Katrina Plus Four Months, Part 3 - Chalmette:
If you ask him, JB will admit that he was a goddamned idiot. A lucky goddamned idiot, but an idiot just the same. See, JB decided to stay behind when Hurricane Katrina struck the town of Chalmette, just across the parish line from New Orleans, in St. Bernard parish. JB had himself a hurricane party, alone, gettin' drunk and thinkin' everything was gonna be just fine, as it had been with every other hurricane. "Then, I was standin' there in my underwear, holdin' a beer, and I noticed that the carpet was changin' color," he said, as his powers of perception told him that the flood after the storm was overtaking his small house close to Rocky and Carlos's seafood restaurant.

JB made a fateful decision at that moment, one that would make him put down the beer, one that would make him put on pants. He exited his house into the complete and utter darkness and water up to his waist. Imagine that for a moment here: there is no light, no glow of street lamps, no moon. Imagine being turned, in essence, nearly blind and then imagine being tossed into a river. JB got to his truck, which had one payment left on it. He tried the ignition. It turned over once and was dead.

The water rising, JB grabbed an ice chest that was floating by and he spent the next several hours in the water, "sometimes swimming, sometimes just lettin' the current take me along," the surging waters getting so deep that his feet couldn't reach the ground. Truth be told, JB, who's got a bum leg, nearly drowned many times over the course of that night, but he's a pig-headed son of a bitch, and the same stubborn attitude that made him stay in his home when so many other fled allowed him to continually recover and float on. Finally, he passed by a house that had a boat tied to the second floor window. The people there came out and rescued JB, bringing him back to their place. "But I was so tired, I just fell asleep in the boat. They put blankets on me and let me stay there."

The next day, the floods had receded enough so that JB could make his way to a crowded middle school serving as a shelter. Then began a bizarre odyssey through the "completely unprepared" so-called "emergency" system: to get food, JB headed out to the parish courthouse where, he said, "judges and politicians were havin' a big barbecue while handin' out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to all of us." He was taken to a warehouse, jammed with people, poorly-lit with only a few large box fans to keep the rescued cool in the ungodly Louisiana heat. He was there for four days, "and I saw every kind of behavior - fights, people shootin' up drugs." There were few people of authority to control things. People were shitting and pissing everywhere, bargaining for food, buying drugs with food.

He was eventually removed to Algiers, across the river, and finally to the airport, where, for a few more days he was warehoused. "They gave us one MRE and one bottle of water for every two people." The last part of his Louisiana journey was a fourteen-hour wait in a long line on the hot tarmac, without food or water, to be flown away to San Antonio, where he was taken in by a Baptist church until, a couple of weeks later, his family was able to bring him back to Lafayette, Louisiana. The church, which was housing a number of Katrina survivors, didn't want JB to go because "I had such a positive attitude, I guess they thought it had an effect on everyone else." But JB's with family now, out of Chalmette, which, to all intents and purposes, doesn't really exist.

The Rude Pundit saw one working traffic light in all of St. Bernard Parish last week. There's checkpoints at every entrance to the parish, with police enforcing a dusk to dawn curfew since there's little or no power. The streets of Chalmette, of the whole parish, are ghostly still, with much the same ruin as the neighborhoods of Slidell. Except here there is no line where the destruction ends. It is all endless, endless. Outside of one faded old home is Statue of Liberty lawn ornament, surrounded by debris. Another home is pushed into the middle of the street. And more, more trashed spaces.

Signs are posted all over the town - because, really, it's the only way to advertise right now - signs that offer the services of "House Gutters" and "We Tow Flooded Cars." The only visibly open businesses were liquor stores and some trailer operations, like "Shorty's Po-Boys," essentially a food truck, with a long line of customers wanting to get something other than Red Cross rations.

Which were readily available on the main street, Judge Perez Drive. You see the death of a town on its empty main roads. For on Judge Perez, each and every business you pass is closed and/or gutted. Some of the parking lots of shopping centers were fenced off, creating large camps of FEMA trailers, with seemingly self-maintained checkpoints at the entrances. These would be crowded, traffic-filled roads, and packed parking lots ordinarily. Chalmette's not a sleepy burg, but a bustling suburb. But now, now, four months after Katrina, it is a town of ghosts, living and dead.

And it's still not the worst.

Tomorrow: the devastated Lower Ninth Ward.