Welcome to New Orleans

Location Four poster bed in Gone With The Wind-style guest house | Mood Eyes popping out of head | Date 3 June 2006

Slipped immediately into American-style consumption the moment we touched down in New Orleans. Had to have a car - how can we get anywhere without one? Immediately put on the AC - far too hot without it. Bucket-sized drinks - makes perfect sense, as same price as non-obesity-inducing ones.

10 minutes into the city, Lizzie does only a slightly dodgy manoeuvre and a deeply frightening young woman stops her car in front of ours, strides up to our window, makes a gun with her hand, points it at Lizzie's head and screams, "Why can't you drive? I'm gonna bust your head in".

Lizzie was going to wind the window down, till she remembered our Hostile Environment training course - who would've thought it would come in handy in America not Nigeria? We smile Englishly till she bores herself and rubber-wheels into a McDonald's drive-thru for refreshment. Welcome to New Orleans.

Our researcher, Daniel, who came out here a week in advance of our arrival, had randomly stumbled across a B&B which has become the semi-permanent Reuters base in the city. We soon found out why.

The mom&pop owners, Jill and Charles , evacuated before Katrina hit and were living at a friend's in the nearest city, Baton Rouge. Charles took a 10 bucks/hour job as a waiter (he's a maitre d' at one of the fanciest restaurants here in NO, but couldn't bear to be sitting around doing nothing and, with their B&B business destroyed, they needed cash).

One night he happened to mention to a big group of customers that he has a B&B in New Orleans. They turned out to be from Reuters. Asked what state it was in. He said, not too bad - no flooding - just roof damaged, no electricity etc. They asked if they could hire the whole lot (10 rooms) indefinitely. Next thing they knew, Jill & Charles were back in the ghost town city (Reuters press passes meant they could pass the police blocks), with three enormous generators running their electricity, journalists and photographers in every room, an RV outside for showers, a disinfection unit for reporters to hose themselves and their giant waders off after wandering round in the stagnant floodwaters all day. As it became known they were back in town, all their press-passless friends emailed begging them to rescue pets - every morning Jill would go out with 50kg sacks of dog and cat food to 10 or so feeding stations all around the city. All the animals soon learnt the routine and there'd be 20 of them sitting waiting. She also broke into the owners' houses and filled up sinks and baths with water so the animals could drink and cool off. Charles was employed to cook 4-course meals every night - the Reuters' runners were going to Baton Rouge every day with film, so could buy any ingredients he could think of. The whole lot of them inevitably partied into the early hours each night.

Something in Jill's eyes telling this story made me think she wouldn't have missed the adventure for the world. Despite the near-complete devastation of her city.

We were enthralled by the story and kept saying she should write it up or turn it into a movie or whatever - Lizzie suggested a love story between a journo and a stranded civilian. But, over the next few days, we came to realise that amazing stories are absolutely the norm here.

 

 

 

 

 

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