Pirogue’s Whiskey Bayou in Arabi has long been known to New Orleans native Klie Kliebert, the co-founder and executive director of community organization Imagine Water Works. When they walked into the powerless bar on Wednesday and began chatting with owner Muriel Altikriti about the needs of neighbors, the next steps seemed obvious to both. Kliebert was looking for a central neighborhood location to serve as a supply distribution center for Arabi residents, and Altikriti, despite lacking power at the bar, was looking for a way to help her many regulars, too.
Then came the scramble. Kliebert began reaching out to restaurants and food trucks, quickly lining up a schedule of popular kitchens like New Orleans butcher Piece of Meat, steakhouse La Boca, and food trucks La Cocinita and Southerns to provide hot food for tornado victims throughout the day. The pair behind Southerns, Anthony Cruz and Gene Colley, could also speak to the scramble to contribute. “It was tough, but I’m so glad we were able to get it together in time,” said Colley.
The group set up charging stations and supply hubs out front and in the backyard of the bar — tables filled with water, diapers, and non-perishable food items where residents could “shop,” packing paper bags with needed items. They handed out flyers about free tornado relief therapy, offered by Chalmette mental health service Core Counseling, and hosted live music acts in the backyard. It was all part of Imagine Water Work’s goal to “learn from neighbors what they need and brainstorm ways to support each other tomorrow and in the days to come,” says Kliebert.
The community organizing efforts began in the wake of the EF-3 tornado that tore through Gretna to New Orleans East in the evening hours of March 22, leaving an 11.5-mile path of destruction that hit Arabi in St. Bernard Parish the hardest. Around 150 homes were damaged as a result, some destroyed entirely, and at least one person was killed, according to NOLA.com.
The humanity displayed by both partners in recovery coursed throughout the crowd into the evening hours; most in attendance were Arabi residents that had been directly impacted by the tornado. Patrons gathered at the untouched bar as the sun went down on a beautiful day; a home without a roof next door eerily positioned in the background and surrounded on all sides by utility trucks working to restore downed power lines. Still, neighbors chatted and laughed, pausing the anxiety and dread that follows the all-too-familiar disasters experienced by the area, even if for just a moment.
Then, the bar, along with Imagine Water Works, did it all again Friday.
See here to donate to Imagine Water Works.