The Advocate, Baton Rouge
It takes a lot to shut up a bunch of columnists.
These are people used to expressing their opinions forcefully – and often. On Saturday I was in a bus full of them, and they were finally at a loss for words.
At the 32nd annual conference of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists in New Orleans, co-chairman Sheila Stroup of the Times-Picayune set up a bus trip through the Lower 9th Ward and Chalmette.
These, of course, were areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina and flooding.
There was a lot of chatter as we set off, but by the time we reached the Lower 9th, things had quieted down.
We went on streets with no occupied houses, or just one or two per block.
We saw houses with the ubiquitous painted marks on them indicating, among other things, if dead people had been found in them.
By the time we reached St. Bernard Parish, all I heard was an occasional “Oh, look at that!” or just “Oh. . .”
Block after block, mile after mile, we saw gutted houses, slabs or vacant lots where homes had once stood. And it was being so close to these homes that had so much impact.
You can hear numbers recited or see aerial photos, but until you stand in front of a home and see an overturned tricycle, a battered barbecue grill or curtains blowing in a glassless window it doesn’t fully come home to you.
That shell of a house or concrete slab once was the home of a family – a kid who rode that tricycle, a dad who grilled burgers on that grill, a mom who hung those curtains.
When you think of the personal loss each of those empty spaces represents, the sadness can render you speechless. As it did us.
The theme of the conference was “New Orleans, We Haven’t Forgotten.”
I don’t think any of the writers on that trip will ever forget that scene.
Published June 25, 2008
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