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A Long Way Away from the Rest of the World

A dispatch from Noah Adams, blogging from the Gulf Coast:

When you're driving down Route 23 southeast of New Orleans, it feels like you're a long way away from the rest of the world. I went to Buras today because I wanted to see the place where Katrina first made landfall in Louisiana at 6:10 a.m. Monday, Aug. 29, 2005.

I'd been driving for more than an hour and I hadn't seen the Mississippi yet, which was just over the levee to the east. Louisiana's Route 23 is a four-lane divided highway and difficult for a dog to get across. There are plenty of people here for tragedy to abound when a storm like Katrina comes. There are FEMA trailer parks and roofs that look like that were ripped off last week. From the overpasses, you can see water and marshland and boats on both sides.

After driving for an hour, I pulled off onto a side road and people waved at me from their trucks. I asked two different guys where Buras was and they laughed at me. Finally a sheriff said, "Look for the firehouse. You can't miss it."

The Buras volunteer fire department used to be pretty splendid. Now, it's just walls. When I approached, four guys were sitting at a picnic table drinking beer at the end of the workday. A.B. Croft rode Katrina out in Morgan City, La. Robert Bartholomew spent five months in Baton Rouge. "Common sense will tell you to get your behind out of here," he says.

"Do you know of anybody who stayed?" I asked.

"Yeah, there was a man named Brooks who stayed and two brothers, Red and Al. When their boat started sinking, they climbed a tree. They spent four days up there in the tree. All they had to eat were oranges."

The men told me that there were about 4,000 people up and down these roads before the storm. "Hardly anybody here now," they say. The high school never opened back up.

I thanked the men and set out to find as much of Buras proper as is left. The centerpiece is the pale yellow shell of the YMCA, which now houses Internet service, a free Laundromat and a cafe serving three meals a day — sometimes 70 people for supper. Mike McDonald is a volunteer from a nearby parish who was just starting to cook beans and rice when I arrived.

"I just like doing this work," McDonald said. "We came here June 1."

"What? June 1?" I exclaimed.

"Yeah, we were in Waveland, then St. Bernard Parish and now here."

I asked what people did for food before they arrived. "I don't know," he answered. "I don't know."

As I walked back out to my car I saw another tugboat, yellow and white, moving silently past the top of the levee.

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