Mainstream Media Ignore Self Help Relief Efforts In Algiers

New Orleans, Sep. 13, 2005 — While residents of the Algiers neighborhood in New Orleans continue to help to provide hurricane relief for themselves, the mainstream media is ignoring their efforts. Algiers is across the river from downtown, on the west bank of the Mississippi. Algiers never flooded, city water service never stopped, and electricity and gas is working for some of the remaining residents.

“I haven’t seen corporate reporter # 1,” said Roger Benham, a certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) from Willimantic, Connecticut who has been volunteering at a medical aid station in Algiers since last Friday.

“WBAI, Democracy Now and Air America have been here,” he said, referring to alternative media, “but the closest the corporate media has come was Fox News at a pharmacy in another community 10 miles from here.”

Benham arrived here with two other EMTs and another health care worker at the invitation of Algiers long time community activist Malik Rahim, who has been organizing with residents to stay in their homes and preserve their community. Benham and his co-workers have been working at a site in the Masjid Bilal mosque on Teche Streeet.

“We’ve been seeing about 100 people a day,” Benham reported in a phone interview Monday with this reporter at about 5:45 p.m. New Orleans time. “We’re really swamped.” Benham said he and his coworkers also make house calls, he on a borrowed bicycle.

Benham said that a significant number of the people they’ve been treating are suffering from hypertension due to the stress of the disaster, especially middle aged and elderly folks. “We’ve been giving them some herbal remedies,” he said. Conventional medications to treat high blood pressure are not available, and Benham and the other EMTs are not certified to administer them.

“A French MD was here yesterday,” Benham said, “and today there was an MD from Seattle. And a Canadian RN is trying to get here to fill scripts for people who need meds. There are a whole lot of MDs, RNs and EMTs sitting around in Baton Rouge waiting for FEMA to give them something to do. We’re trying to get some of those people down here.

“There’s no government in New Orleans, just the ‘law and order’ forces. Here the Army is patrolling, along with the New Orleans PD and state police. All FEMA has done here is throw up some razor wire around an already existing relief station operated by the United Church of Christ that’s been giving out food and water.

“Today an Army/Air Force Humvee stopped by to give us some relief supplies they’d taken from FEMA.

“A whole lot of relief shipments came in today, from Pastors For Peace and the Mayday DC Collective. Thanks to them I had my first beer since getting here.”

Benham reported that soon military C-130 planes were going spray Algiers to kill mosquitoes. “We don’t know if they’re going to spray malathion or what. There are fears they may use DDT.”

From Algiers Benham can see two cruise ships, the Ecstasy and Sensation, anchored in the river. “We’ve heard they may use them to house people. But once you get in a cabin you won’t be able to leave, so they’ll in effect be floating prisons.”

Benham said that last night there were two Super Cobra aircraft flying around, which usually only appear when a dignitary is in town. I told him of media reports that George Bush had spent the night on the Navy amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima, also sitting in the river nearby.

“There’s no mandatory evacuation here,” Benham reported, “It’s advisory. The Army is encouraging the sick and elderly to evacuate. Today a truck with a whole family returned. I don’t know if they were just visiting or will be staying.”

Benham said the prevailing attitude of residents towards evacuation was expressed by Paul, an Irish guy who’s already evacuated here from across the river. “He spray painted a message on the side of his van,” Benham said. “It reads, ‘Kiss My Green Ass.’ ”

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