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Blog offers rare glimpse inside the chaos

Employees holed up in a New Orleans skyscraper document the aftermath of Katrina using an online journal and Webcam. Photos: Anarchy in New Orleans

Six blocks from the Mississippi River, in a 27-story skyscraper on Poydras Street in New Orleans, the staff of an Internet domain hosting service is chronicling Hurricane Katrina's chaotic aftermath with an immediacy that remote bloggers simply can't mimic.

Armed with food, water, a diesel generator, a camera and at least one firearm, five employees of New Orleans-based DirectNIC have been holed up since just before the storm blew in nearly a week ago on the 10th and 11th floors of the building that houses their headquarters.

Since then, employee Michael Barnett has described the saga on an oft-updated Livejournal, once a place for him to "talk smack and chat with friends," which he renamed this week as "The Survival of New Orleans Blog."

New Orleans

The staff has also been updating a companion photo gallery and pointing a live Webcam (another feed available here) outside, providing firsthand footage of looting, fires and other civil disturbances that have ravaged the flooded city.

Meanwhile, they have been sharing patrol duties of the building, conducting photo-taking "recon" missions of their surroundings, and struggling to procure enough diesel fuel to feed their generators.

And, much to Barnett's surprise, their operations have become a media magnet. Comments have flooded his entries, and thousands of IM messages have poured in. The multimedia sites have been overwhelmed with traffic, prompting mirrors for the Webcam and brief outages of the photo gallery.

Neither Barnett nor his public relations representative could be reached for comment. Following are some excerpts from his journal entry.

It began with what could be the understatement of the year. "Hmm. This could actually be a nasty storm," Barnett posted at 9:05 p.m. PDT on the Saturday the storm began approaching.

Just after 6 a.m. PDT Sunday, he issued a challenge: "Come on with it then, storm. Bring me what ya got. Let's see who wins."

Throughout Monday morning, he reported messy conditions, "but as long as no flooding occurs, the city should be fine. There's really nothing to say...Imagine a low rumbling turbine engine for several hours, lots of wind and debris, and me taking pictures and video."

But by Tuesday morning, his tone grew more serious: "I do not want to be an alarmist, but people who have the means to leave the greater New Orleans area need to do so. The infrastructure required to maintain a city is down. It could be a long time before it's back up. There will be too many people fighting for exceptionally scarce resources."

On Wednesday morning, the chaos began: "If you're on the cam, you've got a special treat: You're watching the flood progress (hasn't moved in 24 hours) and the looting of a hotel."

He went on: "We're seriously considering trying to restore some order to this city since the government has totally given up (and probably couldn't do anything anyway). The police have been looting according to reports, and the honest ones are under siege at their precincts as automatic gunfire was unloaded at one near the Quarter.

"I know it's dangerous, but I've got some experience with Foreign Internal Defense, and if there's a chance of slowing down this Planet of the Apes deterioration, someone's got to take the first step. I mean, it's Lord of the Flies out there right now. There's no order at all. No respect for private property, no respect for life."

And later on Wednesday: "The police are looting. This has been confirmed by several independent sources. Some of the looting might be 'legitimate' in as much as that word has any meaning in this context. They have broken into ATMs and safes: confirmed. We have eyewitnesses to this. They have taken dozens of SUVs from dealerships ostensibly for official use. They have also looted gun stores and pawn shops for all the small arms, supposedly to prevent 'criminals' from doing so. But who knows their true intentions."

Before heading to bed early Thursday morning, Barnett wrote: "Security has become a major concern now, because the NOPD is ineffective and the looters (and) terrorists are roaming the streets. Word is now that they're lighting buildings on fire, but I can't confirm that. Anyway, we have to run guard shifts and patrol and it limits our downtime.

"It is a zoo out there though, make no mistake. It's the wild kingdom...That doesn't mean there's murder on every street corner. But what it does mean is that the rule of law has collapsed, that there is no order, and that property rights cannot and are not being enforced. Anyone who is on the streets is in immediate danger of being robbed and killed. It's that bad."

But as evening set on Thursday, he stood firm: "As far as I'm concerned, this building is my post, and it will not be abandoned until I'm properly relieved."

After surveying the damage from the rooftop on Friday morning, he lamented: "This place is completely coming apart. The hopelessness on the street breaks the heart. The old, the tired, the sick seem resigned to their presumed fate. Death."

But, just hours later, signs of relief? "This convoy coming down the street is loaded with supplies. I see MREs and water and I assume ice," Barnett wrote. "OK, so the troops used to restore order went in first and now the supplies are coming for orderly distribution (I hope).

"Hope is on the way for the people at the Convention Center. Finally."