"Most of the shotguns can be saved, and saved for less than the cost of bulldozing them and constructing new houses" says Ellen Weiss '57, professor of architiectural history at Tulane

Teresa Toulouse ’72: Will People Return?
Teresa Toulouse ’72, who teaches American literature at Tulane University, left New Orleans two days before Katrina struck, moving first to Baton Rouge and then to Seattle, where she, her husband, and 7-year-old daughter Lizzie were biding time until Tulane reopened. During the days in Baton Rouge, she shielded her daughter from the incessant television images of the damage. Still, Lizzie understood what had happened. Each night as the water drained from her bath, Lizzie posed the same question: “Is the water at home gone?” Today the water is gone, but Toulouse says New Orleans is now threatened by a different calamity that could finish what the flood began:

“The thing about New Orleans that gets me is that there’s no abstraction to it. It’s about love, hate, blood feuds, and lust. This leads to an intensity of everyday life that I haven’t experienced anywhere else.

“I worry that people will go into the neighborhoods and start tearing everything down. My fear is that it will turn into mindless housing, or into Disneyland. One of the distinctive things about New Orleans is that it’s old without having been gentrified.

“The guys in their bulldozers are dying to get in there. But there are whole neighborhoods that are still intact, other than mold in the sheet rock. So people who own the houses can now go back and start working on them, but many haven’t had the heart to go back.

“Culture trickles up from the poor in New Orleans. Without the houses, the people won’t come back. Without the people, the culture won’t come back. I’m terrified that the people won’t come back.

“Yet another part of me says these people have lived in New Orleans for generation after generation, and they’ll miss the place. They won’t be able to get shrimp and oysters like they get in New Orleans. They won’t get the preaching like they get in New Orleans. They’re not going to get the music. And they’re not going to be near all those family graves that they cherish and clean and decorate every year on All Saints Day. So a part of me believes they’ll be back.”

Amid the Rubble, A Doctor Resumes His Work
New Orleans Children’s Hospital was ready for the storm. It stood on high ground. For good measure, its backup generators had been moved to the second floor to protect them from rising water. Stores of food had been stocked.

Nonetheless, four days after rising water pierced the levees, pediatric heart surgeon Tim Pettitt ’86 helped orchestrate the emergency evacuation of 700 patients, doctors, and nurses.

Katrina had rendered the best-laid plans useless. The hospital’s water pressure had failed, the air-conditioning was on the fritz, and the staff was stressed to the melting point. Many staffers had been unable to learn the fate of their families and homes. Vandals had begun to set fires nearby.

“Our worst nightmares were being realized,” says Pettitt. “We couldn’t get any help from the New Orleans police or the government. It became very clear that if we were going to evacuate the hospital, we would have to do it ourselves.”

A spot of dry land nearby was transformed into a landing site for medevac helicopters. An assortment of lights—powered by the backup generators that were to have kept the hospital operational—was strung to guide pilots during night landings.

Pettitt traveled with the very sickest patients, who were taken by ambulance to nearby Baton Rouge. The evacuation was flawless, carried out by a staff whose lives were disintegrating.

“They took care of patients as their homes flooded,” says Pettitt, whose own home survived because it’s located on high ground. “One of the doctors knew his wife had stayed behind with their pets. She and her dogs eventually were rescued off their roof.”

After just a few weeks, Pettitt returned to work in the surreal place that New Orleans had become, a city that had only barely begun to repopulate, but that still needed a heart surgeon. “I’ve done three operations this week,” he reports.

Between surgeries, Pettitt has begun to think about how things should be done differently if the city is struck again. He has applied for operating privileges at hospitals outside New Orleans so that he can care for his young patients should they have to be moved.

“If I had to do it again, I would make plans to get patients transported before the storm hits. We need to know who is going to be moved, where we’re going to send each patient, and how we’re going to get them there.

“There are many lessons from this storm,” he adds. “I’m a physician with not a lot of time to understand the politics here, but there appears to be a lot of corruption. The storm exposed that. I’m hoping the city will come back, better than it was before.”

Next Page >>