Many of the injured, the elderly and the critically ill, and those suffering from dehydration, have been taken across a walkway to an adjoining sports center, the New Orleans Arena.
One man was lying part way on a cot, his legs flopped off the side, a forgotten blood-pressure monitor still attached to his right arm. Some had wrapped plastic bags on their feet to escape the urine and wastewater seeping from piles of trash. Others, fearing the onset of disease, had surgical masks over their mouths. An alarm had been going off for more than 24 hours, and no one knew how to turn it off.
Suddenly, incongruously, the first notes of Bach’s Sonata No. 1 in G Minor, the Adagio, pierced the desperation.
Samuel Thompson, 34, is trying to make it as a professional violinist. He had grabbed his instrument — made in 1996 by a Boston woman — as he fled the youth hostel Sunday where he had been staying in New Orleans for the past two months.
“It’s the most important thing I own,” he said.
He had guarded it carefully and hadn’t taken it out until yesterday afternoon, when he was able to move from the Superdome into the New Orleans Arena, far safer accommodations. He rested the black case on a table next to a man with no legs in a wheelchair and a pile of trash and boxes, and gingerly popped open the two locks. He lifted the violin out of the red velvet encasement and held it to his neck.
Thompson closed his eyes and leaned into each stretch of the bow as he played mournfully. A woman eating crackers and sitting where a vendor typically sells pizza watched him intently. A National Guard soldier applauded quietly when the song ended, and Thompson nodded his head and began another piece, the Andante from Bach’s Sonata in A Minor.
Like most in the shelter, Thompson’s family in Charleston, S.C., has no idea where he is and whether he is alive. Thompson figures he is safe for now and will get in touch when he can. Meanwhile, he will play, and, once in a while, someone at the sports complex will manage a smile.
“These people have nothing,” he said. “I have a violin. And I should play for them. They should have something.”