My adventures as a temporary reporter in Monroe, Louisiana.

Friday, September 23, 2005

I hear the voice of rage and ruin

It’s been a long week, an early week, and one that’s not over yet. Thank you, Rita.

Monroe is nowhere near the coast, but Rita’s expected to bring lots of rain and has already sent lots of evacuees are way.

Last week, about 1,000 people were living at the Red Cross Shelter. In less than two days, that shelter filled up with a total of 2,300 evacuees. Two other shelters opened up and were turning down people within hours. When the Red Cross opened up a third shelter this afternoon, it was already instantly filled with about 200 people within hours. If my addition holds, there are about 3500 evacuees in Monroe. Now, the Red Cross is basically saying Louisiana doesn’t have room for anyone else. Luckily, Arkansas is just next door.

Another sign of Rita, the hotel I’m staying in is totally packed, and by the number of families, I’m guessing most people aren’t here for the Louisiana Society of Paralegals conference. I have a room close to the pool, and the place is packed today. The kids are showing off their belly flops and blindly chasing each other in games of Marco Polo. Meanwhile, parents stand at the side, sharing stories of traffic jams and comparing Rita to its sister Katrina.

Now and for the week and a half I’ve been here, one of the more common questions I get is “Where are you from?” Now, I know everyday my accent announces that I’m not from around here or Louisiana. But, I think even without the accent everyone would ask because there’s more to the question than it seems at first. There are really only two answers—here or there. Here is simple. Monroe, West Monroe, Ouachita Parish. There is more complicated, especially with Rita. New Orleans, St. Bernard Parish, Slidell, Chaumette, places I’ve never heard of. Or now Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Lafayette. Kansas City isn’t on the list.

It’s us and them, on both sides, and I’m neither. Say where I’m from, and people tilt there head to the side in a silent question. Tell them I here as a reporter and the head stays tilted. See, there’s a third category—relief workers—that’s doesn’t raise too many questions. Relief workers are a smaller group from all over the country, but they’re all here with a common purpose. It’s not all that different than why I’m here. They’re here to help evacuees. I’m here to help cover evacuees, but even this requires clarification, usually a rambling speech about CPB emergence funding. I require an explanation here in Monroe and sometimes I wish I didn’t.


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