Here’s iron-clad proof that people should never tell me “hey, there should really be a web site that does X” at about 9 p.m. Because then I stay up until 2:30 a.m. making said web site.
So here it is: KatrinaCheckIn.org, a place for people to (a) say they survived the hurricane, thus lifting a gynormous weight off their friends’ shoulders, and (b) try to track down info on the missing.
For those of you with blogs, I would really appreciate a link to KatrinaCheckIn.org. The more people who are posting to it, the more useful and effective it will be.

cops looting

Speaking of losing faith in humanity.
“Law enforcement efforts to contain the emergency left by Katrina slipped into chaos in parts of New Orleans Tuesday with some police officers and firefighters joining looters in picking stores clean…
“Some officers joined in taking whatever they could, including one New Orleans cop who loaded a shopping cart with a compact computer and a 27-inch flat screen television.
“Officers claimed there was nothing they could do to contain the anarchy, saying their radio communications have broken down and they had no direction from commanders.
“‘We don’t have enough cops to stop it,’ an officer said. ‘A mass riot would break out if you tried.’
“Inside the store, the scene alternated between celebration and frightening bedlam. A shirtless man straddled a broken jewelry case, yelling, ‘Free samples, free samples over here.’
“Another man rolled a mechanized pallet, stacked six feet high with cases of vodka and whiskey. Perched atop the stack was a bewildered toddler.
“Throughout the store and parking lot, looters pushed carts and loaded trucks and vans alongside officers. One man said police directed him to Wal-Mart from Robert’s Grocery, where a similar scene was taking place. A crowd in the electronics section said one officer broke the glass DVD case so people wouldn’t cut themselves.
“‘The police got all the best stuff. They’re crookeder than us,’ one man said…
“At least one officer tried futilely to control a looter through shame.
“‘When they say take what you need, that doesn’t mean an f-ing TV,’ the officer shouted to a looter. ‘This is a hurricane, not a free-for-all.’
“Sandra Smith of Baton Rouge walked through the parking lot with a 12-pack of Bud Light under each arm. ‘I came down here to get my daughters,’ she said, ‘but I can’t find them.’
“Some groups organized themselves into assembly lines to more efficiently cart off goods…Inside the store, one woman was stocking up on make-up. She said she took comfort in watching police load up their own carts.
“‘It must be legal,’ she said. ‘The police are here taking stuff, too.'”

cop shot by looter

Sometimes you lose faith in humanity.
“WWL-TV was reporting that a law enforcement officer was shot in the back of the head Tuesday afternoon on the west bank. The officer reportedly approached the looter near the intersection of Wall Boulevard and Gen. DeGaulle and, while talking to suspect, was shot in the back of the head by a second looter.”

plaquemines parish

Scariest thing: We’ve seen and heard almost nothing out of southern Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes. Those are the low-lying areas near the mouth of the Mississippi where erosion was already eating away big chunks of land. They’re closer to the coast, and they’re even more vulnerable in a lot of ways than New Orleans.
On the WWL-TV feed online, they just said all of Plaquemines is under 15 feet of water. Which means anyone who stayed there is probably dead.
Horrifying tale from a Plaquemines school teacher who got away in time.
“Tanya went on to say what she worried about most — her students at Buras High, where she taught eighth grade English and literature. As an educator, she knew that many of the families had no mode of transportation…'[M]any of my students have never ever even been to New Orleans. They walk everywhere. They are poor, so poor,’ she sobbed.”

land-based casinos

The vultures begin to circle: “Our barge casinos were hit hard by the hurricane. So, Mississippi government, we demand that you immediately legalize land-based casinos via emergency legislation! It’s not like you have anything better to do!”
(That said, I’ve never understood the reason for the silly legal distinction between land-based vs. river/lake/water-based casinos. If you’re going to legalize gambling, it seems silly to say it’s only okay if the gambling happens in a floating structure. Particularly since most of them are fastened to the river or lake bottom and functionally immobile.)

new orleans, journalism thoughts

Jesus. The news out of New Orleans keeps getting worse. Water still rising. The Ninth Ward and the whole east part of town are, in essence, destroyed. I can’t even begin to think about the long-term impacts of all this. The extraordinarily poor people who live in much of that area will have nothing. Most of them are older homes, and I’d bet good money they don’t have homeowner’s insurance. They’ve become refugees — people without homes and without belongings, wandering.
I mean, Jesus.
Today’s New Orleans Times-Picayune is available online. A few journalistic thoughts:
– First of all, bravo to everybody at the T-P, who did amazing work in impossible circumstances. I know it’s cool to slam the network guys who do stand-ups in their windbreakers by the shoreline. But most of those TV guys skipped town during the worst of it — which is why you saw a lot of Mandeville and inland Mississippi at the storm’s height. The newspaper folks, who have no camera-ego to feed, stayed hunkered down in the city and just got the news.
(Not that the TV guys have anything to be ashamed of. Jeanne Meserve filed this terrific report of the devastation. I hope everybody who thinks it’s cool to reflexively hate the media saw it.)
A particular thank you to the T-P folks since their building is being evacuated at the moment. The “-30-” at the end of that post — the traditional reporter symbol for “the story ends here” — is heartbreaking.
– Reading the T-P makes you realize the strength of newspapers in this sort of situation: All the facts, edited down and synthesized in a useful, communicative way. Look at the photos in the PDFs versus the endless slideshows you see on something like Yahoo News — the photos are more powerful because they’ve been whittled down through the editing process.
– That said, a newspaper comes out once a day. There’s no doubting that a blog is the absolute best way to communicate breaking news in a situation like this. You’ve got a lower threshhold to write, so you end up sharing more information. A blog can have a more personal, human voice — the sort of thing people need and want in a situation like this. (Although the main T-P blog mostly maintained a sort of journalistic distance — not how I would have done it. The posts where the human voice broke through were the most effective. It’s why parts of the T-P’s on-the-scene blog were better reads than their [much more informative and more frequently updated] main blog.)
The other good thing about a blog’s format is that it’s easy to tell what’s new — unlike a wire writethru where you have to search for what’s changed from the last version. (CNN.com has been particularly bad on this front. They keep updating the same main story, drawn from wire and CNN sources. They’re trying to create single summation of all the news — essentially a newspaper model. But the result is that, if you check in on the story again an hour after reading it, you have to rummage for the three new facts buried deep in a 2,000-word story.)
Today’s T-P coverage does fall into some of the story-bunching problems newspaper coverage can bring — like stories broken out for geographic rather than thematic reasons and end up repeating material. (Stories that say, in essence, “By the way, it’s also really fucking wet in this neighborhood too.”)
– At the risk of being picky: The T-P is, for obvious reasons, not being delivered to homes today. It’s only being distributed electronically. With that as a given, it doesn’t make much sense to me that they’re still laying it out in broadsheet form. Reading broadsheet PDFs online is awkward, and you can’t print them out easily without shrinking the text to levels below legibility. If they’re going to go through the process of laying pages for online distribution, it might be worth reformatting them to 8 1/2″ by 11″, or at least tabloid format.
I mention this only because I think online distribution will be the way the T-P gets read for weeks, if not months. So if you stick with broadsheet format, you’re sticking with it for a long time.
– Finally, if you want to see prescient reporting, check out the T-P’s five-day series from 2002 essentially predicting the events of this week. Including this great graphic. I wrote about this series back when it was published.

new orleans update

Well, it’s amazing to think that the level of destruction New Orleans is experiencing could be good news — but compared to the extinction-level event that could have been, it feels like good news.
Apologies to the folks on the Mississippi coastline who took the brunt of Katrina after the storm took an ever-so-slight turn to the east. Good news for New Orleans, bad news for you.
The Times-Picayune web site is not being updated logically (like all Advance newspaper sites, it looks like ass), but here and here are the two weblogs they’re keeping on the storm.
Not to talk sports at a time like this, but I wonder what kind of impact this will have on the Saints’ future in New Orleans. A move to Los Angeles has been the buzz for some time now — in part because team owner Tom Benson claims the Superdome is a piece of crap and in part because he could sell the team to L.A. investors for, oh, a billion dollars or so.
The state has been unwilling to renovate or replace the Superdome, mostly because it’s not the piece of crap Benson says it is. Well, after today, it will be that piece of crap — chunks of the roof are already being ripped off. On the other hand, Benson will soar to All-Time Asshole status if he (a) tries to milk big payments out of the state after a natural disaster or (b) tries to skip town with the city’s beloved franchise at New Orleans’ lowest point. National and local stories about a Saints move to L.A. would have been negative before; now they’ll be downright vitriolic. We’re talking people showing up at his door with pitchforks and torches.