Embedded with the Times Picayune in New Orleans (CJR Daily)

By Paul McLeary

We hit the first checkpoint on Highway 10 at about 10 p.m.

I’m with a freelance reporter who is on assignment for a major magazine, and we’re our way from Baton Rouge to New Orleans one night last week when state troopers pull us over and ask who, exactly, we are. The trooper has no idea what CJR Daily is, but when the guy riding shotgun flashes his press credential — National Geographic magazine — she shouts it out to the other troopers and asks him to autograph her yellow police vest, before flippantly wishing us luck.

Welcome to New Orleans.

We soon find ourselves creeping blindly through an endless succession of darkened, flooded, looted and deserted streets, with only our headlights showing the way. The quiet is sporadically punctuated by one- or two-man military checkpoints, each one sending us a different direction to the press staging area in front of Harrah’s Casino at the foot of Canal Street. Downed power lines, broken trees and abandoned cars loom out of the darkness, and impassable street lakes force us to backtrack or slowly wind around. Every now and again, a stray dog appears at the side of the road, clearly starved. A couple of Oklahoma National Guardsmen, posted across the street from an apartment building from which you can hear the sound of rummaging, (“probably looters” they tell us) advise us that Magazine Street is our best bet in.