Water by Janee J. Baugher

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      A pastiche made entirely of phrases from The Wenatchee World newspaper, August 30, 2005 through September 16, 2005 [Permission for reprint was granted by newspaper staff.]

 satelite image of hurricane katrina

Day One (Tuesday)

  • Hurricane Katrina, 145-mph winds
  • a break on a levee
  • pumps not working
  • problem could be solved within hours
  • Canal street a canal
  • clumps of red ants floated in gasoline-fouled waters
  • “Water pushed all the doors open and we swam out.”
  • “Cars floating around us. We had to push them away when we were trying to swim.”
  • Bush will cut his vacation two days earlier than planned.
  • people stranded on rooftops and attics
  • too late to leave
  • An elderly woman trapped in a nursing home called and said, “Are you coming, son?  Is somebody coming?” “Yeah, Mama, somebody’s coming to get you on Tuesday.”


Day Two (Wednesday)

  • looters ransacked stores for food, clothing
  • agency having trouble getting sandbags to the site
  • Pentagon began sending four Navy ships with drinking water and other supplies
  • “We have dead bodies in the water.”
  • refugees will travel in a bus convoy to Houston starting today
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide 475 buses
  • electricity could be out for weeks
  • Bush flew over disaster area
  • An elderly woman trapped in a nursing home called and said, “Are you coming, son?  Is somebody coming?” “Yeah, Mama, somebody’s coming to get you on Wednesday.”


Day Three (Thursday)

  • 90% of homes under water
  • “We are out here like pure animals. We don’t have help.”
  • corpses lay in the open
  • evacuees were dropped off and given nothing
  • drinking water gone
  • sidewalks packed with people without food, water or medical care
  • thousands outside for days, waiting for buses that did not come
  • pumps, canals are 19th-century technology
  • pumps aren’t working and canals have leaks
  • Katrina tore his clothes off
  • 485,000 ordered out of town
  • electrical power gone
  • to pump the flooded city dry is a question of having electric power
  • official could not say when two generators would arrive
  • sewage service gone
  • “We’re doing it as fast as we can.”
  • U.S. 90 bridge over the Bay of St. Louis destroyed
  • Bush will tour the region on Friday
  • An elderly woman trapped in a nursing home called and said, “Are you coming, son?  Is somebody coming?” “Yeah, Mama, somebody’s coming to get you on Thursday.”


Day Four (Friday)

  • National Guard arrived today with food, water and weapons
  • “Time has run out. Can we survive another night? Who can we depend on?”
  • chemical explosion at a warehouse
  • second large fire erupted
  • Hand ventilation for oxygen patients was necessary. “We’re bagging them by hand; we have been doing that for two and a half days.”
  • Sewage backed up in all the sinks; the basement morgue underwater; power failed; water took out the generators, then the emergency backup; new patients turned away.
  • Woman came from nursing home. Hospital could not help her.  Her body remained in a body bag in the emergency room days later.
  • “Get off your asses and let’s do something.”
  • police officers turned in their badges
  • old man in a chaise lounge lay dead in grassy median
  • old woman lay dead in her wheelchair
  • another body lay beside her wrapped in sheets
  • people at hotel arrange the hiring of 10 buses to evacuate 500 guests, $25,000
  • FEMA commandeered the buses
  • no meals distributed
  • water, food held up miles from the Coast, as trucker squeeze through few open roads
  • “Help us!”
  • survivors picked through piles of rotting garbage for food
  • 11,000 evacuees, the Astrodome full
  • An elderly woman trapped in a nursing home called and said, “Are you coming, son?  Is somebody coming?” “Yeah, Mama, somebody’s coming to get you on Friday.”


Day Five/Six (Saturday and Sunday)

  • Where was the National Guard? Congress will investigate.
  • Bush had the legal authority to order the National Guard himself
  • 50,000 people trapped for days at two filthy, sweltering buildings
  • dead man lay on sidewalk with a stream of blood running down the pavement
  • National Guard arrives in force
  • people look for food and water, turned back by a soldier who pulled a gun
  • first truck caravans of water and food arrived Friday
  • 50 nations pledged money or other assistance
  • 100,000 evacuees fled to Houston
  • “Houston shelters are full. Go to Dallas or San Antonio.”
  • 15,000, Astrodome full.
  • Postal Service established Astrodome address:  Gen Delivery, Houston, Texas, 77230
  • New Mexico governor offered help. Paperwork didn’t come from Washington until Thursday.
  • Wisconsin governor took unusual step of declaring a disaster outside his state to activate his Guard.
  • Officials had an action plan if a major hurricane hit. They didn’t execute it.
  • “If I leave this [his tuba] I might as well jump in the water myself.”
  • “This was home. The only things I have now are my dog and my pigeon.”
  • An elderly woman trapped in a nursing home called and said, “Are you coming, son?  Is somebody coming?” She drowned Friday night.


Day Seven (Monday)

  • half-million people dispossessed
  • dusk-to-dawn curfew
  • makeshift tomb:  “Here lies Vera. God help us.”
  • no flood insurance
  • two in 10 households had no car
  • 25% below the poverty line
  • 60% of the 700,000 people were minority
  • 12% were single-mother households
  • police shot and killed at least five people
  • two officers took their lives, including the department spokesman


Day Eight (Tuesday)

  • congress returns from its August recess today
  • one million people forced from their homes
  • major levee finally plugged
  • 60% of the city was under water
  • When a helicopter arrived to pick them up they were told to send the children first and that the helicopter would be back. The helicopter didn’t come back.
  • 220 children missing
  • “We’re eliminating as much red tape as humanly possible.”
  •  “This doesn’t happen in your own back yard.”
  • “It’s like Baghdad on a bad day.”
  • Guardsman, “If we’re out on the streets, we’ll fight back and shoot until we kill them.  That’s too bad, but that’s what has got to happen.”


Day Nine (Wednesday)

  • Ordered all 10,000 residents still in this ruined city evacuated–by force if necessary.
  • “There are dead babies tied to poles.”
  • corpses decaying in the 90-degree heat
  • water full of debris, there are screens on the pumps


Day Ten (Thursday)

  • raw sewage flowed into city neighborhoods
  • black water streaked with oil
  • cars lay on roofs and in treetops
  • A dead man face down on the top of a car floating in water.  Body bloated in the sun.
  • disasters good for business
  • one million people homeless and out of work
  • people struggling to get food, water and medicine


Day Eleven (Friday)

  • A Mexican military convoy of 47 vehicles, doctors and dentists arrived.
  • The first time Mexican soldiers have operated north of the Rio Grande since 1846.
  • 200 Mexican soldiers were unarmed
  • corpse-strewn floodwaters
  • holdouts did not want to leave their pets
  • Bush declared that the United States would get past these difficult days.
  • 400,000 homes without power


Day Twelve/Thirteen (Saturday/Sunday)

  • corpses lie submerged beneath a toxic gumbo
  • Brown’s résumé discrepancies, not incompetence, led to recall
  • Emergency planners pored over charts of a hurricane simulation [Hurricane Pam].  Yearlong project to prepare officials for a Category 3 hurricane striking New Orleans.  Hurricane Pam report did not predict that levees would break.


Day Fourteen (Monday)

  • death toll 197
  • an insurance agent was able to rescue two National Guard soldiers who had driven their 5-ton military truck in four feet of water.
  • toxic gumbo:  grease and gas from up to 350,000 vehicles; raw sewage; bleach and cleansers from the pantries of 160,000 flood-damaged homes
  • 50% remains flooded
  • brew that covers New Orleans is brightened by rainbow petroleum slicks
  • 20 million tons of debris left behind
  • four of his seven cats floating dead in the kitchen


Day Fifteen (Tuesday)

  • death toll 280
  • died while waiting
  • Bush, “I take responsibility.”
  • Katrina forced 372,000 school children to flee


Day Sixteen (Wednesday)

  • death toll 659
  • A human foot was visible through the front window of a locked home.
  • FEMA ordered searchers NOT to break into homes. They are supposed to look in through a window and knock. If no one cries out, they move on.
  • He broke the rules and ordered his men to bash open the door. An unconscious and emaciated man, 74, was rescued, was breathing.


Day Seventeen (Thursday)

  • death toll 710
  • Senate rejected a proposal to examine what went wrong
  • Brown, criticizing Louisiana, “I never received specific requests for specific things that needed doing.”


Day Eighteen…Day Eighteen Hundred…

janee baugherJanée J. Baugher is the author of two poetry collections, The Body’s Physics and Coördinates of Yes. Her prose and poetry have been published in Boulevard, Nano Fiction, and Portland Review, among other places, and she has an interview forthcoming in The Writer’s Chronicle. Baugher’s poetry has been adapted for the stage and set to music at University of Cincinnati, Interlochen Center for the Arts (Michigan), and elsewhere. In 2012 Baugher was awarded a nonfiction fellowship at the Island Institute of Sitka. Currently, she teaches literature at University of Phoenix in Seattle and creative writing at Sitka Fine Arts Camp. Website:  http://JaneeJBaugher.wordpress.com

Image credit: Flickr Creative Commons/NASA Goddard Space Flight

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