister, they will be deleted from the comments and the e-mails will be chucked.