Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hurricane Katrina: Refrigerators

Refrigerators were a huge problem in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. When I evacuated to Chattanooga, I removed the food from my refrigerator, unplugged it, and propped the refrigerator door open. This seemed like common sense to me, but I know of only one other person who did this.

Most folks evacuated and left their refrigerators with all the food inside. What happened, of course, is that the electricity went out and stayed out. Food sat for weeks in stifling heat in the refrigerators of New Orleans--and molded and mildewed and rotted and stank.

Many people--the smart ones--simply didn't open that refrigerator. They sealed it with duct tape and put it on the curb for pick-up. Others did open their refrigerator--and immediately shut it, sealed it with duct tape, and put it on the curb. Then there were those who removed all the moldy stinking mess and scrubbed their refrigerator--and scrubbed it and scrubbed it and scrubbed it and scrubbed it and scrubbed it. And then scrubbed it some more--in vain. It was the rare person who managed to eliminate the stench. Most of those scrubbed refrigerators were completely unusable--the smell would not come out.

As a result, neighborhood streets were lined with refrigerators waiting for pick-up. Decorated refrigerators. New Orleans became a gallery of refrigerator art. Refrigerators with funny faces, monster faces, weepy faces.

Refrigerators with graffiti.

  • Katrina stew
  • Free gumbo
  • Help yourself to gravy

Angry refrigerators.

  • Katrina, I hate you
  • FEMA sucks
  • Go to hell, George W.

Sometimes we drove out of our way to look at particular refrigerators. I'd be driving somewhere with a friend, and one of us would say, "Hey, let's drive by that shark-face refrigerator on Pine Street--with the wide jaws and jagged teeth," or "Let's check out that refrigerator by Audubon Park--the one that's completely covered with political commentary."

My favorite refrigerator said, "Only a fool would open this--I was that fool."

You were supposed to put your refrigerator in front of your own house for pick-up. But some people didn't. Some people put their refrigerators in front of other people's houses or on street corners. These rogue refrigerators attracted others. In fact, it was amazing how refrigerators would congregate on a street corner. One day you'd see an odd refrigerator on the corner, and the next morning there'd be five more. They cropped up like mushrooms after rain.

Eventually--though it took months--all those refrigerators were removed from the neighborhood curbs. They went to Pontchartrain Boulevard--with all the other Hurricane Katrina trash and debris and ruined furniture. Pontchartrain Boulevard has a huge wide neutral ground, or median. The neutral ground is like a park, it's that wide. The Pontchartrain Boulevard neutral ground served as a colossal dumping ground after Hurricane Katrina--a looming pyre, over eight feet high, stretching from Veterans Boulevard to Lake Pontchartrain. Miles of towering trash on a park-wide strip of neutral ground.

But all that trash is gone now. Where? Where did it--and all those refrigerators--go?

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