CNN correspondent Udoji arrived in New Orleans on August 28, just before the storm and stayed nearly two weeks, through the chaos, until September 9. She said she has seen suffering in the Middle East, in Baghdad, in Afghan refugee camps and in West Africa, but nothing prepared her for the misery she saw after Hurricane Katrina. Udoji took a week off and returned to New Orleans to report on Hurricane Rita. This is the second of her three eyewitness reports.
Arthur Moran, a native New Orleanian wasted no time getting out on the streets after Hurricane Katrina.
A Streets Department employee, he went back to work just west of New Orleans, in the ghost town that Jefferson Parish had become. The only thing missing were tumbleweeds. Tangled electrical wires blanketed the streets, draped over lawns and barbecue pits. Enormous oak and maple trees, ripped from their roots, blocked driveways and drive-throughs. There were no birds singing, no boisterous children playing. Their toys scattered like confetti, walloped in Katrina’s powerful strike.
Moran said his wife and four children had fled to safety with family outside the danger zone. He’d stayed behind with 80 workers from the Streets Department, weathering the storm on nearby higher ground so they could rush in. Getting there from ten miles away took five hours as they bulldozed and chain sawed a path through the destruction, followed by power company engineers assessing the damage.
Wearing in neon-orange vests, blue jeans and baseball caps to collect their sweat in the unrelenting heat, they were the only people visible for blocks. There was no sign of the National Guard. No sign of the police.
The street crews cleared the neighborhoods without having seen the horrible images coming from the Superdome-turned-evacuation-center, without having seen pictures of their city underwater. They worked not knowing that their friends and neighbors were stranded by the thousands without food or water.
“It’s bad?” Moran, inquired. I nodded yes. “Dead bodies?” he asked, slowly. I nodded again. He put his head down, blinked a few times and shook his head. “It’s a sad situation,” he said, “but at the same time we got to move on, you know, we got to deal with the people who are living.”
It takes time, he said, it might take a long time to get New Orleans back on its feet, but, it will be done. “We love our city and we will never let it die,” he said. “We know how to survive.”
Adaora Udoji is a CNN Correspondent based in New York. She was formerly a foreign correspondent covering the Afghan and Iraq wars, Africa, Europe and the Middle East.