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Letter from New Orleans

From reader Shank:

I work at a hospital in southeastern NC, and one of our pathologists relocated to NO a while back. He's holed up in the Ritz Carlton on Canal street and sent this missive.

He asked if to pass it along, so here it is.

Thanks to all of you who have sent your notes of concern and your prayers. I am writing this note on Tuesday at 2 p.m.. I wanted to update all of you as to the situation here. I don't know how much information you are getting but I am certain it is more than we are getting. Be advised that almost everything I am telling you is from direct observation or rumor from reasonable sources. They are allowing limited internet access, so I hope to send this dispatch today.

Personally, my family and I are fine. My family is safe in Jackson, Miss., and I am now a temporary resident of the Ritz Carleton Hotel in New Orleans. I figured if it was my time to go, I wanted to go in a place with a good wine list. In addition, this hotel is in a very old building on Canal Street that could and did sustain little damage. Many of the other hotels sustained significant loss of windows, and we expect that many of the guests may be evacuated here.

Things were obviously bad yesterday, but they are much worse today. Overnight the water arrived. Now Canal Street (true to its origins) is indeed a canal. The first floor of all downtown buildings is underwater. I have heard that Charity Hospital and Tulane are limited in their ability to care for patients because of water. Ochsner is the only hospital that remains fully functional. However, I spoke with them today and they too are on generator and losing food and water fast.

The city now has no clean water, no sewerage system, no electricity, and no real communications. Bodies are still being recovered floating in the floods. We are worried about a cholera epidemic. Even the police are without effective communications. We have a group of armed police here with us at the hotel that is admirably trying to exert some local law enforcement. This is tough because looting is now rampant. Most of it is not malicious looting. These are poor and desperate people with no housing and no medical care and no food or water trying to take care of themselves and their families.

Unfortunately, the people are armed and dangerous. We hear gunshots frequently. Most of Canal street is occupied by armed looters who have a low threshold for discharging their weapons. We hear gunshots frequently. The looters are using makeshift boats made of pieces of styrofoam to access. We are still waiting for a significant national guard presence.

The health care situation here has dramatically worsened overnight. Many people in the hotel are elderly and small children. Many other guests have unusual diseases. ... There are (Infectious Disease) physicians in at this hotel attending an HIV confection. We have commandered the world famous French Quarter Bar to turn
into an makeshift clinic. There is a team of about seven doctors and PAs and pharmacists. We anticipate that this will be the major medical facility in the central business district and French Quarter.

Our biggest adventure today was raiding the Walgreens on Canal under police escort. The pharmacy was dark and full of water. We basically scooped the entire drug sets into garbage bags and removed them. All under police excort. The looters had to be held back at gunpoint. After a dose of prophylactic Cipro I hope to be fine.

In all we are faring well. We have set up a hospital in the the French Qarter bar in the hotel, and will start admitting patients today. Many will be from the hotel, but many will not. We are anticipating dealing with multiple medical problems, medications and and acute injuries. Infection and perhaps even cholera are anticipated major problems. Food and water shortages are imminent.

The biggest question to all of us is where is the National Guard. We hear jet fignters and helicopters, but no real armed presence, and hence the rampant looting. There is no Red Cross and no Salvation Army.

In a sort of cliché way, this is an edifying experience. One is rapidly focused away from the transient and material to the bare necessities of life. It has been challenging to me to learn how to be a primary care phyisican. We are under martial law so return to our homes is impossible. I don't know how long it will be and this is my greatest fear. Despite it all, this is a soul-edifying experience. The greatest pain is to think about the loss. And how long the rebuid will take. And the horror of so many dead people .

PLEASE SEND THIS DISPATCH TO ALL YOU THING MAY BE INTERSTED IN A DISPATCH from the front. I will send more according to your interest. Hopefully their collective prayers will be answered. By the way, suture packs, sterile gloves and stethoscopes will be needed as the Ritz turns into a MASH.


Wow, keep first-person stuff like this coming if you can. Thanks.

Yes, as with the 7/7 attacks it does help to get it from someone on the ground.

This is like reading an excerpt from a book or something. I wish that's all it was!

I hope help arrives soon!

Wow...just, wow.

I hope he and his fellow doctors are able to make some kind of a difference. It sure as hell sounds like they are trying.

I hope 20 years (or whenever) from now, people like that get together in the rebuilt N.O. to tell their stories, much to the wonderment of the new generations ("Wow...we had no idea it was that bad.")

The one thing that everyone needs to keep in mind as we look at Katrina is that the National Guard could not have prevented what is happening today even had they had the greater numbers that everyone says are distracted by Iraq.

I'm not sure that most people realize that once the water came in the National Guard would be almost every bit as ineffective as the local law enforcement agencies.

They drive trucks, and 20 feet of water is a bit deep for any truck.

Note that the writer stated that the entire first floor was flooded. The Guard is likely posted throughout the city in exactly the places that were expected of them. Now they have to wait for the Coast Guard and Navy to come in and rescue them as well.

A city is no small place and 3000 people can't make any difference at all when they are stranded too.

Many of the National Guard are in Iraq. I thought the role of the National Guard was defending on American soil.

"The one thing that everyone needs to keep in mind as we look at Katrina is that the National Guard could not have prevented what is happening today even had they had the greater numbers that everyone says are distracted by Iraq."

I'm nopt going to turn this into a Bush-bash, but who plans the military operation down there should be fired. The military plans for EVERYTHING (IIRC there are several plans for invading Canada, under certain circulstances). A natural disaster isn't all that farfetched.

What is sewerage?

I don't know what's up with the whole sewerage thing Gw, but I've seen it in a few other places. Maybe it's a dialect thing.

i stand corrected. in spite of the frenzied news anchors, this time they were actually correct. What a friggin disaster!


None of us online need to "Bush Bash" regarding the lack of preparations/rescues for Katrina....The people in Louisiana have been reporting it for over a year:

In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain, according to a Feb. 16, 2004, article, in New Orleans CityBusiness.

On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can't be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us."

Also that June, with the 2004 hurricane season starting, the Corps' project manager Al Naomi went before a local agency, the East Jefferson Levee Authority, and essentially begged for $2 million for urgent work that Washington was now unable to pay for. From the June 18, 2004 Times-Picayune:


How about Louisiana and New Orleans taking care of themselves & not expecting American taxpayers to pay for their safety?

I mean its not like it was a city that over 10 feet below sea level or anything? That city has been a disaster waiting to happen since it was built. You live under sea level you should expect to have to pay to keep yourself safe.

Ask for help now is fine but whingeing that taxpayers nationally should have paid for you to live in the Big Easy is a bit much.

Andrew, what about states that are constantly in the line of hurricanes? What about states that are in earthquake zones? What about states that often get blizzards that result in a state of emergency being declared? Should we just say fuck off to all of them because the knew what they were getting into when they moved there?

The answer to your question, for the most part, is, "yes." If you choose to move to the desert, then you should pay for transporting water to your town (does Phoenix come to mind?) and not come whining to the rest of us to pay for your water (does Phoenix come to mind?). This is a problem New Orleans should have fixed, or maybe Louisiana should have fixed it. Taxes should have been raised from those who would benefit from the fix, including tourists. Nevertheless, that is in the past and we all need to pitch in now to fix the crisis.

Michele; most states have provided for their own protection. Do you think its right to build in harms way and expect the rest of the country to help when the inevitable happens? Is it right for all of us all over the US to pay higher federal taxes because some people chose to live in harm's way?

This is no different to the fools who built rickety houses in the Everglades on a floodplain that got trashed in Andrew. There has to be an aspect of personal and community responsability in all these things. I am not talking about the relief being sent now; I am however angered by the blame coming from some LA about the fact the federal goverment did not do enough to prevent this.

That said its time for us to help those people, however misguided, get back on their feet.

Andrew and olrtex - What can I possibly say? I hope you are simply severely miseducated 14-year-olds. I don't know what you are, and don't especially care. I know some things you are not, even though you may play them on TV, for example: Real Americans - Loyalty to one's country is NOT ABOUT BANNING BURNING IT'S F-ING FLAG, it's about loyalty and fellow-feeling for one's countrymen, especially, ESPECIALLY, you wastes of flesh, when the kind of tragedy that SHOULD remind everyone of our common human frailties, and the delicate balance, invisible to us most of the time, but very real and very powerful, upon which all our fates hinge. But no, you, YOU see this as an opportunity to "whinge" about PAYING TAXES to contribute to humane relief for FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS trapped in a hellhole of MISERY AND DEATH.

So you are not good Americans.

I suspect you are the fairly commonplace kind of scum who profess conventional Christian religious beliefs too, for the sake of the material advantages of making a mummery of such things: the trust you gain from people, the respectability, the opportunities for business networking available at the better sort of church, don't you know? But another thing you are not, and I hope you at least know it, and have no intention of being, anyway, for your own putrescent sakes, is in any way, shape, or form Christian. If the Christian world-view is accurate, and these statements are truly representative of your general attitudes in life, you should expect a warm welcome in the afterlife. Extremely warm.

Another thing you are not, which I'm sure in your heart of hearts you cherish as your dearest conviction, is intelligent. So you can string together a few cranky diatribes about how people should all be good self-reliant Ayn Randian entrepeneurs, if they don't want overwhelming natural forces to destroy thier lives. Not impressive. People just shouldn't live anywhere there's the possibility of that happening?

Ever heard of asteroids?

Here's hoping you get the opportunity to meet one someday.

hi shank,

Thanks for sharing this letter from your doc friend.

Can you send more updates?

I haven't heard back from Greg. Which is not to say that something bad has come of him (god forbid); just that he hasn't had a chance to put an email out. From what I understand, internet usage is somehow limited or spotty or something like that.

I do know though, that our local SMAT (special medical assistance)team is deploying through FEMA to the area with several MD's, anesthesiologists, and nurses. Relief has just finished mobilizing, and we should be witnessing (in the next few days) the largest, most remarkable rescue/rebuilding effort in our history.

MR: What the hell are you on about? I am not a Christian and never have been. Guess who is hosting a link to raising funds for the relief? Oh yeah me...

Guess what mate time to take the meds and go lie down.

Wishing someone dead...how caring and sharing. How pathetic....

I'm all for having them pay for their own disaster protection as soon as they don't have to pay for farm subsidies. Between 1995 and 2003, Americans ponied up $113 billion in farm subsidies. New Orleans wanted $250 to finish the levee projects. Whinge!

$250 million, that is.

Fair enough...you won't find me defending farm subsidies.

I was the pharmacist who went into the Walgreens and removed the drugs. This man was an awful person by stealing controlled substance medications for himself and was escorted from the hotel. He should be quite ashamed of himself. We were doing the best we could to help people and all he did in the clinic was take drugs we needed to help people with physical and emotional pain.

What are you talking about Joshua?

i would like to add a few comments to the initial letter from dr. greg henderson (the doctor trapped in the ritz carleton in NOLA). he was correct that dedicated HIV doctors from chicago and other cities were working together in a MASH unit clinic to help fellow hotel guests following the hurricane. however, he only told part of the truth. he did not participate in the clinic. he did not see patients or care for them. he did not cross canal street with the brave group to gather supplies and medicines.

what did happen is he was caught in the act of stealing narcotics and other psychotropic medications for his personal use (most certainly addiction related) and was asked to leave the clinic. despite being removed, he was caught lurking about numerous times in an obvious attempt to gain additional access to the medicines. he was seen outside the clinic in an altered mental state of mind several times. when the ritz carleton was finally being evacuated and the remaining supplies were to be destroyed rather than leave them where someone could find them and get hurt, we were informed that he 'volunteered' to stay behind to 'secure' the remaining medications after all the REAL doctors left the hotel. i can only hope/pray someone who knows this man informs whatever medical licensing board he is under to address his addiction problem before he hurts himself and more importantly another patient.

his behavior makes me physically SICK.

Holy shit! That's the first I've heard of that. This weekend there was even a blurb about him on the front page of our local paper (http://www.starnewsonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050904/NEWS/50903038&SearchID=73219527797536)may need to register for that, don't know, but it's free. Anyways, even the paper didn't mention anything like that. Personally, I don't know about the MD's history of substance abuse or drug addiction - but it wouldn't surprise me if he was. The health profession has the highest rate of substance abuse than any other.

And to further exacerbate the situation, he took an interview with someone from Time magazine last Friday (9/2), they posted the transcript up on the intranet at work. Oh geeeeeez.

You know...........last week at the Bush cabinet meeting it was stated they "discovered the Homeland Security/FEMA flaw in their pre-planning" regarding catastrophic disasters.

It was a tiny news blurb that appeared and disappeared just as quickly.

The gist was this: They never took in consideration nor planned for the possibility that the ..........first responders would be or could be incapacitated................but since the Rove spin meisters have taken over...........that little tid bit just can't be discussed now, can it?