Brian Williams, of NBC news, was in New Orleans during the storm and the deadly chaos that followed. He was in the Superdome and saw the loss of dignity that led to a loss of humanity among the thousands of people who were left there without electricity, food, water, and information. Desperate people had no idea what had happened in the city. Within a week or so of his return to New York, he did a special edition of the news that was re-broadcast last week. At the end of the program, taped five years ago, he commented that over the next few months the people of the United States were going to have to engage in a serious, long-term discussion about race, poverty, and social class, all of which played a role in the abandonment of New Orleans. That conversation has yet to take place.
Those who had the financial means to do so escaped from the city before the storm struck. Those who did not have the resources to do so went to the Superdome or the convention center or stayed in their homes. They were poor, most were black, and they belonged to the underclass. The people of New Orleans who didn’t have the resources to demand better from their leaders on the city, state, and federal levels were abandoned by all. If the French Quarter or the Garden District had been flooded the response would have been very different.
1 DEAD IN ATTIC is a compilation of newspaper columns by Chris Rose, a writer for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. He got his wife and three children to safety and then he returned to New Orleans so he could tell its stories. Rose joined the paper as a crime reporter in 1984. He covered national politics, economics, the southern regi0n, pop culture, and New Orleans night life and entertainment. And, as the biography in the book says, on August 29, 2005, he became a war correspondent
In the section of the book from which it gets its title, Chris Rose describes his compulsion to tour the city, to see what has happened to this place that has been his home for over twenty years.
“I…try to figure out those Byzantine markings and symbols that the cops and the National Guard spray painted on all the houses around here…. In some cases, there’s no interpretation needed. There’s one…on St. Roch Avenue…in the 8th ward…. It says: “1 Dead in Attic.”
“I wonder who eventually came and took 1 Dead in Attic away…who claimed him or her? Who grieved over 1 Dead in Attic and who buried 1 Dead in Attic?”
“I wonder if I ever met 1 Dead in Attic. Maybe in the course of my job or maybe at a Saints game or maybe we once stood next to each other at a Mardi Gras parade….1 Dead in Attic could have been my mail carrier, a waitress in my favorite restaurant, or the guy who burglarized my house a couple of years ago. Who knows?”
My uncle was a hospital chaplain in New Orleans for the last 30 years of his life. He died before Katrina; he definitely would not have left when residents were ordered to evacuate. He would have stayed with the people who had become his family, a family so many miles from the one in New England. When any of us would visit he would bring us around the hospital and introduce us to his friends, the porters, the kitchen help, the housekeeping staff. They were the reason he loved New Orleans. He gave everyone nicknames; this was so well known that when he died, people who spoke at a memorial service introduced themselves by the names he had given them, knowing their real names wouldn’t mean anything. People were delighted when they could put the nicknames to faces because they were all friends having met each other through his stories.
Some of these people opened their homes to us when he was dying. We knew their names and their phone numbers but after Katrina the phone numbers were useless and we still don’t know where they are. Anyone of the people who were so important in my uncle’s life could have been 1 Dead in Attic.
Chris Rose identifies 1 Dead in Attic on the back cover of the book. “This book is dedicated to the memory of Thomas Coleman. He was a retired longshoreman, a storyteller, a guy who liked to spend time with family and friends. A New Orleanian. He was 80 years old when he died in his attic at 2214 St. Roch Avenue, in the 8th ward, on or about Aug.29, 2005. He had a can of juice and a bedspread at his side when the waters rose. There were more than a thousand like him.”
The city is being talked about this weekend, the fifth anniversary of the unthinkable. Boosters claim that New Orleans is back but thirty percent of the population before Katrina have not returned. Those that didn’t have the financial resources to leave their homes before the storm likely don’t have the resources to return now that the storm is over.