On the Streets of New Orleans, a Sense of Emptiness

As a journalist with temporary residence in one of the few hotels with power, journalist and commentator Chris Rose says the overwhelming feeling on the streets isn't despair or frustration, but emptiness.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Two hurricanes later, the mayor of New Orleans is hoping some residents will begin to return to his city as soon as today. Commentator Chris Rose laments the way the city changed.

CHRIS ROSE:

Watching Rita come and go, it's hard to say you feel helpless or hopeless or frustrated or even sad. Those emotions pretty much ran dry weeks ago. Those are the only things that are dry. What you feel is empty. The same feeling you get when you stand at what was once a vibrant city street corner, maybe St. Charles and Jackson Avenue under the once grand oaks where the Zulu parades roll out on Fat Tuesday mornings. And you look up and down the roads and sidewalks and you see nothing.

When Rita's rain and winds began here, I took shelter at the downtown Sheraton Hotel, one of few places in town with power and life and even a Starbucks, open for four hours a day--the best four hours of the day. The Salvation Army truck out front on Canal Street fed us warm food and the atrium filled up with mostly drunk men who laughed and tried to forget that a new storm was brewing outside the big windows. And though we mostly dodged the brunt of the new storm, the water rose again, filling up a once-obscure neighborhood now known the world over, the Lower Ninth Ward.

It would be easy in our beaten-down and cynical state of mind here to say that all that got flooded in New Orleans this time was what got flooded last time. But then you gaze to the west and you realize that half this damn state seems like it's underwater now. And anyway, it's more than just the water. After all the bullets we've dodged for years, it's clear that this is going to be part of our lives now: evacuations, breaches, search and rescue, temporary morgue, MREs, repopulation. These are the new terms in our vocabulary. It's impossible not to ask yourself, `Is this how I want to live?'

Home is supposed to be a comfort zone. The pork sandwiches at the Salvation Army notwithstanding, this just ain't home. This place feels like nowhere.

INSKEEP: Commentary from Chris Rose. He's a columnist for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.

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