Fascinating true story by Mark "River" Peoples focused on a family in need AK (after Katrina)
Quapaw Canoe Company captain extraordinaire, Mark River Peoples, is a personal friend, keeper of the waters, fellow Red’s Lounge regular and a contributor to the Delta Bohemian. Madge and I dig this Dude. He stays on the down low, is self-effacing like his mentor and friend, Driftwood Johnnie Ruskey, and is able to articulate cogent life experiences with the ease and understanding of a keen-eyed, self-actualized, world Pilgrim. Check out his post-Katrina tale taken from the Lower Mississippi River Dispatch No. 302 by permission. River, he always blesses! pw
KATRINA: Quapaw Canoe Company’s Mark River Dives into the Aftermath
By Mark “River” Peoples
I stared out my niece’s window watching shadows in the night. Dogs barked all night, with an occasional gunshot in the distance. Vehicles drove slowly through the night. Darkness ruled. The smell of death, decay, and brackish water filled the air. I opened all the windows so the mold wouldn’t harm us in our sleep. I didn’t sleep that night; I could feel death in the air.
It was the end of October. The water had receded in most areas around the city of New Orleans. My brother, William Eugene Peoples and family were visiting St. Louis, fresh off their stay in Deritter, Louisiana. They rented a house to weather the storm until the waters exited their home in New Orleans. Barely a foot of water occupied their home on Gentilly Ave., but they still lost just as much as the individuals who lost entire homes.
My brother married a Creole woman from New Orleans named Katina. He loves Louisiana, once telling me,”Brotha, I will be in New Orleans for the rest of my life.” Having a young daughter named after our deceased mother, Jade Iveara Peoples, her only worry was about her pink room and if it was like she left it. Katina’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Greene, lost everything.
The visit to St. Louis was the beginning of the long, tedious road to rebuilding their lives in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. My brother, a stern, disciplined, retired Army officer, who taught me work ethic on the football field, and Katina, his wife, a doctor, displaced from her practice, were letting the family know they were all right, just starting over.
They looked good, but I could see the stress in their bodies. Having taken everyone into the house they rented, you could see the heavy load being carried through their eyes. Katina had two brothers whose families lived with her parents, plus various nieces and nephews all hunkering down, figuring out the next step. I knew my brother had a plan, but he needed help.
As I foraged through the kitchen, I could hear my brother talking to our father in the other room. He had proper insurance, but the cost of a lot of the work needed done seemed higher than what insurance companies paid out. Crews of workers from Mexico roamed the neighborhoods offering services to desperate homeowners needing help. The problem was, it wasn’t cheap. The workers were taking advantage of the tragedy of our nation, profiting whenever possible. I heard my brother say to our father, ” They want $6500 dollars just to tear out the floors!” Our father responds, “I got the perfect person to help you. Your brother Mark!”
I smiled knowing I could help my brother get through a very tough time of his life. The plan was for him and his family to return to the rental home in Derritter, Louisiana while we squatted at the home in New Orleans. He would go to work daily, while I attacked tearing out the floors and the lower walls of sheetrock damaged by the brackish water. On weekends, he and I would drive to Derritter to see the family.
I decided to take the train to New Orleans from St. Louis. As a lover of the train from my college days, I thought it would be great to see the Delta and Louisiana from that perspective. I wanted to see the aftermath of the storm. I wanted to feel the landscape as I headed into the devastation. The train ride was excellent. The sun started to rise as we approached the Delta. I instantly started seeing sharecropper shacks and miles of cotton looking like snow. Fisherman lined the lakes and rivers. I got confused thinking I would see less, but noticed more life than expected. Herds of deer running through the bayous filled with cypress trees and palmettos. Pelicans, roseate spoonbills, egrets, and wood ducks took flight as the train rolled by. I didn’t see any devastation to wildlife, but thriving ecosystems -reborn.
I arrived in New Orleans. My brother picked me up from the train station after a long day at work. Eyes weary and I noticed something out of the ordinary. There were half smoked cigars in his ashtray. No way, I thought to myself, my straight-laced brother smoking! He informed me it helps keep him awake during his long drive between homes. He explained to me that we would be staying in the house upstairs away from the mold infested downstairs area. He briefed me on the safety issues. The streetlights were still off in many areas and illegal activities like looting, drug dealing, and robberies were rampant in the dark. Thieves even watched houses in which homeowners hadn’t returned.
“Tomorrow morning, I will show you everything you have been reading about. It’s important that you see this with your own eyes.”
The morning took forever to come. So excited and fearful of what I would see. The day started with a ride through some of the most decimated areas: droves of vehicles stored underneath highways, more cars lined parking lots with noticeable damage from the acidic brackish water, and personal debris from homes littered the city. The markings on the homes symbolized where bodies had been retrieved. Rumors floated through the community about bodies being missed and mismanaged. I was amazed at the damage standing brackish water could make.
We ended the day with the drive to Deritter to see family. I was excited knowing Mrs. Green would have a spread of Creole inspired food. The plan was to bulk up on great food and start the work Monday morning. We sat around in the biggest room of the home eating and telling stories, but not once bringing up Hurricane Katrina. I got the feeling they were all talked out, ready to move on.
The workday arrived quickly. I wielded my sledgehammer, working consistently throughout the day, occasionally stopping to load the wheelbarrow before hauling debris to the street. Trucks of workers would drive by giving me dirty looks as if I was stealing their work, but this was my chore. Every swing I made was for family and humanity.
Dust filled the house as I continued on strong all day. I was determined to leave here with my family in a better place. I knew I could help my family off to a great start and incubate the healing process. I tried to double my work daily, so my brother would see results when he arrived home. Every day the large pile in the driveway increased. I could see the load being lifted off his back. It got to a point when he would return from work, we would just crack open a beer, talk, and call it a day.