Audio, Photos and Written Reports from Houston and New Orleans

On September 9th, Vinny and I arrived in Houston, Texas along with Blank from Portland, Oregon to provide aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The three of us headed to Houston to help with with independent media, including a low power fm radio station which was being organized for the Astrodome. Upon our arrival in Houston, we learned that the Astrodome emergency radio station was again being blocked from broadcasting information to survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

We went to the Astrodome and spoke with people who were willing to speak with us. We listened to their experiences in the past and at the Astrodome. Please visit the following links for audio, photos and written reports published by Vinny, Blank and I.

* I removed links to Houston Indymedia that were no longer working, regretfully.

Audio: Interview from ‘Dome City’ with Joseph Bijou of New Orleans

Photos: The Surreal Scene of Dome City || More Scenes from ‘Dome City’

Words: The Houston Astrodome: Do You Know What Is Really Happening?

On September 9, myself and two other west coast IMCistas arrived in Houston, Texas to help provide independent media coverage from Houston and other communities. Our first stop was the Astrodome and surrounding buildings. There are about 10,000 people now living in these buildings, which are now being called “Dome City.”

The scene in the Astrodome is almost unreal. There are thousands of people sleeping in close proximity. Many people are trying to get in contact with loved ones, but there does not seem to be a practical way to facilitate this.

There seems to be very little organization, plenty of unanswered questions and almost no information about what the future holds for Hurricane Katrina survivors.

Some clothing and food is being provided to people, however the food is very low in nutritional value and much of the clothing is inadequate. Many people here have health conditions which are not being cared to. For example, many folks are diabetic, yet most of the food being offered is full of sugar, such as donuts and twinkies.

One man I spoke with told me that he was able to drive his family out of New Orleans before the Hurricane struck. He has been at Astrodome in Houston for about a week. He is happy that he was able to leave New Orleans with his family, but now he is almost out of money and is unsure of what is going to happen next. He was waiting in line for a Red Cross Debit Credit worth $2,000. He waited in line yesterday for this debit card, but then FEMA and the Red Cross stopped handing out cards. Many people waited in line and had nothing to show for their time spent waiting. He told me that people do not know what the future may hold… that people do not know what tomorrow holds…. that people do not know what will happen today… that people have no idea what will happen with the line they are again waiting in.

People are just waiting and doing their best to maintain a positive outlook on the entire situation.

Joseph Bijou of New Orleans (27:57 minutes / 12.8 MB)

On September 10, I met Joseph Bijou from the 70122 zip code of New Orleans, Louisiana. Joesph had just finished getting a haircut at the makeshift barber shop setup inside the Astrodome of Houston, Texas.

Joseph Bijou of New Orleans
Joseph Bijou of New Orleans

There are thousands of people still living in the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. Everyone here has an important story to tell.

While in Houston, we were asked if we could go down to the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans, Louisiana to help set up an emergency low power fm radio station. We were welcomed into the Algiers community by Malik Rahim and Common Ground, a community-run organization offering temporary assistance and mutual aid to the citizens of New Orleans and the surrounding areas.

Words: Algiers New Orleans: Where Common Ground Is Found

Photos: Creativity, Solidarity and Mutual Aid in Algiers, New Orleans || Community Support in Algiers, New Orleans || Common Ground Wellness Center in Algiers, New Orleans || Finding Common Ground in New Orleans

Audio: Interview with Noah, a volunteer medic || Algiers residents starting to return || Leenie Halbert interview || FSRN: Grassroots Groups Offer Assistance in Algiers

On September 12, Vinny, Blank and I arrived in New Orleans. We are staying in the Algiers neighborhood. Community members and volunteers from coast to coast and Europe, are providing people in New Orleans with food, medical aid and health supplies.

As we drove into New Orleans, we saw many buildings and trees that have been destroyed as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Driving in New Orleans is pretty strange these days. Many of the street signs are laying on the side of the road. However, the photos I am publishing here are trying to tell a different story. They are not focused on the destruction caused by Katrina, racism and classism, rather they provide a small glance at the creativity, solidarity and mutual aid happening here in Algiers.

On September 13, the Common Ground collective in Algiers, New Orleans began the day with a meeting to discuss everything from staying healthy to the difference between martial law and a state of emergency. A medic at the wellness center said that the best way to maintain to the health of the community is be sure that everyone washes their hands often and to not share plates and utensils.

After the meeting, volunteers assembled personal hygiene kits and dropped them off at the Common Ground Wellness Center at 1401 Teche St. where hundreds of people from New Orleans have been treated and received supplies.

A little bit later in the day, Iasha, Errol and Christopher came by to see if they could have some bicycles. The folks from Austin who brought the bicycles were happy to set the three of them up with bicycles. Iasha, Errol and Christopher said that all their friends have left town and they are the only children left in the neighborhood. Francisco, an artist from Austin, drew a portraiture of Errol as Rosa and Vinny conducted an interview. Iasha, Errol and Christopher also left with a bag of toys, crayons and a coloring book.

Meanwhile, Jackie was busy creating a large wooden mast for the brand new community radio station which is currently being called “The Battle for Algiers.” As this was going on, Cindy Sheehan and the Veterans for Peace showed up to drop off supplies and get some video footage.

Soon we had a crew on the roof of Malik’s house and installed the mast and antenna for the radio station. Everyone seems to be very excited to have a community radio station for Algiers where people can make their own media and play the music they like. The station got on the air with the help of people from New Orleans, Austin, Houston, New York City, Santa Cruz, Portland, Indiana and elsewhere. We are now broadcasting with ten watts of power at 94.5 FM. Radio volunteers are greatly needed to help train people in Algiers and other parts of New Orleans on the fine art of maintaining a community radio station.

On September 14, I visited the Common Ground Wellness Center at 1401 Teche St. in Algiers, New Orleans and had the opportunity to speak with Noah, a volunteer medic from Providence, Rhode Island. (22:02 minutes / 9.4 MB)

Noah, Volunteer Medic

Noah discusses the reasons for medical volunteers coming to New Orleans and how they were able to mobilize, the goods and services provided at the clinic, the background of the volunteers, the response of the military to the clinic, the truth about large charity organizations, the role of anarchism in medical aid and how community members feel about the medical clinic and volunteers.

Noah also expresses his anger at the humanitarian crisis caused by George Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and the directors of FEMA and the Armed Services who are planing to turn New Orleans into a rich white disneyland on the Mississippi River.

Common Ground Wellness Center
1401 Teche St. at Socrates
Home visits are also available
504-361-9659

On September 15, Vinny and I were driving around Algiers to determine the reception quality of 94.5 FM, the Battle for Algiers. Next thing we knew, we were on the Mississippi River Bridge headed to downtown New Orleans.

The signal came in well in some parts of both Algiers and downtown New Orleans, but at other times the signal was staticy. Since we were already downtown, we decided to drive around some more to get a feel for the destruction caused by Katrina and the subsequent flooding of the city.

We saw construction crews working to repair some huge buildings in New Orleans, but for the most part, the city seemed to be abandoned. However, there were a lot of US Army and National Guard units patrolling the city and working to cleanup the streets. From construction workers, to the military, to charity organizations such as the Salvation Army, most people working or volunteering in the city were not from New Orleans.

Many homes and buildings in New Orleans have been checked by special operations crews for both live and dead people and animals, but at the same time there are still numerous parts of the city that have yet to be checked. Surely more people will be found dead in their homes. An “X” is spray painted on homes and businesses that have been checked and each triangle of the “X” is used to document the number of people found, the date the location was searched, the military unit that checked the building and something else, but I’m not sure what the fourth region of the “X” is used for.

The devastation caused by the storm and flooding is really tremendous. There have been chemical spills, collapsed buildings, fallen trees, scattered trash, overturned cars and countless other forms of ruin and destruction. The lack of people and car traffic is incredible. We came across Robert sitting on a sidewalk in front of the laundromat he usually manages in Mid-City from 6am to 9pm. Roger said he is finally getting some peace and quiet.

One sight that made us upset was seeing about 150 city buses just sitting in a parking lot. Why were these buses just left to flood? Surely they could have been used to evacuate people from the city. Although many people did not want to leave New Orleans, many other folks did want to leave but were told their only option was to seek refuge in the Superdome.

We met a lady named Evelyn who advised us that there was a bar that was still open for business, so Vinny and I went to check it out. The bar was called Johnny White’s and the bartender told us that the bar has not been closed in 14 years. Yes, this bar was even open during the hurricane. We took some time to enjoy a few locally brewed beers and speak with the people hanging out in the pub. The bar was crowded with a whole range of law enforcement personnel, corporate journalists, locals, an independent photographer named Kim and two volunteers from the Humane Society who traveled from Gallup, New Mexico to help rescue animals.

Finally we made it over to the 8th District police station. It was quite a sight. Hundreds of police officers left town before the storm to be with their families. A pair of handcuffs was used to lock the steel gate which protects the police station and another pair of handcuffs was used to lock the front doors of the station.

The word on the street is that electricity will be restored to most of the city by Monday the 19th. Nobody knows for sure what the future holds for New Orleans. In some regards in seems like it will take years to rebuild this city. Some people think that New Orleans will never be the same. Other people think that New Orleans has not gone anywhere and that the people and culture of New Orleans will be back soon.

It is critical that people organize to (re)create a community that best reflects the values and traditions that makes people proud to call New Orleans their home. I’m talking about a close knit society with a vibrant music and arts community, good ol’ southern home-cooking, respect, solidarity and mutual aid. Hopefully we see an improved school system, universal health care based on peoples’ needs, media labs and instructors for all parts of New Orleans and the continuance of a community radio station in Algiers and stations for other neighborhoods.

All of us who value people over profit need to act fast. Capitalists have their own agenda for New Orleans. There are reports of plans to build a Walmart in the 9th ward. Construction contacts to rebuild the city are not being given to the people of New Orleans, they are going to multinational corporations who will, of course, exploit people.

Many people from New Orleans want to stay here forever. Other people have left town, but want to return. Some people are trying to continue their lives with their families in other parts of the country. Unfortunately, many adults and children have lost all the family they had.

No matter where you are right now, there are plenty of things you can do to help out. Some answers can be found though community based groups such as the Common Ground Collective in Algiers, New Orleans. But, we all need to search our souls to find out the best ways to help.

For more information about the Common Ground Collective, please visit our new website at:
http://www.commongroundrelief.org

We returned to Houston on September 16th. Blank traveled back to Portland and Vinny and I stayed in Houston. We continued trying to find out what was happening with the people at the shelters; human souls that we are referring to as “Katrina survivors.”

Audio: Interview from ‘Dome City’ with Josh from New Orleans || Struggling for a Home After Hurricane Katrina

Photos: No Compassion at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston || Scenes from the Reliant Arena || Exit Only at the George R. Brown in Houston || Struggling for a Home After Hurricane Katrina

On Saturday September 17, Vinny and I were on our way to the Reliant Arena, but we got a little lost in the sprawling city of Houston, Texas so we made our way to the George R. Brown Convention Center first. This convention center is next to the new baseball stadium where tens of thousands of people were watching an Astros game. Nobody seemed to care that in the building next to the baseball stadium, more than a thousand people are still struggling to survive the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The first thing we saw as we walked up to the George R. Brown Convention Center was a women being turned away from services at the Convention Center. I immediately pulled out my camera and began taking photos, but the police told me that i was not allowed to take photos. They told me that I had to visit the Media Check In area first.

We walked down to look for the Media Check In area, but we could not find the people we needed to check in with. We were inside the building at this point, but neither the people with Red Cross nor the Information Center were able to provide information as to where we could check in. So we just kept on walking around looking for Media Check In and were approached by several police officers. The officers gave us contradicting information. We were told that Media Check In was on the third floor and that we could check in there. Then at the same time, we were told that we had to leave the building. As the police were kicking us out of the George R. Brown Convention Center, I stopped for a second to take a photograph of the living conditions inside this shelter for hurricane survivors.

After being kicked out the building and told there was no more Media Check In, we started to walk back to our car. On the way, two texas state police officers rode by us in a golf cart and talked to us for a couple minutes. They told us to go right back where we were and to ask to speak with a Public Information Officer (PIO) and then we would be able to walk inside the building.

Again police prevented us from entering the building and going up to the third floor. There was a phone number written on the sign outside the building that said “Media Check In” and we were told to call that number to have a PIO meet us. I called that number, but it just rang and rang and rang… At this point we decided it was not worth it to try to enter the building since there were people to speak with outside the building on the lawn across across from the Convention Center.

We saw a man named Bobby being forcefully removed from the Convention Center. He was complaining to the officers that he had a bad back and that they were mistreating him. Bobby had papers from a doctor with documentation about his back condition and a prescription for medication, yet three Texas State Police officers were throwing him out onto the street.

The only signs we saw regarding services were ones that listed the services which were NOT available. No FEMA, NO Red Cross, No Vouchers, No Tzi Chi vouchers, No Neighborhood Centers, No Medication Refills, No Eye Exams, No Dental Care and No Immunizations.

There were a lot of people wearing yellow shirts with the words “Operation Compassion” printed in bold black capital letters on the front of the shirt. They were not providing any compassion to the people who needed help. A man in an “Operation Compassion” shirt turned his back and walked away from a women who needed help. There are still thousands of people in Houston that desperately need help and resources because of the flood, yet there was a whole bunch of people wearing “Operation Compassion” shirts as they walked around in front of the George R. Brown Convention Center looking for trash to pick up. There was a line of these people all walking past the same gutter with big empty trash bags and occasionally finding a cigarette filter to throw in their big plastic bags. This was a HUGE waste of time and part of the racism being directed at survivors.

The powers that be, such as the Federal, State and Local Government, FEMA, the large “Charity Organizations” as well as the corporate media are doing their best to cover up the fact that many people are still suffering at the George R. Brown Convention Center. They are only allowing certain types of media journalists into the Center and trying to ensure that the media organizations are accompanied by “Public Information Officers.”

On September 17, I spoke with Josh from New Orleans. He was sitting on a curb outside of Reliant Arena in Houston, Texas. Reliant Arena is a building next to the Astrodome and has been considered a part of ‘Dome City.’ Our interview begins with Josh explaining that he could get arrestted that night just for talking to me and giving me a recorded interview. (42:22 minutes / 19.4 MB)

Josh from New Orleans

Josh discusses the poor treatment of people evacuated to the Superdome in New Orleans and now living at Reliant Arena in Houston, Texas. Josh says that it is safer at Reliant Arena during the day because in the nighttime there is nobody — meaning media journalists — around to witness the horrible treatment inside and outside of the arena.

One example cited by Josh is when an officer, who was black, gave out chairs to women and old people who were standing around outside of the arena. Then some officers told them they were not allowed to sit on the chairs and they had to give them back. An old lady was even told that she was not allowed to sit on a milkcrate. Josh sees no reason for this kind of poor treatmeant other than racism.

While making a comparison between living at Relient Arena and being in prison, Josh noted that if you lose your bracelet while you are in jail, you still stay in jail. However, if you lose your paper bracelet while you are living at Reliant Arena, you no longer have the opportunity to be in the arena and receive services.

Josh talked about the curfew that was put in place. At first there was not a curfew, now there are fences and multiple checkpoints with searches.

At one point in the interview, Josh says, “We survived Katrina, but we still struggling from the dome to the arena.”

Josh realizes that money in the United States is going to the US military in Iraq, where they should not be fighting a war.

During the interview, two police officers noticed me speaking with Josh and they gave him hard stares. Josh put himself in danger to speak with me because he and the women next to him that he called “Mama” understood the importance of getting the truth out about what is really going on at Reliant Arena and the way people are being (mis)treated.

Among other concerns, Josh told me that undercover cops wear the same armbands as the survivors and sleep on cots as well. Josh was not sure about the reasoning for this.

He knows that the people running the arena and the police are trying to get people out of the arena in anyway possible, including taking hundreds of people to jail.

Josh does not wish this experience upon anyone else and says that this is hurricane season and any city on the south coast can be the next.

Another example of the poor treatment to the survivors is that many cops are not allowing people to be friendly with volunteers.

After the hurricane was over with, he was in the hot Superdome. People in the Superdome thought that they had survived the hurricane and could return to their homes, but then the levee broke and the flood came. There are many people talking about the levees being broken on purpose and planned out to flood specific parts of the city.

Unfortunately, Sunday is a day off for all people who provide services. Josh will have nothing to do other than sit around and just hang out all day. He feels that it is not right that services should stop on Sunday when people are still suffering. Josh hopes to get an apartment on Monday, but notes that housing is very hard to get and people will be paying about double the price to live in Houston compared to the prices people were paying in New Orleans.

Josh says that people all over the world need to know what is going on right now. Hurricane Katrina is over but there is serious drama going on right now.

On September 20, Vinny and I returned to the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston to find out what was happening with the Katrina survivors since the Convention Center was closing it’s doors as a shelter. An “Exit Only” sign on the doors made it clear that Katrina survivors were no longer welcome at the Convention Center. According to Anna Holly, Onsite Public Information Officer, it was time to “get back to business, back to conventions.”

Many people were able to secure housing, however that was not the case for everyone. Vinny spoke with several people that had been excluded from federal services and are not sure what they are going to do for a job and housing.

I spoke with David Brown from Katy, Texas. It was his first day volunteering at the George R Brown Center with Operation Compassion. He explained some of the roles played by Operation Compassion in helping Katrina survivors. On this day, Operation Compassion volunteers were helping people move their belongings out of the Convention Center and into vans and taxis. (2:45 minutes / 1.3 MB)

George Brown, Operation Compassion

David Brown from Katy, Texas

Struggling for a Home After Hurricane Katrina

Vinny and I left Houston in the early morning of September 21st as concern about Hurricane Rita was was quickly growing. In many ways, it felt very bad to be back in Santa Cruz, California.

el enemigo comĂșn, neo-liberalism, is capitalizing on Hurricane Katrina and will capitalize on Hurricane Rita. It took activists like you and i to respond to Hurricane Katrina with important services such as wellness centers to provide health care, media centers for local and global communications, kitchens and housing to provide food and shelter, etc…

The destruction caused by Katrina, racism and classism will never go away.

We must use our time now to organize. We must find common ground.

Coverage originally published to local Indymedia websites: Santa Cruz, Indybay, Portland, Houston and New Orleans.

Audio: After The Flood
Documentary featuring interviews with survivors of Hurricane Katrina in Houston TX, and NOLA.

Author: Bradley Allen

Bradley Allen is a reporter and photographer in the Monterey Bay Area, and a collective member of the San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center (Indybay). Follow him on social media: @BradleySA.