Measuring Katrina With a Different Scale

An alligator crawls into a grassy median. i i

You never know who you'll meet in New Orleans. Amy Walters hide caption

itoggle caption Amy Walters
An alligator crawls into a grassy median.

You never know who you'll meet in New Orleans.

Amy Walters

I spent the end of last week in New Orleans at the Democratic National Committee meeting. Although I wasn't there to cover the effects of hurricane Katrina, NPR's valiant producer Amy Walters, who's been on the hurricane story for seven weeks, took me on a brief tour of the Lower Ninth Ward. Even after hearing NPR's coverage for months, there's nothing quite like the shame you feel after seeing miles and miles of devastated neighborhood, with not a single house inhabitable.

Still, many weird and colorful residents remain in New Orleans. One of them left a lasting impression on Amy:

I saw an alligator today. Seriously. I was by myself, cruising down the road in Plaquemines thinking about a Cajun guy I talked to shortly after Rita hit. Whenever I notice my journalism calluses getting a little rough, I remember this man. He lived in a trailer most of his life. He raised a handful of kids and now has 11 grandchildren. A year before the hurricane struck he saved enough money to buy a four or five-bedroom house. In less than 24 hours it was gone. Every time I think of that story it makes me want to cry... then I multiply it by about a 100,000. It is so amazingly sad and so amazingly big.

Anyway, that's where my mind was when I saw something big, dark and long smack in the middle of the highway. I was going about 60, so I slowed down and noticed it was moving. Soon I realized that right in front of me was at least six feet of alligator. He didn't seem to notice I had been barreling along the road straight for him. He seemed to know I would stop. It was creepy — the potential to have my arm ripped from my body was a thin metal car door away from me. The gator was ugly and scary-looking. He moved like a creepy bottom-feeder who escaped his watery home and discovered the people had been washed away.

By the time he made it to the grassy median (or neutral ground as the locals call it) some big ole dump truck filled with storm debris went rattling between us without slowing down. He didn't seem to appreciate the reptilian takeover.

Some things in southeastern Louisiana will never come back. But some things will.

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