Wednesday, September 28, 2005

What the $#@^#!

Updated: Thursday September 29th
Location: Algiers and Terrebonne Parish

I apologize for the slow Real Reports. I've been working 20 hour days traveling between Algiers and Terrebonne Parish, so updates have to be written early in the morning. Thanks to everyone for all the support.

Yesterday I drove to the Algiers Red Cross distribution point which is located in the southern section of the Algiers neighborhood near the middle-class white section of town. As soon as I walked in, I noticed a frowning young man in a khaki shirt and black hat with a sidearm and corporate logo prominently displayed.

Blackwater Security is now providing security to the Red Cross! That's right, you heard correctly. Armed mecenaries are providing security to a (supposedly) humanitarian relief organization. I spoke with three Red Cross volunteers about what was going on with their distribution and pointed out that Blackwater is a group of armed mercenaries - corporate contractors who have a very bad reputation. I offerred the question - who are they accountable to?"

A well meaning volunteer from Vermont said that the Blackwater guys were very nice and they offered protection. I asked, "Who do you need protection from?" The conversation ended.

So if you donated money to the Red Cross, you are supporting extra-legal armed mercenaries who were observed shooting people out of French Quarter windows following Katrina. Hurricane relief at gunpoint. Aren't you proud?

Terrebonne Parish is the disaster area no one has heard about. Situated just outside the ring of catastrophic Katrina damage to the west, and just outside the Hurricane Rita media frenzy to the east - this area was only just declared a federal disaster area yesterday afternoon. In reality, the area sustained significant wind damage from Katrina, and then was flooded by Rita's storm surge.

Common Ground has been providing supplies and relief south of the city of Houma for four days. We acted as true first responders - making a supply run during the rising flood waters. For the past four days we've seen virtually no Federal disaster relief agencies. Red Cross-ed finally showed up yesterday with a whopping two trucks at the Baptist Church on State Road 57. FEMA began showing up today and in true form began making the resident's lives even more miserable.

One woman reported that a FEMA agent came to look at her house, which sustained roof damage during Katrina and whose trailer sustained structural damage from Rita's flooding. Fortunately the inside of her trailer was not immersed. The woman kept trying to show the FEMA agent the damage to her trailer, but all he could ask to see is damage to furniture and appliances. When she said that her inside possessions were fine but the trailer itself was damaged, the FEMA agent told her he needed to see "damaged refrigerators and appliances" or she had no claim.

Another woman reported that she has been trying to contact FEMA for over a month. The FEMA website is so complex and overloaded with traffic that even the Red Cross is advising people not to use the internet. But the phone systems are constantly busy. I heard from one person that was on hold for over EIGHT HOURS.

So maybe people should just show up to the FEMA office in person right? Wrong. FEMA will only let you apply for disaster services online or by phone. People are so pissed FEMA agents have to walk around in disguise as firemen or Red Cross workers. Incredible but true.

Our critical work in Terrebonne Parish has yielded the huge need for cleaning kits and supplies. We have been exploring all possible avenues for getting cleaning supplies for distro to flood victims. We tried to get some of the cleaning boxes from the Red Cross but surprise surprise ran into red tape. "You have to call central distribution," an officious but friendly volunteer coordinator said.

So I called the head honcho for Red Cross distribution and explained that we were working with local contacts and distribution networks in Terrebonne Parish and really could use a couple of pallets of cleaning boxes. After a pause she said, "I'll give your contact information to the distribution coordinator in Houma. If they need your help, they will give you a call."

Ahhh... Red Cross has it all covered. Thank goodness. No need to panic. Everything's fine. Move on, nothing to see here. Check's in the mail. WHATEVER!

While the Terrebonne communities of Ashland, Grand Calliou and Dulac have barely seen Red Cross and FEMA, another friend in the Disaster Industrial Complex showed up in force today. Haliburton vehicles were commonplace on State Road 57 this afternoon. It's so nice to know that our corporate profiteers are always circling like vultures to descend on the next money-making natural disaster.

Just the otherside of the bayou from the town of Dulac lies Shrimper's Row. This road, runs through the largest concentration of Native Americans in the coastal area. Father Kirby of the Dulac Methodist Church and community center said, "You know how cities have 'the other side of the tracks?' Down here we have the 'other side of the bayou.'

I've seen alot of heart wrenching things the last month but driving down Shrimper's Row was among the most depressing. Like many Native American communities, this area is deeply impoverished. Many of the homes had not been placed up on stilts (which costs $35,000 - $185,000) and were flooded and torn apart by rushing waters. Shrimp boats and other vessels were thrown across the road and into people's yards. Tons of dead marsh grass debris littered the roads and community. Hundreds of poisonous water moccasin snakes are trying to find their way back to the marsh. Mud covers everything.

I've developed an immense respect for the communities of south Terrebonne Parish - Ashland, Grand Calliou and Dulac. Local residents have been in constant contact with us helping to coordinate our trucks and informing their friends. Once we set up our distro, they help out in the trucks and along the lines. There is such a sense of community. Despite the incredible loss, there is also alot of smiles and laugher amid the tears. These folks, new friends, act from the heart.

I've been in Algiers for over three weeks now. I'm exhausted. Tomorrow, I might be taking a break for several days. But I'll continue to give Real Reports and let you know what's happening on the ground in these areas. Keep an eye on New Orleans when the tired, frustrated residents return to unihabitable homes, little support, and lots of wacko Wackenhut Security and other law enforcement. It's a fire ready to ignite.

Naomi Archer is a global justice organizer and spiritual activist from Asheville, NC working for the Common Ground relief effort in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans. She can be reached at 828.230.1404 or Blog at Website at


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