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Second Line Rescue

Second Line Rescue: Improvised Responses to Katrina and Rita

Barry Jean Ancelet
Marcia Gaudet
Carl Lindahl
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 228
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  • Book Info
    Second Line Rescue
    Book Description:

    Second Line Rescue: Improvised Responses to Katrina and Ritachronicles the brave and creative acts through which Gulf Coast people rescued their neighbors during the chaotic aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Ordinary citizens joined in with whatever resources they had. Unlike many of the official responders, vernacular rescuers found ways around paralysis produced by a breakdown in communications and infrastructure. They were able to dispel unfounded fears produced by erroneous or questionable reporting. The essays, personal narratives, media reports, and field studies presented here all have to do with effective and often ingenious answers that emerged from the people themselves. Their solutions are remarkably different from the hamstrung government response, and their perspectives are a tonic to sensationalized media coverage.

    The first part of the collection deals with Gulf Coast rescuers from outside stricken communities: those who, safe in their own homes and neighborhoods, marshaled their resources to help their fellow citizens. It includes some analysis and scholarly approaches, but it also includes direct responses and first-hand field reports. The second part features the words of hurricane survivors displaced from New Orleans and other Gulf Coast communities to Houston, Texas. In many cases, the "victims" themselves were the first responders, rescuing family, friends, and strangers. All of the stories, whether from the "outside" or "inside" responders, reveal a shared history of close-knit community bonds and survival skills sharpened by hard times. This book is about what went right in the aftermath of Katrina and Rita--in spite of all that went so wrong.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-951-8
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface “Where Have You Gone, New Orleans?”
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction “Second Line Rescue: Improvised Responses to Katrina and Rita”
    (pp. xv-xviii)

    This is not another book about what went wrong in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Rather, it is a book about what went right in spite of it all. It is a book about improvised solutions in the spirit of the New Orleans African American tradition of second lining. Traditionally, the jazz musicians and mourners at funerals who were the official part of a procession were the “first line,” and the people who followed along or beside the official processions were called the “second line.” People join in unofficially to strut, dance, and improvise their way along the...

  5. PART ONE Vernacular Responders:: In the Eye of the Storms and Afterward

    • Storm Stories: The Social and Cultural Implications of Katrina and Rita
      (pp. 3-29)

      Monday morning as Hurricane Katrina made landfall in St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes, my family and I watched the grim reports on television. Storm-chasing reporters gave us a direct view of nature’s wrath, making the barely balmy weather we saw from our own windows from our home just outside Lafayette, about 120 miles west, seem surreal. As the day progressed, initial reports concerning New Orleans seemed relatively promising. The storm had drifted slightly to the east. The city was battered but the levees had apparently held. Only later did the grim news emerge that three levees had breached and the...

    • My Hurricane Story: The Positive Stories Must Get Out
      (pp. 30-33)

      Editors’ Note: This message was e-mailed to friends by Robert LeBlanc, who was involved in the rescue effort in New Orleans. It quickly went locally viral and was eventually posted on a NOLA Web site. It was forwarded to coauthor Barry Jean Ancelet by Amanda LaFleur, with the comment:

      Just when I was beginning to despair over the disheartening stories of the violence hindering rescue efforts in New Orleans, I found this post on the NOLA Web site, so I wanted to share it with you. Read until the end. It’s worth it.

      Name: Robert LeBlanc

      Subject: My Hurricane Story—...

    • Dear Lynda: Man Helping Man
      (pp. 34-36)

      Editors’ Note: Jacques François Ancelet, son of coauthor Barry Jean Ancelet, was a first-year student at the Louisiana State University Medical School in New Orleans when Katrina hit the coast. He and his brother Jean, also a first-year medical school student, evacuated to the home of their parents, along with a dozen of their classmates from various parts of the country. When they saw the announcement the morning after that help was needed in New Orleans, they all began to improvise what they would do. When author and cartoonist Lynda Barry, a family friend, heard about the students’ efforts, she...

    • “An Interview with Glen Miguez”
      (pp. 37-43)

      Glen Miguez lives in Delcambre, a small town 20 miles south of Lafayette and 115 miles west of New Orleans. As Rita approached, he had hitched his sixteen-foot flat-bottom boat to his truck and was evacuating Delcambre with his family. When he encountered the tidal surge pouring over LA 14, he realized that he would not be able to make it to higher ground, so he turned around and headed back to town. When he arrived at the ridge near the bridge, the mayor asked if he could help to rescue some of those who were stranded in their flooded...

    • “Hurricane Gumbo”
      (pp. 44-52)

      Nothing is moving in Evangeline Parish except for the sky. Black rain bands, the precursors of Hurricane Rita’s fury, scud by at disconcerting velocity. Wind gusts uproot ancient oaks and topple a decrepit billboard advertising an extinct brand of chewing tobacco. The rice fields are flooding and the roads are barricaded with tree debris.

      Millions of desperate Texans and southern Louisianans are still gridlocked on interstate highways headed north from Rita’s path, but here in Ville Platte, a town of 11,000 in the heart of Acadiana (French-speaking southern Louisiana), the traditional response to an impending hurricane is not to evacuate...

    • Government Gives Tradition the Go-Ahead: The Atchafalaya Welcome Center’s Role in Hurricane Katrina Recovery
      (pp. 53-61)

      The assault of Katrina and Rita—if not the biggest, longest, or most deadly catastrophic event in world history—is undeniably the catastrophic event of our lifetime—one which we will spend the rest of our lives trying to understand and recover from. There is no need to catalog the numerous horrifying stories of government failure that followed the wholesale loss of life, the widespread destruction of housing, and the loss of income for many. We have all, by now, heard countless accounts of the failure of government to meet the needs of hurricane victims and to cooperate with civic-minded...

    • "Don't get Stuck on Stupid": General Honoré as Culture Hero
      (pp. 62-72)

      A major concern expressed by people in the first few days after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast was the perceived lack of competent leadership, the absence of someone in control. On the third day, Lieutenant General Russel Honoré arrived in New Orleans and took command of the federal military operations. His authoritative style in commanding his troops, his compassion toward the evacuees, and his refreshingly sharp directness of speech with the media soon raised him to the status of folk or culture hero. The context and the characteristics of General Honoré made this elevation...

    • Images from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: A Photo Essay
      (pp. 73-88)
  6. PART TWO Vernacular Self-Rescue:: “Victims” Save One Another and Themselves

    • “Transforming Endurance”
      (pp. 91-106)

      In the wake of Katrina, through a series of rare chances, Houstonians experienced more dimensions of heroism than most of us had previously conceived of. As the storm surge and the collapsing levees drove hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents far from their homes and into our city, we prepared a heroic response, only to be humbled by the selfless courage of the “victims”—who continued to save each other spiritually as we provided material aid. We witnessed our mayor orchestrating one of the greatest acts of sustained civic heroism in recent times, marshaling resources that the national government...

    • Survivor to Survivor: Two Duets
      (pp. 107-109)

      Katrina stories were being told by those in its path before the storm hit and retold among survivors long before rescuers arrived. In New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward on the eve of the hurricane, neighbors congregated in bars to verbalize a plot of betrayal: the rich and powerful would once more dynamite the levees and flood their homes as during past emergencies (Brinkley 2006, 45). And after the storm, as water filled the city’s streets and topped its houses, those who fled to the high ground of the overpasses introduced themselves with stories: “We just got together, walking up and...

    • A New Orleans Life: Sharing Marie Barney’s Story
      (pp. 110-126)

      I came to Houston with my family on August 29, 2005, fleeing New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina. Houston was our destination because we have relatives here. We caravanned in three cars. The exodus spanned nineteen hours. To give you an idea of the snail’s pace at which we crept, there were people walking their dogs, passing up the cars in which they were passengers in the bumper-to-bumper traffic all along the highways.

      By the time we reached my aunt’s home, it was nearly seven the next morning, but we were too wound up to sleep. Still there was little...

    • Bridges of Katrina: Three Survivors, One Interview
      (pp. 127-152)

      I moved there the week before Mayor Ray Nagin called for everyone in the Crescent City to evacuate. I left reluctantly. I had only been there for a week. I wanted desperately to stop moving around, to stop living out of a bag and to finally stand still long enough to get an honest accent. I had yet to unpack any of my bags from all of the traveling I did that summer, so I put that bag back in the trunk of my car and joined the pre-Katrina exodus down I-10 West. I drove to Houston alone because my...

      (pp. 153-163)

      The following survivor interviews are arranged roughly by order of the narrator’s age. The Surviving Katrina and Rita in Houston project was restricted from interviewing children under the age of fifteen. Thus, Josef Brown, fifteen years old when survivor interviewer Phylicia Bradley recorded his story on April 1, 2007, was one of the project’s youngest storytellers. At the time of the hurricane, he had been fourteen.

      Josef was thrown immediately into a role of adult responsibility for the lives and well-being of others. He embraced this role, for it was already part of his upbringing, as his accounts of family...

      (pp. 164-176)

      Chantell Jones recorded her story for her friend and fellow survivor, Phylicia Bradley, on February 27, 2007, nearly eighteen months after Katrina’s landfall. Chantell and Phylicia were both from New Orleans East, and they had gone to middle school and high school together. The last time that they saw each other before Katrina was at their high school graduation in 2004. They found their ways to Houston at different times and along different paths, but reconnected via Myspace a few months after the storm.

      Chantell’s narrative is a profile in selflessness. She was just nineteen years old when the hurricane...

      (pp. 177-189)

      On January 23, 2006, less than five months after Katrina’s landfall, Surviving Katrina and Rita in Houston held its first training session. On the first morning of that five-day session, the sixteen trainees paired off and began sharing storm stories. Each person told her or his story to a fellow survivor, then the two changed places as the listener to the first story became the teller of the second. Afterward, the whole group reconvened and each survivor summarized his or her partner’s story for all the others; the group then chose one person to be the project’s first interviewee. Angela...

      (pp. 190-204)

      If a contest were held to name the worst possible job for a New Orleanian trapped in the city by Katrina, there would be many serious contenders, but few would outscore prison deputy. Even before the hurricane, the Orleans Parish Prison was a rough place to work. Perpetual overcrowding lowered the morale of prisoners and guards alike and contributed to a state of constant tension. But on the morning of August 29, 2005, when Katrina’s waters filled its first floor, the prison became a deathtrap, and it was left to a handful of guards to lead hundreds of disoriented, enraged,...

      (pp. 205-217)

      Vincent Trotter was born in New Orleans’s Charity Hospital in September 1973. Though he has nine half-siblings, he was the only child between his father, who held a variety of jobs, and his mother, a truck driver. He spent his childhood in the Mid-City and Uptown neighborhoods of New Orleans, before moving across the Mississippi River to Algiers. Like Sidney Harris (the narrator of the previous interview), Vincent became a deputy sheriff for the Orleans Parish Prison, and he was on duty on Sunday, August 28, 2005, as Hurricane Katrina closed in on the city.

      Vincent’s prison narrative differs remarkably...

      (pp. 218-234)

      Glenda Harris’s life revolved around the Lower Ninth Ward, one of the neighborhoods most ravished by Hurricane Katrina. The “Lower Nine,” as it is known to insiders, is one of the newer sections of one of America’s oldest cities. Although a poor neighborhood when measured in terms of residents’ income, the Lower Nine possessed a relatively high rate of homeownership. Many extended families settled in clusters, in separate houses sitting within sight of one another.

      The Lower Nine is indeed low in elevation and for that reason has tended to suffer from heavy rains, let alone hurricanes. Flooding is a...

      (pp. 235-247)

      Almost to a person, the older survivors of Hurricane Katrina tend to center their stories on the times and events that transpired before, rather than during, the disaster. No matter how much they may have suffered in the midst of the storm and flooding, their greatest sense of loss surrounds the homes and neighborhoods that no longer exist. Thus, Charles A. Darensbourg’s narrative—recorded on March 23, 2006, when he was seventy-four—is, more than anything else, a celebration of the life that he has shared with his wife, in the house and neighborhood that they occupied together for half...

    • Epilogue “A Street Named Desire”
      (pp. 248-260)

      The common heroic response of these eleven Katrina survivors was, simply, to save each other and thereby themselves. Among the many acts of rescue recited by Marie Barney, Josef Brown, Charles Darensbourg, Nicole Eugene, Dorothy Griffin, Glenda Harris, Sidney Harris, Chantell Jones, Shari Smothers, Angela Trahan, and Vincent Trotter, there are few that would answer to the stereotypical, action-movie definition of heroism. True, Henry Armstrong does dive into poison floodwaters to save a stranger’s baby, Angela Trahan’s fiancé pulls his charges to safety from a building that is literally being blown to bits around them, Josef Brown breaks into a...

  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 261-262)
  8. Notes on the Surviving Katrina and Rita in Houston Interviews
    (pp. 263-266)
  9. References
    (pp. 267-270)
  10. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 271-272)
  11. Index
    (pp. 273-278)