New Orleans Family Heads North
DEBORAH AMOS, Host:
Now, we turn out attention to the Gulf Coast where nearly two million people have fled Hurricane Gustav. In New Orleans this weekend, Mayor Ray Nagin ordered residents in his city to get out before the powerful storm hit.
RAY NAGIN: You need to be scared. You need to be concerned. And you need to get your butts moving out of New Orleans.
AMOS: If you leave in New Orleans or any of the areas where Hurricane Gustav's wind and rain are bearing down, you have some pretty stark choices. Pack up your family and what you can carry and get out of town. For some people, this is a second evacuation. Three years ago, Hurricane Katrina was reaping through New Orleans and Gralen Banks made the decision to evacuate his family although he stayed on. He had since rebuilt his life in New Orleans but over the weekend, he had to pack up and leave. We reached him at his brother's home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And he's with us now. Welcome back to the program.
GRALEN BANKS: Thank you so much, Deb. How are you?
AMOS: I'm good. And how are you? First of all, how is your family?
BANKS: My - listen, that is the most important thing, my family's together, it is not anything like three years ago when we were part of the diaspora and scattered hither and yon, you know, from one part of the country to the other, we are all together which is why - excuse me. Which is why my brother got this house up in Baton Rouge. This is - he called it an evacuation house. And right now, it is so much better, we are all together. We're in good spirits, we're safe and we will ride it out and see exactly, what we are going back home in a few days.
AMOS: That's great news. Tell me about the scene. What was the mood in New Orleans before you left? And was it hard for you to pack up this time?
BANKS: It was. You see, this is my first time leaving. My career would not allow me. My family would leave but I was in (unintelligible) on the hospitality industry in New Orleans which is why I was in the city during Katrina. So, this is actually my first evacuation. But the mood in the city, I mean it - people understandably are a gun-shy and snake bit, you know, they were not hesitating. Folks were leaving two and three days prior to the both voluntary and mandatory evacuations. And I think it helped that Gustav had good manners to come over Labor Day weekend, which a lot of folks had plans to leave town anyway and they just accelerated have been pulled out quicker. But the overall mood in the city was one of let's go, I'm not taking any more chances and that is the leap from a typical New Orleanians mind set.
AMOS: Yeah, ride out the storm. We don't leave for hurricanes, we drink them.
BANKS: No, we don't leave for hurricanes. I mean up until Katrina, folks, you know, it was - you know it's a part of life here. I mean it's as real as folks living in San Francisco when there are earthquakes, in the Midwest with tornadoes. You know it's a part of life but, we have to come resigned, you know, we had been blessed, a bunch of near-misses and you know, just some rain and what not. But three years ago, a lot of folks had to change their philosophy and it was evident and close to two million people leaving the city over this past weekend.
AMOS: And Gralen, what did you decide to take with you, and did you make different choices? I know you didn't leave the last time but your family did.
AMOS: Did you make different choices this time about what you packed?
BANKS: Less, we've got less. So we lost a lot and we're still rebuilding - I literally just moved out of a trailer three months ago and got into a house. And it was the stuff that counts, the photographs.
AMOS: Photographs, people always say that. What they missed the most in a disaster is the photographs when they go.
BANKS: Photographs. It's the one thing that you cannot replace that in life. You know, and my wife's parents are both deceased and her - obviously the pictures of her parents are very dear, so they have been packed, our wedding pictures. Our Ashley's baby pictures. You know, I mean all the things that you cannot - I don't care how much money you have, how much insurance, you cannot possibly get back. So, those are the things that we took once again, you know, the important papers, birth certificates, medical records and different things like that and a few clothes just you know, hopefully and I mean, you know, folks are optimistic, hopefully would be able go back home and not find the same level of destruction than we found in Katrina but, yeah, we packing light, it's because you know, a lot of folks found out stuff don't mean much. You know, stuff really, really doesn't mean much - it's the few things that count that you really want to have with you.
AMOS: You know two years ago, Michel Martin spoke to you, when you were still in that trailer and she asked you whether you'd ever consider moving away from the city given what you and your family had been through. And here's what you had to say back then.
BANKS: You know there's a culture here, there's a life here. The city is older than the United States of America, New Orleans has been here and my family. I'm fourth generation you know I mean I'd miss the good mornings.
AMOS: Gralen, are you concerned that that community remains intact after this storm?
BANKS: I think we will. I think we are very resilient, we'll be back because again, it's a fact of life. We could no more ignore the threat of hurricanes during hurricane season than, you know we could ignore the sun coming up in the east and setting in the west. It's a fact of life and I think in every decision that folks make you weigh the pluses and you weigh the minuses and you come to the decision that it is best for your family. And in our decision, in our case, you know, my wife's family is, you know, native New Orleanians. We not - it's going to take more than this. If there's no New Orleans left the - and I'm just kidding, Lord. If there's no New Orleans left, then we'll talk about moving somewhere else. But as long as there's - as long as there's some New Orleans there, we'll be there.
AMOS: The response from local and federal officials has been much better this time, do you think this time they got it right?
BANKS: Oh listen, it only took, you know, several thousand lives and several billion dollars worth of damage in order for them this program right. So yeah I mean, you know when you look at it, yes. I think it was a very great cooperative effort from the federal state and local level, some folks criticized the mayor for maybe becoming a little bit all of the time. But I don't blame him, you now, New Orleanians sometimes are hard-headed, and sometimes you have to speak directly and clearly in the way that they understand it. When you tell them to get their butt out, you get folk's attention. Because it's not, as he said, it's not a drill and I think again from the state level from the federal level.
You know, Michael Chertoff was on the ground, in Louisiana, so there was not that whole thing of having to call to Washington to get permission to find out if it's OK. And then that information is to go through the state, and everybody was on the same page. And when we decided to pull the trigger, the trigger was pulled, the president declared a pre storm state of emergency to free up funds, to allocate folks getting out on buses. It was from logistics and procedures that point and again, that's been my career for 20 years. I can tell you that it was a hundred and eighty degree difference and it was a hundred and eighty degree difference to the best, to the better. And you know, like I said, it only cost you know, several thousand lives and several billion dollars in damage for folks you know. Actually got an idea that, hey let's cooperate and try to get this thing right.
AMOS: Yeah, but Gralen, I've been reading that in New Orleans people are still - it's going to take a generation for people to not be suspicious of both local and federal leaders. And I heard a lot of grumbling about - they're all just covering themselves, they don't want it to happen again. It's not, oh hooray, they got it right this time.
BANKS: No, but you see - I've got to be practical about it. That's always going to be because folks once again, a snake-bitten gun-shy from the last time. Of course, there's a high level of distrust for the mechanisians and the preparations of the government on all levels because of what happened to my city, and that is to meet - it's perfectly understandable that lack of response and not the response. The lack of response, the lack of preparation, the lack of planning, those things are the things that have people still, you know three years later very reticent to trust the government. But at the end of the day, I've got to look at what actually happened. When you look at the fact that...
AMOS: Gralen, I think we are going to have to wrap that up, wrap this up. Can I ask you very quickly?
AMOS: Just one last question, financially, how long can you hang out in Baton Rouge?
BANKS: Well, probably, I - we'll be OK. I mean, I don't think we're going to be going for months at a time this time. But if we needed to, we could probably make it without serious problems - three months.
AMOS: Thank you very much. Gralen Banks who's with his family in Baton Rouge waiting out Hurricane Gustav. And thanks for joining us again.
BANKS: Once again, it's my pleasure.
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