Vincent Salamone is one of the fortunate ones. He is alive and in his home and he is already rebuilding his very good life.
But even he is upset about the handling of the disaster. He did exactly as he was told. He evacuated from his comfortable home here on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain in Jefferson Parish last Wednesday when the authorities told him to, and Monday he returned for the first time in nearly a week, also when the authorities told him to. During the time he was away -- bouncing from Jackson, Miss., to Covington, La. -- he had plenty of time to seethe over the incompetence of the bureaucracy, the inadequacy of communications and the indignities unbefitting a law-observing business owner/taxpayer/lifelong Louisianian. And as he talks about it, the anger rises in his voice like floodwaters.
"They didn't ask your name, or say, 'Kiss my behind,' or whatever," says Salamone, 65, as he sits at a patio table in his back yard. He's talking about state troopers who wouldn't give him the time of day during this crisis. And he doesn't understand.
He has returned to a place that was laid low by Hurricane Katrina. Trees are jammed through roofs; power wires swoop from tree to tree like thin black bunting. It would be a nightmare if not for the fact that, for thousands of others in Louisiana right now, this is paradise.
People were allowed back into Jefferson Parish for 12 hours Monday. The Salamones aren't planning on leaving no matter what anybody tells them to do.
"They'll have to pull me out with a tow rope," his wife says.
And Salamone is concerned about the next devastation. He says he will not leave his house again. Even if the authorities tell him to.
"I tell you why I'm going to stay," he says. "Where do I go?"
Vincent and Doris Salamone live on Folse Street in a quiet neighborhood on the east side of the parish. The lake is just behind their house, on the other side of a levee. A levee that held. They had some water damage in their two-story brick-and-stucco home from the rains -- but not as much as some of their neighbors. The Salamones' carpets are ruined. They lost a satellite dish, and gutters were ripped from the eaves. They have no electricity, water or phone service.
You can tell by looking at Salamone that he's a successful guy. Silver, wavy hair, tan complexion, a certain bonhomie that comes with feeling good about your success. He owns an appliance distribution company in New Orleans. He has 12 employees. He doesn't know whether his business is still standing. He hasn't heard from any of his employees.
When he heard the order to leave, he packed up his 2003 Cadillac DeVille and he and Doris, 66, and his sister Rosa, 71, and their two dogs headed north up Interstate 55, looking for lodging. There was none.
"They want people to evacuate," Salamone says. "You've got to have a place to evacuate to."
Hours later, around Jackson, they realized they weren't going to find a room. So they started back south. They stopped at a little hunting camp that Salamone owns in Hazelhurst, Miss., but there was no power. They did find a five-gallon can of gas, though.
"If it wasn't for that," says Doris, "we would have been stuck on the side of the road."
They drove toward home. But when they got to a security checkpoint on the outskirts of Metairie, they were told by a state trooper they had to sleep elsewhere.
"Where?" Salamone asked. The trooper suggested a Red Cross shelter in Covington, so they turned around and motored back north. They reached the town just east of Baton Rouge about 8 p.m.
As he talks on his patio, the levee shines green behind him. Overhead helicopters drift by like noisy dragonflies, and dragonflies pass like silent copters.
The Salamones live in an upper-middle-class neighborhood. Homes here sell for between $100,000 and $600,000. Salamone says he would have liked to have gone to a shelter near his home.
They've paid taxes to help the authorities prepare for such a disaster but, Doris says, "We never heard where shelters were around here."
"I don't think they even have shelters for us," Rosa says.
In Covington, the Red Cross directed people to a gymnasium. Salamone gets peeved thinking about the way it was lighted -- a generator was used to power one measly fluorescent floor lamp in the middle of the vast room. It was dark in there, Salamone says.
Doris, white-haired and soft-spoken, adds, "The bathrooms were deplorable."
The women slept in the Cadillac, Salamone says, "with the dogs." They got up at 6 Thursday to get gasoline, then they tried to go home again.
Once more they were turned away. Salamone says the state trooper didn't give him any reason. "They had nothing else to do," Salamone says. "He could have talked to me a little. They were arrogant as can be." They turned around again and went to stay with some friends in Independence.
The future, Salamone says, is murky. He's not sure he will reestablish his business in New Orleans. "It can be anywhere," he says. "I could go to Hammond or Jackson."
He is concerned that the authorities do not care enough about him and his business.
"I have millions of dollars of inventory," he says. "All they are talking about is the evacuees. What about the rest of us?"
Every once in a while Salamone catches himself. "This side of town is devastated," he says. "But that side of town," he points toward New Orleans, "is worse for the evacuees. I never felt so humbled in all my life as that night in the shelter. I had money in my wallet and couldn't spend it."