Thursday, August 28, 2008

Early Morning on the Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

New Orleans is on edge, as am I- waiting to see if Gustav will hit or not.
When I wake I will attend the Mayor’s ceremony Commemorating Katrina’s third anniversary.

Gustav’s path will be a little clearer when I rise, but where the storm will hit will still remain an uncertainty. The last days I have been riding along with the National Guard in New Orleans East, driving through areas of urban blight.

Earlier in the day I shot pictures of the new homes being built for Brad Pitt’s “Make it Right Project”. The promise that one would be ready to have someone move in by Katrina’s anniversary has not been kept, though a few of the homes are close to completion. All celebrations for that project including the opening of a playground have been put on hold since all attention is on Gustav and a possible mass evacuation.
Tonight is quiet. Today was picturesque. Hard to imagine a hurricane hitting, yet impossible to ignore the fact that New Orleans is right in the storm’s predicted path. I will be here rain or shine so check back for an update either way.
I created a book on the National Guard patrolling the streets of New Orleans that is now available from blurb. Also available is a book with photos of Post Katrina New Orleans with a poem by Ann McGarrell . It is possible to preview the first 15 pages of the books.

images from top to bottom -clown head in 6th flags in New Orleans East/ home near in lower 9th ward shot on August 28/ wheel chair outside of destroyed nursing home in New Orleans East/ Classroom in New Orleans East school/ Foundation of a home in the lower 9th ward across form "Make It Right Homes"/Kitchen in housing unit still standing in New Orleans East/ Nursing Home in New Orleans East/ Nursing Home hallway/ National Guard Clearing movie theater in New Orleans East/Moose head in Destroyed store left standing in New Orleans East/ One of Brad Pitt's "Make It Right" Homes nearly finished/ Park for "Make it Right" homes- opening delayed due to hurricane Gustav/ Black mold in housing unit / in New Orleans East/ Restaurant in New the lower 9th ward / Nature center path in New Orleans East/ Photos on the wall in nursing home in New Orleans East


Thursday, August 14, 2008

New Orleans Oil Spill Story: A Footnote in the Annals of Oil Spills

On Saturday, August 9th the hull of the sunken barge was recovered from the Mississippi River. I was on location snapping away as the barge's stern dangled in the air. The remaining part of the barge was removed Sunday.
 The process started early in the morning and ended around 1 a.m., an engineering feat that took over two weeks to orchestrate. Oil leaked out of both pieces as they were moved but booms and skimmers were ready to clean the mess as it occurred (unlike when the barge "burped"
 and the clean up crews were unprepared). These images might seem to represent the end of the story, but they don't. Oil is still covering much of the river's , shoreline and animals are still getting sick. I plan to continue moniterring the clean up process until I head to NYC in September, making sure the crews are still on it and haven't been run off before the clean up is done.

In the history of oil spills, the one that polluted New Orleans on July 23rd wasn't a major one. When between 280,000 to 430,000 leaked gallons is defined as a small spill, it should give one pause. Even though this one is "small" it serves as a loud wake up call, reminding us our ecosytem is in danger when oil is transported. I wonder if anyone is listening?
The trail meant to establish whose fault the accident was begun on the 12th of August . The findings won't answer all the questions that still remain: Who will pay for the clean up? And will the river's coast be cleaned up as well as it could be? Which larger companies are the smaller ones subsidiaries of? Who is profiting from the spill: the usual suspects? Will anything be learned by those regulating the transport of oil from this incident or are oil spills just part of doing buisiness?

The best result would be if those involved in the process of transporting oil and those who regulate the waterways took pause and put more safeguards in places to prevent such accidents from occurring in the future -- a highly unlikely outcome since the politicians in New Orleans, LA and in the federal government have given this spill little of no attention.I went out on a boat with the coastguard in Venice at the mouth of the Mississippi the last time I shot the birds being cleaned at the temporary animal rescue center manned by the SPCA out of Houston.
Some oil has gotten into the marshes. I saw none on the booms set up there but the oil did make its way that far. The boat’s captain explained to me where all the coastal erosion has taken place, showing me an artificial opening in the river that is hleping to erode the land. The wetlands don't stand a chance if things keep on as they are. They might already be past the point of viable proection. The road names off Highway 23 say it all. The coast guard dock is just past Halliburton Road. Venice is an oasis for oil producing companies even though Katrina took out the town's infrastructure.

Filmmaker Phin Percy Jr. shot video while I was shooting the clean up work
. The crew featured is working for a company called Trident out of Boston. Most of the workers don't speak English. The foreman told me that before the New Orleans spill his crew had been in Iowa cleaning up after the floods a month earlier. They had to remove dead pigs which were bloated after days of being submerged in the water and baking in the sun. Environmental disaster cleaner: now there is a profession that seems one could obtain steady work in.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

15 days after the oil spill

The barge is still lodged against the Crescent City Connection and sightings of oil-covered animals are mounting. Approximately 155 gallons of a mixture of oil and water have been cleaned up, but the percentage of oil to water is unknown. It is also not known how much of the 430,000 gallons of oil has already spilled and how much is left in the barge. The vessel is still leaking oil and crews are still pondering how to retrieve the remaining oil and the barge itself. Where are the experts? Are they stumped by the situation or are they not even here in New Orleans dealing with this spill?

On Friday I visited the animal rescue site in Venice, LA, a city that is located at the mouth of the Mississippi River, and took pictures of animal rescue workers from Texas’ SPCA, as they cleaned three birds of the four birds they had at the facility. The fourth bird was too stressed out to be cleaned so they decided to wait a day. Elizabeth Cook, a writer who accompanied me, wanted to know whether more animals were affected and why so few had been recovered for rescue. She didn’t get a definitive answer from the representative from the fish and wildlife department. Turns out there are four to six fish and wildlife boats searching 100 miles of river, maybe that accounts for the low number.

Hank Bark at Tulane’s Natural History Museum said the animals affected the most would die quickly and never be found, and others would get sick and weakened over time, but with so much land to cover the low recovery rate makes sense. As of yesterday, the number of recovered animals stands at 26 and some of those died before they were cleaned.

Dawn is the soap of choice for removing oil for animals. No intentional product placement here, just a fact.

The information at the news conferences I have attended has been vague at best. Yesterday the most reliable updates I could get were by going to the boardwalk where there is a view of the barge itself. The TV stations had crews staked out this morning in case the barge was to be lifted out of the water today, but that didn’t happen. The story is not in the news any longer now that commerce is back to normal but the situation remains tenuous. The barge is still a potential disaster waiting to happen and we don't know if the experts are here in New Orleans. Perhaps they are, and this has been deemed a wait and see situation.