Saint Roch Avenue


“We’re coming around and we’re baiting the storm drains for rodents.”

A sidewalk press conference this morning at the corner of Canal and Bourbon, scant delivery drivers rooting around with earbuds and handtrucks. Claudia Riegel, the director of the New Orleans Mosquito, Termite and Rodent Control Board, assures us she can explain. Videos have been circulating of rats and mice scurrying by the (many) dozens in the unprecedented abandonment of New Orleans. A little trademarked sign behind her, the Hard Rock Café on the corner of Iberville, reminds of the eighteen story tragedy still looming over N Rampart.

“Now, unfortunately, many of the restaurants are either closed or working in limited fashion. Much of the trash that would normally be in the French Quarter and other commercial areas is no more, it’s not being generated. As well, many of the trash cans you see are pretty much empty.”

She motions to the metal bins over her shoulder. A man is shouting, testifying, prayers and scripture into a bullhorn behind the camera on Canal. What’s really missing that wasn’t here before? And why is that? Simply because we can see it now? And because, now, we have to see it from a distance? Witness the human world fail and the natural world persist?

“And so, unfortunately, what’s happening is many of these rodents are looking for an alternative food source, and they’re moving from, many times, inside the buildings out into the streets. And so, we are seeing, in some places, elevated activity, and that’s why we are here.”

Thank you, Claudia, and all others providing essential services in this civilized age we live. There exists some somber irony here. When bubonic plague broke out, it struck New Orleans on Saint Joseph Street, and their solution in 1914 was to isolate the entire block, run the rats and mice toward it, and burn the whole thing down. They’d seen much worse generations before.

In 1847, yellow fever killed 2,300 New Orleanians, over 22,500 over the following twelve years. It was carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, and heavily affected the underclasses, particularly German and Irish immigrants. The population of New Orleans at the time of the 1850 census was 119,460 – 91,431 whites (76.5%), 18,068 black slaves (15.2%), 9,961 free people of color (8.3%). By 1851, 52,011 immigrants arrived in New Orleans, nearly equally numbers arriving in Baltimore, Boston and Philadelphia combined. In 1853 alone, between 8,000-12,000 residents had died, around one-tenth the city’s population. News of the epidemic was dampened by Newspaper Row, local newspapers recently relocated and concentrated at Camp and Gravier, who didn’t want it cutting in on their advertising revenues. Rival port cities in the North delighted in reporting the woes of the South. Another 4,800 dead in 1858.

Louisiana as of this morning, according to Governor John Bel Edwards (citing a study by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette), has the fastest growth rate of COVID-19 cases in the world (on track with the entireties of Italy and Spain), and the third-highest number of cases in the United States (behind New York and Washington). We topped a thousand cases two hours ago.



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