Gulf Coast Residents Pick Up, Look to New Year A few Gulf Coast residents affected by Hurricane Katrina talk about their plans for 2006.
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Gulf Coast Residents Pick Up, Look to New Year

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Gulf Coast Residents Pick Up, Look to New Year

Gulf Coast Residents Pick Up, Look to New Year

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Four months ago today, Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast. Cities were washed away. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced. Many have yet to return home. In the days and weeks that followed Katrina, TALK OF THE NATION opened the phones to people whose lives were uprooted, and we heard some remarkable stories. Today we talk again with a few of those people to hear how they're doing now and what the new year may hold in store. We want to hear from callers as well. If your life got hit by this hurricane, how are you doing now? Have you been able to go home? What does 2006 look like for you? Give us a call. Our number is 1 (800) 989-TALK; that's (800) 989-8255. The e-mail address is

One of the people we talked to back in September was Curt Pannagl. He's an oyster broker, an owner of Gulf Island Seafood in Hopedale, Louisiana. He had just received news about what happened to his business.

(Soundbite of previous program)

Mr. CURT PANNAGL: I got a phone call this morning, and some rescue workers had passed where our location was, and they don't have a sign of it. They don't even have a brick left.

SEABROOK: Curt Pannagl joins us now by phone from Braithwaite, Louisiana. Hi, Curt.

Mr. PANNAGL: How you doing?

SEABROOK: I'm OK. How are you?

Mr. PANNAGL: Everything's fine.

SEABROOK: That was four months ago. Where are you now? Has your dock been rebuilt?

Mr. PANNAGL: Oh, no. This--as far as business is concerned, we opened up December 12th the state reefs and--for a temporary opening, which was pretty controversial.

SEABROOK: You're talking about opening the oyster season, yes?

Mr. PANNAGL: Right. Right. And you know, we didn't work for like--well, I don't know--three months or so. The majority of the fishermen wanted to keep it closed because they have permanent resource out there that's still living, and they want to preserve that for future and--but for some reason they opened it up early because they have a spat take, and that's what--spat is how the oysters grow--or baby oysters--after the storm. And--but they open it up and we're fishing right now. When the production started off the first couple of days pretty good, and then after that it's dropped off drastically.

SEABROOK: So Hurricane Katrina hit the oyster populations there along your stretch of coast pretty badly, huh?

Mr. PANNAGL: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I would think that the state will probably close the reefs in there in a couple weeks again for the rest of the year.

SEABROOK: And you're saying that the drudgers are now drudging up baby oysters, which should be growing larger, yes?

Mr. PANNAGL: Right. Exactly.

SEABROOK: How is it even in that--I mean, have you managed to turn over any kind of money? How's business?

Mr. PANNAGL: Now really, it's--'cause everything's gone. I mean, we're still having issues with the insurance companies. Nobody's seen any checks. A lot of people didn't have insurance. There's no infrastructure, no water, no electricity--you know, we're unloading with generators and trucking our water in and it's kind of primitive.

SEABROOK: And how do you--what kind of progress do you expect, if at all, in 2006?

Mr. PANNAGL: Well, that's--well, you know, there's so many other problems out there. There's a lot of debris, a lot of obstructions from the oil platforms that are under the water now that boats are going to, you know, hit. They're going to have a lot of problems in the future.

SEABROOK: Thanks so much for joining us, Curt.

Mr. PANNAGL: Take care. OK, thank you.

SEABROOK: Curt Pannagl is an oyster broker and owner of Gulf Island Seafood in Hopedale, Louisiana. He joined us today from his home in Braithwaite, Louisiana.

We go now to Brice Miller. He's the jazz studies coordinator for New Orleans public schools. He joins us from Columbus, Mississippi. Hi.

Mr. BRICE MILLER: ...doing there, Gwen?

SEABROOK: When we last talked to you and your family, you had just evacuated, I believe, all 14 of you and a puppy--Is that right?

Mr. MILLER: Yeah.

SEABROOK: To Columbus?

Mr. MILLER: It was about 16, 17 of us and a little puppy.

SEABROOK: And are you still together, all of you?

Mr. MILLER: Well, we've kind of separated a bit. My parents have relocated to Jackson, Mississippi. My mom's a nurse with the VA hospital, and that was the next largest VA that was available, so she and my dad's there. My wife's parents are still here. My brother and his family are still here in Columbus, and we had an aunt that was with us in home. She's just moved back with her daughter.

SEABROOK: And what's the situation with the public schools? You worked with the public schools in New Orleans. Do you have any sense of when you'll be able to go back, if you'll be able to go back?

Mr. MILLER: I think that's probably `if' with the largest capital letters that are available. It's just a big tragedy for my wife, be it as a professional, as a parent, as a teacher. It's just a tragedy. You know, maybe a week or two weeks after the hurricane hit, we pretty much all received news firstly that we weren't going to be paid and then the next blow that we received was that all employees were being laid off. And nothing has changed from that point yet, and what they've actually done is, from my understanding, that a large portion of the system has been changed to charter schools, which gives those institutions the ability to pretty much have their own infrastructure.

SEABROOK: And is there any mandate to hire public school teachers that were displaced by Hurricane Katrina?

Mr. MILLER: None that I'm available of. None that I've learned of at this point.

SEABROOK: Brice Miller, are you in touch with any of your students?

Mr. MILLER: I haven't spoken with many students, yet I have spoken with many of my co-workers and I've been in constant communications with my music supervisor from New Orleans public schools. And everyone is pretty much in a rapidly declining, degrading mental state at this point. You know, truly, truly depressed thinking that you have some individuals that have given, like myself, eight, nine years in New Orleans public schools. My supervisor's been with them for--I want to say 22 years. And then suddenly to be told you don't have a job and you need to find another way to fend for your family, thinking that you were not only attempting to be part of a humanitarian institution, but also a professional institution.

SEABROOK: One last question. Jazz is such an essential part of the culture in New Orleans. You were the head of the jazz studies program in your school. Do you--are you doing anything to help bring it back or are you taking jazz to Mississippi?

Mr. MILLER: You know, there's a new thing that's ringing through here in Columbus, Mississippi, and I actually went to Germany in November. I went to Joshua Tree in the high desert of California in November. And my theme is jazzing up wherever I am, and right now I'm working on jazzing up Columbus. There's a pretty intensive jazz education program that I put in place in New Orleans called Jazzin' Up New Orleans Through Education(ph) through my non-profit the New Orleans Jazz Education Foundation. And I've just pretty much taken those ideas and have been attempting to spread them as much as possible.

Aside from being the jazz studies coordinator for New Orleans public schools, I'm also a coordinator for a partnership with the University of New Orleans in the National Louis Armstrong Foundation. So that's a program that we're actually in process of implementing once again beginning this January. The National Louis Armstrong Foundation has decided that they want to continue investing in New Orleans culture, New Orleans jazz and New Orleans education.

SEABROOK: Brice Miller, thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. MILLER: Thank you.

SEABROOK: Brice Miller is New Orleans jazz musician and educator and jazz studies coordinator for New Orleans public schools. He joined us from Columbus, Mississippi.

We're also getting in some calls from people who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Reece in Virginia. Where are you now?

REECE (Caller): I'm outside of Winchester, Virginia, heading north.

SEABROOK: And are you still--have you gone back home?

REECE: Yes, I did. I was evacuated to Alabama, and then I moved back into New Orleans in early October. And I was determined to make a go of it and help rebuild New Orleans, but I started developing severe breathing problems from the quality of the air. So I actually was prescribed inhalers, and I just--that was very disturbing to me and then the basic conditions in New Orleans are much worse than people realize that you see on TV.

SEABROOK: Thanks for your call, Reece. Let's go to Alexis in Prairieville, Louisiana.

ALEXIS (Caller): Hi.

SEABROOK: How are you doing?

ALEXIS: Hello?

SEABROOK: Hello. Go ahead.

ALEXIS: I heard what the previous caller just said, that conditions in New Orleans are a lot worse. I'm a native of Louisiana. I'm actually from south of New Orleans near Grand Isle where the hurricane came through. My hometown Cut Off is back up and running. It's a beautiful thing to see. We actually were on Canal Street Christmas shopping, and to see the street cars running; you know, to see the businesses that my mom knows from when she was a child--you know, that everybody grew up with, you know, opening back up. And I know it's going to be tough; I know it's going to be difficult to come back. You know, there is, you know, a lot of hardship involved with living in New Orleans right now, but it's never been an easy city to live in. It's always been kind of crazy and strange, and that's why people love it.

SEABROOK: Thanks for your call, Alexis.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

In the aftermath of the hurricane, most of the New Orleans hospitals were flooded and many doctors displaced, leaving victims in dire circumstances for emergency assistance. Dr. Karen DeSalvo is chief of general internal medicine and geriatrics at Tulane University, and since the hurricane has served as special assistant to the university president for public medical services. She joins us now from her sister's home in Austin, Texas.

Thanks so much for taking time from your holiday to join us once again.

Dr. KAREN DESALVO (Tulane University): Oh, it's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

SEABROOK: When we spoke to you last in late September, you and your medical team were essentially practicing medicine on the streets in New Orleans. Has the situation gotten any better?

Dr. DESALVO: Well, it has, and certainly with respect to the availability of medical services. A couple of things have changed since we last talked. One is that we had a big efflux of the first responder personnel, and so a lot of the care that we were delivering in some of those tents and temporary spots was to first responders, and so that need went away. And we were able to sort of shift what we were dealing back to a more traditional kind of primary care and set up shop to service the needs of the returning citizens of New Orleans.

Doing that required some creativity because there wasn't--and there still isn't really--a lot of open facilities and sort of what you might consider the traditional paradigm of health care. But what we're able to do now is we are still using mobile units. We have converted some buildings that were things like neighborhood centers into clinics with new partnerships, with not-for-profits, etc. And then we've gotten some older buildings back up and running that might have been used for clinics in the past. For example, a building from the charity hospital system where we're working with LSU faculty and physicians and residents to deliver care to that patient population.

So we're making some transitions to something more stable. It's nice to have sewer and water and power when you're practicing medicine; I can tell you that. And so we do see some movement.

SEABROOK: Do the hospitals and the clinics that are up and running now match the population that's in New Orleans?

Dr. DESALVO: That's a great question. There's a lot of unknown about exactly how many people are in New Orleans and what kinds of medical needs they have. There's some work going on with the CDC in the city to try to understand the numbers and what the needs are, but it seems that based on what we're seeing in our clinics that we have plenty of capacity to handle the people who are coming home. Some of it is just letting people know that you're there and having access. There are clinics that the phone lines still don't work and so people may not know that you're open. We are having some days where we don't have quite enough--well, we're concerned, I should say, we don't have enough in-patient hospital beds--ICU beds in particular. We worry some days that in the whole city we might only have seven intensive care unit beds. And so those are a little bit tricky, but we seem to have gotten through in the last four months. And there will be some hospitals opening in January--one or two that's going to really help immensely with our capacity, and every, you know, week or so we try to get more and more clinics back on line to make sure that people--'course, stay out of the hospital and get their care in their community, which is where they should.

SEABROOK: What happens when you call 911 in New Orleans right now? Do you get--does an ambulance come to your home? Do you get taken to the hospital?

Dr. DESALVO: You do, and it does, and it--of course, there was a period of time when it was down, and medical control was inoperable for a variety of reasons, but very shortly we were able to get that back up and running and that had a lot of help from the military. So yes, if you have an injury or an accident you can call an ambulance and get 911 services. The cell phones are working, and so that is a way to reach 911 now. There are parts of town where land lines, like I said, still don't work.

SEABROOK: Dr. Karen DeSalvo is chief of general internal medicine and geriatrics at Tulane University and special assistant to the university president for public medical services. She joined us from Austin, Texas. Thanks so much.

Dr. DESALVO: Thank you.

SEABROOK: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Neal Conan will be back on Monday. I'm Andrea Seabrook in Washington.

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