John Howell’s Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Last of ‘old normal’ anniversary marked

Two years ago as of this August 27 writing was the morning I got up and looked at the National Hurricane Center’s Web site to discover that the hurricane in the Gulf had turned toward New Orleans.

I hurried on back, stopping in Brookhaven or McComb to load up on hurricane supplies — canned food, batteries, water, etc. — before driving into the city to figure out whether we would stay and actually use the stuff I had brought or evacuate.

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When I pulled up at our house on Laurel Street, the neighborhood was in a frenzy. Not because of the approaching hurricane but because the Wisner Playground, the park located directly across the street from our house, was filled with pee wee football players and their families.

The New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD) was having a football jamboree to kick off its fall pee wee seasons with competitions among teams based at recreation centers located around the city.

There was a hot sun bearing down on a very humid afternoon  giving no hint of what was to come. It felt like another of those August days in New Orleans that would finally explode into a thunderstorm during late afternoon.

Anyone who was nervous about the forecast approach of Hurricane Katrina that afternoon cleverly disguised it as football frenzy. Sweating kids in pads came and went from the park field gulping water and accompanied by parents nervously fanning themselves.

What I saw that day was the last of the “old normal” — New Orleans before Katrina — where priorities made completion of the opening day of pee wee football more urgent than evacuating before a hurricane.

Twenty-four hours later we left, evacuating among thousands of cars inching their way east on I-10, then north on I-55.

Today that same park is the home of about 30 FEMA trailers. People come to live there and then leave as their home repairs allow them or as they find other accommodations. The armed guards who closely monitor access to the FEMA park through the one gate into the grounds have become part of the new normal in New Orleans.

And that playground filled with sweating pee wee football players, their parents, friends and fans all in a frenzy are my last memory of the old normal in that city.

I have often wondered where all those people scattered to in the days that followed.