- Posted September 8, 2008 by
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans when Hurricane Gustav made landfall... By Alekz Londos
The plane is empty, turbulence proves the conditions are changing. Looking out over New Orleans, no cars, no traffic on the freeways,... no movement. The whole city was shut down. I arrived at New Orleans International Airport around 2:10pm on August 31, 2008. The coffee shops, snack bars, and restaurants were also closed to everyone, throughout entire airport. Most of the employees had already left further inland, farther away from or outside of the direct path of Gustav......to Dallas Texas, Shreveport Louisiana, or Jackson Mississippi.
Infront of the airport there were no cabs, no busses, no people......the only person I could see, was an airport employee waiting to check the baggage if anyone were to show up, trying to catch one of the last flights out before the airport would close for the duration of the storm. I was told that most of people in the city of New Orleans had left 3 days earlier. There were very few civilians, most were members of the press, police local/state/federal and National Guard still out on the streets. Even the bussed from the local schools and privately owned that loaded out more that a million evacuees during the evacuation had stopped their wrought at 12:00 noon. That was over two hours before I flew in.....even if I wanted to get to a safer city, it was too late. At this time, with the information I was provided, I was expecting a hurricane of at the least the strength of a Category 4.
I walked over 12 miles to find myself shelter from the Hurricane....alone.....silent [streets... walking through the neighborhoods as I remember had flooded after Hurricane Katrina. I occasionally would see someone walking to a safer place or out front of their homes, preparing/waiting for this so called 'storm of the century' I talked with some of the people that stayed to ride out this storm as others in the past with positive hopes and no intentions on leaving whether this storm would be stronger than Hurricane Katrina or weaken to a tropical depression. Anyone walking/driving the streets at dusk, would be arrested, no questions asked. I was racing the sunset..
Somehow I found myself in a conversation with two state police officers, discussing this crisis we face. When they get the call.....they listen and say "it's here" downtown New Orleans had just been hit early by the firsts of many rings spiraling off of Gustav. They looked at each other, then looked at me then said "Get inside, get somewhere safe NOW" They sent me on my way as they jumped in their cars and drive off. As I looked towards downtown it was dark a large black cloud over head, constantly moving its' shape. I felt the atmosphere change, I sped my walk in the direction of the nearest parking garage in sight about two blocks away I ran. My attention was to look back. Ripping across the street dust, trash, rain, debree chasing me. The sound grew louder, as it approached, I ran faster, my heavy equipment, my blistered feet...slowed me...motivated by the sound only explained by a Jet engine powering up behind me, along with the overhead sound of thunder [and what I thought to see was hail??? I then felt the power of the wind as it hit me before I had reached the safety of concrete and steel. This force of energy, I thought ... it was over? I made a wrong move.....I saw a green city sign torn up, next to the side of the road near me nothing imagined Like something out of any over dramatized movie. Then I was through that door it slammed shut running up a stairwell, flickering lights. I am soaking wet, out of breath, overwhelmed. It was here Hurricane Gustav!
That brought fierce winds, heavy rain, and scattered lightning storms, causing isolate explosions, house fires, floods and power outages across the state. The uncomfortable sounds.....horrifing screams from the wind, rain, and thunder, twisting metal, breaking tree limbs, and car alarms all surrounding me in that concrete garage. Most of my equipment was ruined by the rain JVC GR-HD1, OLYMPUS E-300, Blackjack 2 that limited me from better documenting this disaster. I will be more knowledgeable and better prepared next time.
From what I heard this was now only a Category 2 Hurricane. Earlier predictions of it strengthening into a Category 5 would make it the worst hurricane in US history. It was only three years and one day since Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana and Mississippi as a Category 3, killing over 1600 people encouraged the Mayor's strict enforcement of the mandatory evacuation before this hurricane for the New Orleans residents and some of the other coastal religions of Louisiana threatening jail time to those who stayed that would later build growing concern of whom and how many would adhere to any future evacuation in fear to relive the same uncomfortable overcrowded conditions in escape from other hurricanes in the future?
Regaining order, sirens, flashing lights, you see police and ambulences, speed down one street, then multiple fire trucks driving down another.
Though most of the people were evacuated, this city was still in danger, and without power. It was stated on the news that it could be as long as two weeks before power was restored. The cell phone towers in parts of the city had been installed with huge backup generators, that would independently switch on in a power outage. A solid upgrade since the Katrina's devastation. Suprizingly there was still water [that I did not trust?
The levees held, though storm surge and days of rain had some areas completely flooded. I saw/helped people cleaning out the storm drains of branches, and leaves in front of their home to prevent the rising waters from causing flood damage.
A few days later the first gas station opened up at Airline and Transcontinental under the police supervision to keep control People raced over standing outside waiting in line in the rain to buy food and water, but mostly beer and cigarettes and the continual request, as with Katrina, for ice People were also in lines to refuel their tanks, curving out of the gas station parking lot and down the streets. Some people brought as many as five gas containers to fill up.
Waking up my third night to a major lightning storm, then a house fire right across from where I was staying followed by an immediate response by the fire department, then police. This was nothing out of place.
The next day one of the first store opened up in the area.......Walgreens located on Airport Dr. They removed the stack of shopping carts blocking their glass entrance to prevent anyone in attempting to drive/smash through the front doors Their generator powered the store, employees and managers worked hard, ready to attend to any and all request from their customers. Cash registers, went on/off line, the freezers, and lights strained the generator, the solution was to shut down the pharmacy until a prescription was in to resolve the problem,.....this was a quick managerially decision.
I walked for miles to reach the airport that was to be reopened on September 4, 2008. Along the way, every newspaper in the city interestingly, was still backdated to August 30, 2008. People that had left the city were starting to come back home.......to flooded streets, fallen tree and downed power lines. On a larger scale, there was minimal damage to homes and properties in comparison to Katrina. Looking down one street I saw a police officer walk over and pick up a small American flag, wave it around walking back over to his other coworkers. You wonder what was in his thought were at this poignant time.
I caught a flight on the 4th back to San Jose, CA. Flighing over the Gulf of Mexico, I could already see some of the transport crew ships bringing their people back to the oil rigs to get up and running. Little damage was reported to the thousands of Gulf Coast's oil and gas installations. Gas prices in this region seemed to stay the same. Around $3.69 a gallon.
With government support on all levels, this is how well our society can respond to other hurricanes and natural disasters in the future a cooperative effort organized and controlled. Imagine if we were or our government was this prepared for Hurricane Katrina.
Three more major storms follow Hurricane Gustav, and there are still three more months in this years Hurricane season.
It's your impact on our world......contributing towards our global warming crisis? What is your change to help us stop it?
From Alekz Londos an independent photojournalist in response to Hurricane Katrina.
RENT THE 11TH HOUR!!!