An Archive of Jacob Appelbaum’s Post-Katrina weblog

A harsh world of words

Posted in Katrina,neworleans,photos by jacob on September 16, 2005

Driving through New Orleans

Creation of shallow graves in residential and commercial areas with markings on doors reminds some people of a plague. I’ve been told by more than one person that when they’re walking down the road here they feel like they’re in some horrible zombie movie, some sort of fictional world. It’s interesting to see parts of American entertainment become part of the American way of living, of the American way of dying. When I traveled into town today I did so with a man from Belgium. I’ve really come to really respect him. He lived in Iraq for two years and he’s been a journalist for more than 17 years I believe. When I asked him what his views on this were, what it was like as an outsider. He astutely pointed out the reality of everyone being an outsider. I’m an outsider of the community but not the nation. When I refined my question he discussed the view the world sees, the face America has put on when handling this crisis. It’s a pretty incompetent face with a grim dead stare. It’s a sad day for America in the eyes of the world, the racism, the classism and the outrage muzzled by the so called news channels.I think the way people throw words around in a time of extreme pressure really shows how we feel as collective society.

Driving through New Orleans

When a human being becomes a dead body. When a dead body becomes a bio-hazard and a building is not condemmed regardless of destruction. It’s a harsh world full of harsh words. I assume a man or woman living never think their final resting place will be marked by the danger they currently pose to the world. It’s hard for me to see signs that are so cold and true and to see the value placed by people, all of the people be it either local or federal. Who gets rescued here and who is left there. Who makes those choices? Is it first come first served?

 Driving through New Orleans

I wonder if this person died during the storm or if they were a victim of being unprepared or simply a member of the underclass. I wonder if this person died from a gun shot to the face for being a looter and I wonder if that’s justice. I wonder how people can turn away from the news when this is what is happening. I wonder. I wonder but I have no doubt we’ll never know. Freedom to shoot looters is the freedom to kill people and call them looters. Murder with no questions asked. That’s an unintended consequence if there ever was one. I wonder how many people were slain by police, by owners of houses, by victims. I wonder if everyone has shame for how they’ve collectively acted but feel they had no choice, that their hand was forced. I wonder if anyone feels proud.

I know that I feel sick. I feel sad. I feel like we’ve not advanced as a culture when I hear we still turn guns on people in need, when we don’t help people, when we discount them because “they should have known” or because “they should have left.” It’s such a disconnection of humanity, it’s so disgusting.

Recently I received an email asking if I had seen a local man. The email included a photo of the man and a plea to help. What can someone say to these people? They’re worried beyond anything I’ve ever known, they’re probably insane with fear and full of caring. In the back of their mind hope battles dread with a shotgun. It took me a few days to reply, to really figure out what to say to these people for who I could offer no help, no insight and no eye witness reports of positivity. I finally wrote the person back today to tell them I was sorry but I had no idea of the fate of their friend. I want to give people like that hope but I have no way of doing so in goodconscious . I couldn’t tell them about the labels we put on human faces to help deal away pain and reason. I couldn’t tell them anything like that. I could only say I was sorry.


13 Responses to 'A harsh world of words'

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  1. mike said,

    Hey Jacob, if that grave was photographed directly across from that red brick building, it’s Vera Smith’s grave.

    The cross and the bricks look the same. The DMORT must have exhumed her.

  2. Glenn Fincher said,

    Joel, thanks for the honest reporting. We are from opposite ends of the political spectrum; I from a Christian from a “Red” state, but equally dismayed at the tragedies that are Katrina & its aftermath. My 18 yr. old daughter was the first to say we needed to volunteer our spare bedroom. We’ve done that & have placed our names on the lists of people providing housing. Wish we could just pull up & make our way there to help out, but… instead we will watch and pray from afar while doing anything that we can locally to assist in this recovery. The abject poverty that underlies this tragedy is one thing that we can actively work to remove as soon as possible.

  3. Lawrence said,

    [quote]and a building is not condemmed regardless of destruction.[/quote]

    Well, to fix the human tragedy would have required a complete and organized evacuation *before* the storm – or, at the very least, not an utterly inept response from all levels of government.

    But I’ve got some experience in the trades and renovation – I’ve always been a can-do hands-on kind of guy. And New Orleans is full of historically and architecturally valuable (to say nothing of beautiful) buildings.

    That red brick building – look, there are no cracks or water marks on the ground floor, so I’d bet money the lower floors are structurally safe. Notice how *insanely* overbuilt it is (how thick is that partially-exposed broken brick wall? Like, 8 layers?). All you’d need to do is clear the broken rafters and joists off the top floor, get all the broken interior out of there, and then rebuild the brick walls before putting on a new roof – kinda like they way it would have been done when the building was built. They tackle worse jobs on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

    I’d worry a lot more about water damage than big gashes or a missing roof, but I suspect a lot of people are going to get a lot of experience in dealing with it. Big gash? Get a couple of jackposts to shore up the structure, and repair it. Water damage? You’re stripping out all the drywall, all insulation, all carpets. But given the duration and grossness of the flood, I can’t begin to imagine how much damage was done to framing and subfloors and stuff – warping and filth. A pressure washer (loaded with bleach!) and a good acrylic sealer when the wood dries out would deal with the second issue but not the first.

    Once the city is opened up again, I’d love to be able to get down there and help out with reconstruction.

  4. jacob said,

    I’ve been out of touch with the media, holy crap! I had no idea about this grave or any of the photos. Some photographer I am.

  5. […] Browsing some blogs today and found Jacob Appelbaum’s weblog. He’s a photographer/unix hacker/world traveller doing work down South in the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina. I liked this particular post so I thought I’d share: […]

  6. gabby said,

    omg ill say a prayer for everyonw in those graves!! god bless

  7. John Lee said,


    I just found your website today 4/10/06. This was the grave of Miss Vera Smith who was struck and killed by a hit and run driver the Tuesday after the storm. She was left on the sidewalk for 5 days until I got permission from the police to bury her. Eight neighbors and a newspaper reporter helped to bury Miss Vera on Saturday 9/3/05. She was later taken to the Katrina morgue, and then cremated and buried with her parents in her home town in Texas.

    The building is about 50% restored as of today. They are making good progress towards full restoration.

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