The REAL story on what's happening in New Orleans

5 weeks post Hurricane Katrina and things are rocking and rolling in New Orleans where the recovery effort is concerned. We remain in Austin as our neighborhood is still without power and New Orleans is just not a place you want to be with young children or the elderly.

Almost all of the water that had overtaken the city is now gone. This is extremely good considering the initial estimates were that it would take several months for this to be completed. From what I understand, and I haven’t been back to the city – so I’m relying on reports from contacts in town as well as the local news sources, that the only water that still remains is in parts of the 9th Ward which had flooded as a result of a breach in the Industrial Canal. As a result, power has been restored to a very large portion of the city and communications infrastructures are also being restored very quickly. Water is now flowing out of the taps again, though the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board has informed residents that it is not potable. Many of our friends who live in Metairie – which is on the west side of the 17th Street Canal and suffered much less damage than New Orleans – have returned to their homes and are starting to rebuild their lives. We also know several who have returned to New Orleans and are living in their homes and making the best of the situation. Most have advised that they have power and internet connectivity so they are cool and connected. From what they tell us, the rebuilding efforts have begun in earnest and things are progressing quickly.

Speaking of which… if you want to see what’s really happening in New Orleans – forget CNN or the other cable news networks. Check out the local news sources like the following:

WWL TV

WWL Radio

NOLA.COM

Here’s our immediate family’s update:

Gibbons’ sister, Eleanor, works for the New Orleans Historic District Landmark Commission which is a city government agency tasked with the maintaining the architectural integrity of New Orleans from a historic perspective. She is one of the Directors there and returned to the city this past week to resume her role. It will likely be very interesting over the next while. She and her husband, Billy, are currently living on one of the cruise ships docked along the Mississippi and she is working out of temporary offices established in the Hilton Hotel. The entire city government has been centralized into this one location for the time being.

Gibbons’ parents, Ginger and Peter, are still staying in the ‘Garden of Eden’ across the lake in Covington as they work on repairing the damage to their home down the street from ours. They took on about a foot of water in their first floor and, aside from the buckling floors, are contending with the onslaught of mold as well as a hole in the roof.

His sister Marguerite remains in Boulder, Colorado with her two children. She was recently featured in USA Today in a story about New Orleans evacuees that ran earlier this week here. There was a great photo of them having a video chat with Gibbons on their iBook computer using their iSight camera (attached). Marguerite is very happy with her iBook and is trying to enlist the rest of the family with Macs into getting iSight cameras. We have been having regular video chats daily – the next best thing to being there!

Mary Shea and her husband, Joe, bought a house just north of Covington but have come here to Austin for a week’s worth of R&R as they have both been working very hard to try and rebuild their lives as they lost just about everything as a result of Hurricane Katrina. They are staying with friends here in town and we are VERY excited to have them come and have dinner with us tomorrow night. We’ve missed them – and everyone else – terribly and can’t wait to give them great big hugs!

Virginia and Michael are semi-permanently located in Lafayette, Louisiana. Unfortunately, they had to evacuate from there as a result of Hurricane Rita – talk about adding salt to the wounds! Fortunately, there was no damage to their house there. They are very busy working on getting their house in Metairie restored as well as their house in Mississippi. Understandably, its been very overwhelming for them as their house in Metairie took on about 6-8 feet of water in the first floor and they share the same problems as my in-laws in that the mold has spread extensively over the walls and ceiling very quickly.

Our house in New Orleans remains as it was – remarkably, not flooded and undamaged. The challenge that our neighborhood faces right now is that we are still without power and it is likely to be some time before power is restored. In spite of being relatively low on the damage scale, we share the same substations as a great majority of the 70124 zip code – which is largely comprised of the Lakeview neighborhood that you see on television with the water up to the roof-lines. The substations were damaged as a result of the flooding. While a great majority of our houses in our neighborhood are ready to receive power, there is no power to send our way until the substations are repaired. In the meantime, those of our neighbors who did take on water are in the process of getting their houses inspected by electricians so that they are ready to receive power when it comes back online.

For now, though, the Mayor has proclaimed that we are unable to go back to our homes with the exception of small three day windows now and then. All of this isn’t such a bad thing because that means that our dwellings are uninhabitable. As a result, insurance will continue to cover some of our living expenses while we are away and the city begins the rebuilding process.

Every day brings a new experience and new information. Its been very weird. Had you asked me a year ago whether I thought I would be talking with contacts at Entergy about substations and power grids, I would have laughed. I have learned a lot of things that I never thought I would learn, nor would I think I would ever need to or want to for that matter!

We still have our moments of sadness and disbelief, but we have definitely resumed a normal routine for ourselves and for the children which has made dealing with the stuff in New Orleans almost normal too. Its just part of our reality right now.