Banding Together for Bad News

Ellen Barry, Los Angeles Times, Sept. 13

Chalmette, La. demographics (from Epodunk): 92.7 percent white, 2.4 percent black

BATON ROUGE, La.—The streets of St. Bernard Parish, a working-class suburb of New Orleans, are coated with viscous marsh mud and spilled oil. Dogs trot through empty streets, their ribs showing, and tadpoles have begun to breed in pools of water left by the flood. But the families? The families are intact.

That much was clear Monday, when about 3,000 residents of the destroyed parish packed the marble hallways of the state Capitol in Baton Rouge, about 80 miles northwest of their homes.

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People in St. Bernard, a predominately white, working-class area, long have felt like stepchildren to New Orleans, a city beloved by tourists for its languidness and decadence. Many of the men who gathered at the Capitol had muscled forearms, tattoos and deep sunburns. St. Bernard’s residents mostly are descended from Acadians or from the “Islenos,” Spanish-speakers from the Canary Islands.

They’re the kind of people who “don’t complain very much, they just do the work,” said the Rev. Herb Kiff, pastor of San Pedro Church in Chalmette. “They know how to eat, they know how to drink, they know how to live.”

Parish officials took pains Monday to compare their residents’ behavior with that of survivors in New Orleans, where there was widespread unrest.

“Was there looting in St. Bernard? You bet there was,” Boasso said. “Let me tell you what it was. It was the Sheriff’s Department, the Fire Department and the city councilors going out in 6- or 7-foot waters to get food to people.”

Stephens, the sheriff, described an “apocalyptic” night when he rode a boat down a main thoroughfare and nearly hit his head on a traffic light. He said he could hear automatic weapons fire from the direction of New Orleans, and felt like he was on another planet.

But the evacuated residents of his parish waited patiently at the port, some so weak they had to lie on bare cement.

“Through all of that, people lay on that cement never complained,” he said. “It was the most heroic . . . thing that I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”

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