About this blog

Andrew Locke and Bob Sullivan

From Sept. 22-27, the posts in this blog about Rita's evacuation and devastation were reported and photographed by Bob Sullivan and Andrew Locke. Sullivan, 37, is MSNBC.com's technology and consumer fraud reporter. Locke, 34, in charge of MSNBC.com's editorial strategy, was on his second hurricane blog tour.

David Friedman and Miguel Llanos

From Sept. 18-22, the posts in this blog, examining Katrina's impact on the environment, were reported and photographed by Miguel Llanos and David Friedman. Llanos, 45, is MSNBC.com's environmental reporter. Photojournalist Friedman, 35, is a multimedia producer at MSNBC.com.

Kari Huus and Jim Seida

From Sept. 10-16, the posts in this blog were reported and photographed by Kari Huus and Jim Seida. Huus, 43, has been a journalist for 20 years and a reporter with MSNBC.com since 1996. Seida, 39, has been a media editor with the Web site since 1996.

Mike Brunker and Andrew Locke mugshot

From Sept. 2-9, the posts in this blog were reported and photographed by Mike Brunker, left, and Andrew Locke. A journalist for 25 years, Brunker, 49, is MSNBC.com's West Coast news editor. Locke, 34, has been a journalist for 17 years and is currently in charge of MSNBC.com's editorial media strategy.

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Tension in the teeming suburbs

Posted: Sunday, September 11 at 02:50 am CT by Kari Huus

WALKER, La. -- Going west along I-12, we travel against a steady flow of tree removal equipment, semis carrying portable toilets, and military and police vehicles from around the country. Portable digital signs announce that I-55, which runs due south from here along Lake Pontchartrain to New Orleans, is closed.

We pull off in this town for a sandwich, and end up talking to David Ivey in a Wal-Mart parking lot, where we encounter long lines and competitive parking -– the bustle and tension of Christmas shopping season, minus the cheer. And this is where the Iveys ended up after seeing that the Wal-Mart in their own town, neighboring Hammond, was allowing customers in only 10 at a time. Several hundred more stood out in the sweltering afternoon heat waiting for hours.

050911_blog_tension_2David Ivey, of Hammond, La., shops with his family at a Wal-Mart in nearby Walker, La. (Jim Seida / MSNBC.com)

In the last two weeks, these little towns have exploded to three and four times their original size: “The population is just -- it's almost unbearable,” says Ivey, a financial planner. (Audio:  Ivey describes how his life has changed because of the population strain)

Hammond and Walker filled up with the first wave of voluntary evacuation from New Orleans, and then took a second wave of stubborn holdouts after the storm. Now, Ivey says, some people who evacuated to places farther north are in Hammond, waiting to re-enter New Orleans. And they may not be leaving anytime soon.

“Hammond is busting at the seams right now. I don’t know what the city officials are going to do…. It’s just not working,” Ivey tells us, while his three kids and his wife wait in the car.

Aside from the hassle, there’s fear in Baton Rouge and these surrounding small towns, that Katrina also pushed the criminal element into their neighborhoods. (Audio: Ivey talks about his fears of growing violence.)

Ivey says he keeps his gun on hand at all times. “I’m scared...,” he says. “My family is scared.” (Audio: Ivey says it's dangerous to go out alone.)

050911_blog_wallmartShoppers load up on goods at the Walker, La. Wal-Mart. Traffic in the store is up 300 percent compared to before the hurricane.  (Jim Seida / MSNBC.com)

Inside the Wal-Mart, despite long checkout lines and harried workers -- customer count is up 300 percent over two weeks ago -- there is no chaos of the sort rumored on the radio, or feared by Ivey. Shopping carts are filled, but the shelves are well stocked, with one exception: in sporting goods, where I am looking for some other provisions, I notice that the gun racks are empty. A store employee tells me that this company, and others in the area, decided to halt gun sales during the Katrina crisis.

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