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Post-Katrina, Refrigerators Don't Refrigerate


In New Orleans, abandoned refrigerators are ubiquitous icons of Hurricane Katrina. They appear at curbsides. White, harvest, gold, avocado: useless and potentially toxic. A thrown-out refrigerator is also a sign that another family has returned to the neighborhood. Here's NPR's Noah Adams.

NOAH ADAMS reporting:

Among the evacuees coming back into New Orleans, the word got around fast: Don't open that refrigerator. Get it to the curb. The Army Corps of Engineers is advising that you clean it out first. Clean out what they call the `bioslime.' But mostly, the refrigerators are taped shut, and sometimes they have warnings.

(Soundbite of automobile)

ADAMS: Here is one with blue duct tape, and on the side--on the street side it says, `Welcome home, New Orleans. Caution: Breath of Satan inside.' I heard about another one that said, `Do not open until Halloween.' And I even saw a black refrigerator dressed for Halloween with orange duct tape.

Mr. CHRIS WADDINGTON (New Orleans Resident): Hey, Steve?

STEVE: Yeah?

(Soundbite of items clanking together)

Mr. WADDINGTON: Can we do this fridge?

(Soundbite of footsteps)

Mr. WADDINGTON: Hey, by the way, there is a kind of a nice smell coming out of this one. You have to lean a little closer.

STEVE: I got...

ADAMS: In a neighborhood that is full of trashed cars and drying-out sofas, Chris Waddington(ph) and Adrian Schulman(ph) are set to deal with their unit.

Mr. WADDINGTON: Well, tell you what, sweetie, how about if I pull it here and you tie the knot, OK?

Ms. ADRIAN SCHULMAN (New Orleans Resident): OK.

(Soundbite of clanking noise)

ADAMS: The thing to do here is pull the refrigerator out from the wall, get a dolly and strap it on good, and find a guy to help take off the front door of the house--and then shove.

(Soundbite of refrigerator being pushed)

STEVE: One more, guys.

(Soundbite of clanking noise)



(Soundbite of refrigerator being pushed)

Unidentified Man #3: OK.

Ms. SCHULMAN: Got it? Got it?

Mr. WADDINGTON: Got it? Out of the way. Oooh.

Ms. SCHULMAN: That wasn't just hard...

Mr. WADDINGTON: Whoo-hoo-hoo-hoo!

Ms. SCHULMAN: Not for me it wasn't. Yeah.

STEVE: Oh, I think I tripped on my shoes.

Mr. WADDINGTON: Glad we got that Red Cross cleaning kit.

ADAMS: The refrigerator arrives at the street with no injuries. It did spill some brown liquid from the now perished food inside. Adrian Schulman remembers leaving town and leaving behind the makings of a wonderful meal.

Ms. SCHULMAN: In the freezer, we have the best chorizo turnovers. Chorizo, great sausage. We have a steak. And I think I have twelve bags with two cups each of freshly picked blueberries.

(Soundbite of horn)

ADAMS: Even the neighborhoods that weren't flooded now have street-side collections of refrigerators. I stand counting them in front of a boarded-up carryout called Danny's Number Two Fried Chicken Chinese Food Seafood Poor Boys(ph). I'm looking at a pile of Hotpoints and Magic Chefs and RCA and GEs, the refrigerators attended by a few thousand fruit flies and producing an odor that is almost vaporous and certainly vile. A couple walks by, the woman covering her nose with her T-shirt.

Could I talk to you all for a second? I'm doing a story about refrigerators.

Mr. MIKE ROSS(ph) (New Orleans Resident): Ah, good, yes.

Ms. ASHLEY MURCHISON (New Orleans Resident): Ah, you need to meet Jerome. Jerome is this man that we found yesterday that for 50 bucks he'll take your refrigerator, and he's been doing this for 15 years. And he's a...

Mr. ROSS: And then he takes them, gets all the maggots and other things--details them, and then I guess he'll re-sell them. And he's made a career out of that.

Ms. MURCHISON: He's done 300 since...

Mr. ROSS: And he says the smell doesn't bother him.

Ms. MURCHISON: I don't know he does it, actually. It--that blows my mind.

Mr. ROSS: When we cleaned out our refrigerator, Ashley ran to the front porch and threw up.

Ms. MURCHISON: Thank you.

ADAMS: Ashley Murchison and her fiance, Mike Ross. One of their neighbors in this part of town was outside sweeping around her old refrigerator. Tammy Harris(ph) has a new one inside the house.

Ms. TAMMY HARRIS (New Orleans Resident): I went to Sears and I waited like a half-hour for--like, they had to call my number. And once I got my number called it was like 10 minutes. `OK, this is the one I want.' And he's like, `OK.' Paid for it and brought it home.

ADAMS: Now what happens to the old one here on the curb?

Ms. HARRIS: I have no idea, but I hope somebody comes and gets it soon!

ADAMS: And so the refrigerators continue to accumulate at the curbsides of New Orleans. How many? Well, the Army Corps of Engineers is in charge of cleaning up, and I talked with Jim Pogue of the office here, and he's comfortable with using the word `gazillion.' He says the Corps' debris removal might not be finished until the middle of next year, but the refrigerators, stoves, washers--`the white goods,' he calls them--are the Corps' next priority mission after cleaning up the tree limbs and getting the streets open. For now, New Orleanians are hoping to smell the sweet olive trees soon to be in blossom. Noah Adams, NPR News, New Orleans.

NAYLOR: It's 18 minutes past the hour. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Noah Adams
Noah Adams, long-time co-host of NPR's All Things Considered, brings more than three decades of radio experience to his current job as a contributing correspondent for NPR's National Desk., focusing on the low-wage workforce, farm issues, and the Katrina aftermath. Now based in Ohio, he travels extensively for his reporting assignments, a position he's held since 2003.