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Post-Isaac, This Is What New Orleans Looks Like

NEW ORLEANS—Everyone in our French Quarter neighborhood today is talking about Plaquemines Parish. Hurricane Isaac breached their levees, among others outside the federal levee system, and we have nothing but empathy. The relief that Isaac did not breach our levees is mixed with sorrow that people in Plaquemines are being rescued from their roofs again.

There were significant local losses, too–our friends James Perry and Melissa Harris Perry’s new home has been destroyed. Melissa had just given an MSNBC on-air tour of her home in advance of the Hurricane Katrina anniversary. That’s probably airing now, but the cable’s been out all day so we can’t watch. That doesn’t keep my husband Jeff from holding the remote and trying to get a signal every now and then. You realize how connected we’ve all become when Internet connections and phone signals are no longer dependable.

In spite of the afternoon squall, I’m stir crazy enough to take a walk in 60 mile per hour wind, keeping an eye out for projectile roof tiles. Golden Lantern bartender Lance Pippen is back at his post, and he’s telling the story of a man whose dog started lifting into the air when he went to walk her at the lakefront. “You wouldn’t float would you, Debbie?” Pippen asks his Boxer. Debbie responds with the dog version of a shrug and he gives her a treat.

A girl outside stops to press her cheek to the street for a photo-op with the pay phone that’s still lying on the ground. A family in an SUV with Mississippi plates takes a photo of the downed phone too, part of their narrowly averted disaster tour. Abandoned umbrellas litter the streets, along with chunks of trees and foliage. I pass a clump of pine needles and holly berries; it smells like Bizarro Christmas.

Back home, a tree in our yard is hanging so low the wind chimes are parallel to the ground, whirling like a carousel ride. Two doves are back in residence, shaking damp feathers under a palm. The neighbors are offering food. In a hurricane party you cook what's left in your freezer, so as not to come home to the stench of rotting meat if the worst happens.

We’re now sitting next to the radio, hunkered down but restless, listening in as callers report to WWL-FM of loved ones still stranded by floodwaters and in need of rescue. “Isaac is no longer a hurricane, it’s now a tropical storm,” Garland Robinette, the DJ, breaks in to say.

“You loot, you wear an orange suit,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu announces. A curfew from dusk to dawn seems unlikely to hold, with the few bars that are open filled to capacity. Almost 700,000 Louisiana customers have lost power so far, and it seems like more than a few have headed to French Quarter bars for cold cocktails and air conditioning. The Quarter’s power lines are underground, so they've held up well here in the northernmost point of the Caribbean.

This season, the Super Bowl will be held in New Orleans, and street and sidewalk upgrades have seemed nonstop. Now there’s going to be even more clean-up than anticipated, as the city puts its best foot forward. The sun is setting as Isaac ambles west, a storm that wore out its welcome well before landfall.