Friday, September 09, 2005

Green Andrea Garland Reports from Front Line

Dear Friends:

Apologies for the lack of communication the past couple of days - we've been very busy with hands-on work on the ground here, and also had a few technical issues to sort out with the internet connection. Cell phone coverage is also rather touch and go, so apologies if you've had
trouble reaching us by phone.

We've been in Covington, LA, 24 miles north of New Orleans, for the past 3 days, at the Pine View Middle School. There is a Red Cross Shelter here we have been helping provide with assistance, along with the Vets for Peace. The past few days have been long and emotional. It is good to be back amongst friends - we have met several of our neighbors from the 9th Ward, and made many new friends. The spirit here is amazing - between the many wonderful volunteers arriving daily to help out and the increcibly strong spirit of our fellow evacuees - most of whom have lost far more than we have.

Though some people here have made it in and out of the city, we have determined that it would be next to impossible and possibly quite dangerous to try to enter the city. Not to mention that there are few people left to help now that the entire city is under forced evacuation. The
headline of today's Times-Picayune (New Orleans' newspaper) screams "Leave Now Or Else." Apparently a last sweep of voluntary evacuations is being made, after which the remainder of the people left will be forced to leave, possibly at gunpoint. Stories from people evacuated after the storm are mostly horrendous - a woman who walked through chest high waters with her child to the Superdome, only to be subjected to not just one, but two full body searches before being allowed to board the airlift.

The people of New Orleans are being treated as criminals, as if we have done something wrong. A friend saw a 6 year old girl handcuffed for having a bag of diapers in her hand, taken from a store. I refuse to use the word looting for any situation in which people were merely trying to
procur the goods needed to survive. A 6 year old girl, handcuffed.

The last few days have found me close to numb - now that we are here and talking to other evacuees, people that survived the storm but still looking for family and friends - so many from the loweer 9th ward and of course you know how great the chances are that they are dead. Still, the spirit of New Orleans prevails - a spirit born of hardship in the first place - and so we continue to go on.

We will get the real stories and pictures to you tomorrow - it's very late now and we've got an early run to do in the morning, so I'm just going to describe a bit more about what we are actually doing at this point and then get some sleep (something we have had very little of lately.)

At the moment, Get Your Act On has taken on the role of "tell us what you need and we will get it for you." The Red Cross is not allowed to provide anything more than shelter and food, and while the shelter is run by some wonderful people, there are many things the evacuees need that are not being provided. So we have set up a tent where we hand out basic necessities - soap, shampoo, deoderant, aspirin, vitamins, baby food, diapers, toilet paper, toothpaste, tampons, baby bottles. you get the idea. There are showers set up here, but there was no soap for people to wash. We have made two supply runs in the past two days getting these items and more for the people here - these daily necessities make a huge difference, allowing everyone at least the human dignity of "keeping up appearances."

Tomorrow we will make our first attempt to get into the city - not into New Orleans itself, but into Algiers, a neighborhood on the Westbank, across the Mississippi from New Orleans. A good friend of mine and increcible activist, Malik Rahim, lives there, and is starting a community rebuilding project. Algiers was hit pretty hard, but did not flood like New Orleans. However, they are also not receiving any assistance, and are still without power, running water, or food. The Vets for Peace brought them food and water today. Gaining entrance even to that part of the city is still touch and go, but we will keep trying until we get in, to bring them two generators, chain saws and other tools to begin rebuilding their neighborhood. Until we can gain access to New Orleans itself and return to our home and help the others returning, we will be assisting other nearby communities in their efforts to rebuild, as well as helping fill the needs of the evacuees here and in other shelters and outlying towns. The Vets for Peace and some other groups here (I apologize for spacing their names right now, but will fill you in tomorrow) have been making runs out to outlying towns still without water and food and making supply drops. It appears that we will largely act as a distribution center - the Vets have arranged another spot in town to receive supplies and redistribute them out to places that need them. Longer term plans are being discussed for contiuing relief efforts until and after people are finally allowed to return to New Orleans.

I can barely speak about the horror that New Orleans is these days - dead bodies floating through the streets, buildings on fire, still people stranded and others holding out in areas less damaged. There is much fear as to what the intentions are for the poorer neighborhoods - are
there plans to simply bulldoze them to the ground so that a newer, cleaner, disneyfied New Orleans can be established in its place now that poor have been either killed off or forced to leave? Tomorrow I will start transcribing my friend Daniel's stories and others'. it is simply too
much right now, I have almost reached my limit, and I have heard and seen so many things in the last few days it is mostly a big jumble in my head.

Everyone here is so thankful for everyone's generosity and support - they send you their thanks and their blessings.

Please check back tomorrow for more updates and pictures and more. Now I am going to get some sleep so we can make our run to Algiers in the morning.

Peace and love -

Andrea

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