National News

Calm, not chaos as Gustav passes Big Easy

Posted September 1, 2008
Updated September 2, 2008

— Three years ago, corpses lay rotting in the streets outside the Morial Convention Center. It was a scene so chaotic and depraved, even the police dared not venture inside.

During Hurricane Gustav, New Orleans police and the National Guard used the iconic building as a barracks and staging area.

It is difficult for anyone who wasn't here in 2005 to fathom the difference between the post-Katrina and post-Gustav New Orleans.

After Katrina breached the levees and flooded 85 percent of the city, explosions and gunfire pierced the sultry night air. Looters rampaged on Canal Street with impunity, sometimes working right alongside men and women in blue. Dazed survivors pushed shopping carts filled with belongings and crying babies down interstate overpasses that were devoid of traffic, except the human kind.

Some say the Big Easy lost its soul after Katrina. This time, the city didn't even completely lose power.

As the storm was coming ashore Monday morning, patrons lined up for lattes and chai teas at the Starbucks in the lobby of the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. Despite a citywide curfew, Johnny White's sports bar - which brags that it doesn't even have doors - continued its streak of never closing for a hurricane.

Benton Love and three friends drove over from Austin, Texas, and arrived at the bar Monday morning, just ahead of Gustav.

"I'd say we're about six drinks deep," the 30-year-old University of Texas marketing major said at 7:20 a.m. "We'll probably switch to water about 10 o'clock, sober up and see if we can help out."

Throughout the Quarter, the ratio of reporters to residents was easily 3-to-1, and likely greater.

At the Superdome, the scene of such misery three years ago, there was an incongruous sense of tranquility.

When Staff Sgt. Patrick Abair was told he would be stationed at the massive concrete mushroom during Gustav, his heart sank. His Louisiana National Guard unit was inside the building during Katrina, and memories of swooning old women and babies in swollen, days-old diapers came flooding back.

"It's something that you'll never see in your life again," Abair said. "No swamp, no trash heap, NOTHING could compare to what that smell was."

But as he stood post by the ticket windows Monday with his M-16, all was calm and clean. Until a reporter came up, he hadn't seen a soul.

In 2005, the floodwalls along the Industrial Canal collapsed, inundating the mostly black, mostly poor Lower Ninth Ward. Waves whipped up by Gustav lapped over the walls in places, but the rebuilt barriers held.

In the Treme neighborhood across Interstate 10 from the Quarter, Jesse Johns peered outside from behind the bars of his front door. The highway was deserted, and he was glad.

"The last time, you saw hundreds of people huddled up on the onramps on I-10, waiting for somebody to come pick them up," the 60-year-old man said as a battery-operated radio droned on inside the shotgun house. "It was just a trying thing. You just can't comprehend how a city this size could just go underwater. It's something people hadn't seen before, except on TV and in the movies."

Bill Campbell watched his city's descent into madness on a television set in Florida after Katrina. It left his emotions in chaos.

"There was a sense of shame," said the 54-year-old retired convenience store manager, who waited out Gustav in his French Quarter condo. "But you had to feel something for people that were just left on their own basically. Just completely on their own."

For him and others, the decision by city officials to get people out early - and of the people to heed the warning - was a kind of redemption.

Outside the Superdome, Abair stood watch as Gustav's last bands passed through. He said this storm left him with a much happier image - of watching people stream into Union Station around the corner, climb calmly onto buses and leave the city.

"This time, the people listened," he said with a smile. "That was a good thing."


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  • keeprightexcepttopass Sep 1, 2008

    Now that Gustav has been determined to be "not that bad" I'm sure some of the folks down there will blame the gov't for making them evacuate (all on the govt's/taxpayers dime by the way). In the coming days I guarantee the people that were bused/flown/railed out will complain.

  • dcatz Sep 1, 2008

    Well, the levees have failed again.

    I'm reminded of a sketch in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where the man built a castle on the swamp and it sank and he rebuilt it multiple times.

    It's pure idiocy to build a city *below* sea level in a hurricane zone. The first time around (Katrina), I could understand since stuff was built their before it was below sea level. But rebuilding below sea level and fixing the levees was an exercise in stupidity and a complete waste of billions of taxpayer dollars.

    It would have been much more intelligent, and much easier on the tax payers, and much less futile, to have rebuilt New Orleans above sea level after Katrina.

  • Wheelerx5__Ready for Football Sep 1, 2008

    Goodbye Gustav, Hello Hanna!

  • jse830fcnawa030klgmvnnaw+ Sep 1, 2008

    Next time, I believe people at NOLA will not heed the warnings because Gustav is/was not that bad. Human nature is a bad predictor for hurricanes and other natural disasters.

  • ThinkChick Sep 1, 2008

    Go Governor Jindal!

    Don't forget to Google to find Michael Moore's disgusting MSNBS comments that Gustav was proof there was a god in heaven since it is arriving on the opening of the Republican Convention. And for added "fun" and "sensitivity" look at this:

    "ABC News' Teddy Davis Reports: Former DNC Chairman Don Fowler apologized on Sunday for joking in a private conversation that the timing of Hurricane Gustav demonstrates that God is on the side of the Democrats."

    NIIIIIIIICE Democrats. Thanks for your "concern."

  • clover1019 Sep 1, 2008

    I am so happy to see how the people are caring for their pets too this time, taking them along on buses and into shelters.

  • dohicky Sep 1, 2008

    Tired of hearing Katrina. sure it was bad but I do recall warnings beforehand. Of course we have spent bundles of tax money since to fix what will be tore up by future storms. We are a real smart bunch us americans. DOn't know when to get out unless someone is holding our hand. Poor Mayor and governor - ust didnt' know how to do it themselves.

  • chivegas Sep 1, 2008

    After Katrina, I can't believe our country spent (read: wasted) the money to rebuild a city that's under sea level in a hurricane alley. A total waste of resources. Now it looks like we get to do it again! You can only fight mother nature so many times.

  • koverbee Sep 1, 2008

    Hurricane Gustav was born in the weather machine of George Bush in a attempt to displace as many democrats before the November elections. The National Guard is in NOLA to destroy the levee system just like before. May the conspiracy theories begin. All of the above is sarcasm Mr. or Ms. Moderator be gentle

    OK, that was funny! I was reading & thinking how stupid your view was until I realized you were bing sarcastic. Thanks for the laugh! :)

  • teacher101 Sep 1, 2008

    Okay, I was just flipping through channels and watching all these news people deal with this storm. It makes no sense. Mandatory evacuations and yet right in the middle of it all, news people. Dangerous for everyone, but yet, there they are. I mean seriously, do we really need to put these people's lives on the line so we can see what the storm is doing at the time? I could care less. The only thing that matters is what the aftermath is so that we can see what they need for supplies in order to send them to that area. Get these people off the streets and stop risking their lives. Absolutely ridiculous.