I rode out Hurricane Katrina on my roof by holding on to a rope for four hours in one of the most devastated areas of the New Orleans region. I eventually swam to safety, then got in a boat to help rescue others. Now I’m on a mission to find people like myself who lost everything but want to go home, people who want to rebuild and refuse to give up.
Louisiana filmmaker Steven Scaffidi cornered me at Philly’s Adrienne Theater. His unforgettable, riveting, powerfully persuasive prize-winning documentary, “Forgotten on the Bayou: Rockey’s Mission to the White House,” was being showcased by the First Glance Film Festival momentarily. “Please see my film,” he urged. “I promise it’s funny.”
Tru dat! I laughed until I cried, then cried until I laughed. “Forgotten on the Bayou” captures charismatic Hurricane Katrina survivor-cum-folk hero Rockey Vaccarella’s amazing campaign – heartfelt and, yes, sometimes even hilarious – to bring neglected New Orleans’ continuing plight to the attention of President Bush by towing a FEMA trailer all the way from Louisiana to Washington, D.C., and inviting the alleged commander in chief over for some gourmet gumbo.
Later that evening, I mention the movie to an online chat acquaintance from Louisiana, the brilliant Bayou attorney let’s call “Tort,” not his real name.
MLP: FEMA trailer-dweller Rockey Vaccarella was on a mission of hope to keep the feds from forgetting about Katrina.
Tort: Well, some of the FEMA trailers turned out to have formaldehyde fumes, gave their occupants congestive heart failure.
Tort: Yes, from the glues used to put up the paneling and carpets.
MLP: Oh, no! More disasters! A 70-foot boat was still down the street from Rockey’s house.
Tort: Wow, what neighborhood?
MLP: Not the 9th Ward. St. Bernard Parish.
Tort: St. Bernard Parish’s outlying coastal, between Lake Borgne and the Gulf of Mexico. They had real tidal surge from the hurricane there. They weren’t flooded by levee or seawall failures, just overrun by the storm surge.
MLP: Despite this film’s cheerful tone, it was a powerful indictment of governmental neglect.
Tort: It’ll be OK now, because Gorbachev has just visited the 9th Ward.
MLP: But … why?
Tort: He said if they don’t fix it, he may have to come back and declare a revolution!
Tort: He actually said that on American soil, and didn’t get arrested.
MLP: Well, they wouldn’t arrest him, merely feed him poison birdseed or something.
Tort: No, these days he’s just a mascot for the past.
MLP: When was this?
Tort: Within the last week. Gorbachev Tours the Lower Ninth Ward: “If things haven’t changed by our next visit, we may have to announce a revolution,” he said through a translator, as he walked the lifeless streets with well-wishers and staff members.
MLP: Actually, that might be a good idea.
Tort: Gorbachev Vows Revolution if Levees Don’t Improve. Bolsheviks for Flood Control.
And if you have any doubt how horrific it was for those possibly 1,350 folks who mostly died after Hurricane Katrina while awaiting rescue that never came, check out Kathilynn Phillips’ heart-breaking short film, “Katrina’s Wake” – in the tradition of great tragedies, almost unbearable to watch.
Recently, I was impressed by hearing how a Jersey Shore woman who prefers anonymity set up an online housing network helping homeless Katrina survivors.
The main website is NOLA Housing. At this point, most of the information is how people can find help through the charity organizations still doing work there as well as how to contribute to those same charities. One of my favorites is God’s Kitchen – those folks are amazing! They have fed tens of thousands of people over the last two years, including volunteers, government officials, etc., and are now helping rebuild or repair homes of those left without insurance, disabled, etc. ALL WITH NO GOVERNMENT SUPPORT, with all the work supplied by Christian volunteers around the world.
There are some wonderful stories overall: how our volunteers saved stranded horses by trucking hay to them, and of course the human stories of the world-wide volunteer group assembled in a matter of days, the instantaneous Internet tools given to us by Live Person – even today, two years later – the outpouring of love from strangers to strangers offering their homes, their hearts, etc.
OK, I’ll get of the Katrina soap box!
Hey, America needs its soap-box crusaders, so please keep on keepin’ on!