New Orleans chessplayer tells of Katrina devastation

Last month René Phillips was excited to have opened up his chess training site, and to have begun coaching chess at St. Augustine Academy. The New Orleans native, Chess Master and former SWAT member had just won 2nd place in the Louisiana Blitz Championship when powerful hurricane Katrina rumbled in and swept away everything that he owned. Stories of panic, confusion and violence are filling up the news pages. He and his family are now stranded in Sulphur, Louisiana. He sent me this note:

New Orleans 2005

----- Original Message -----
From: Rene Phillips
To: Daaim Shabazz
Sent: Thursday, September 01, 2005 12:43 AM
Subject: Re: New Orleans

My Brother, I am so glad to hear from someone in the chess world. I escaped with my family to Sulphur, Louisiana. We are stranded here as the water continues to rise and we have lost our home. I had just started teaching Pre-Algebra and coaching the Chess Team at St. Augustine (One of the most prestigious Black High School Institutions in New Orleans, Louisiana). The school, many of the students, my chess team, Alfred, and Mr. Harold lived in the area where there is twenty feet of water. I have not heard from anyone or if some or all of them heeded the warnings and evacuated before the storm hit. Bro, I have cried so much in the last few days and I am a former SWAT team member. My family and I escaped because we attended the Louisiana Blitz Championship the day before. I won second place and my family and I survived but have lost all we have. My mother is a nurse and remained in N.O. to care for terminally ill patients and I have not heard fom her since. I pray that she, Alfred, Harold, and my chess team are all ok. Man, just to get a line from you bro. is so encouraging. Pray for us.

The persons mentioned in the e-mail would be National Master Alfred B. Carlin and Harold McDaniel, both Louisiana residents and common chess acquaintances. (Note: Both are safe.). Words cannot describe the devastation that has reached residents along the Gulf Coast and the conditions are worsening each hour. I contacted Phillips who had his laptop and access to wireless and we conversed via Yahoo Instant Messenger (he's at He described the situation as "like a holocaust." New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin gave an explosive interview at WWL radio and laid into the federal government for dragging their feet and urged them, "get off your asses."

(Note: International news reports (notably Associated Press) have focused more on the looters than what actually went wrong to prevent the desperation of the looters, most of whom are very poor. The result gives a very negative impression of Blacks and provides a convenient scapegoat.  Looting even has a different definition given the situation.)

"Man if you see the genocide they are allowing of our people in New Orleans, it is unbelievable. Man this is an American 'Hotel Rwanda'."

~René Phillips, New Orleans resident~

Several times he put emphasis on the word "unbelievable" and "amazing" as if he were in virtual shock at what was happening. There are reports that people are dying of exposure and illness on the GNO bridge, women are being raped in broad daylight and lawlessness is running rampant. One official likened the scene to the "Third World." Phillips pointed out that people are not as helpful as the news is reporting. "People are cold," he stated.  An example of a comment would be, "I'm sorry about you losing everything, good luck to you." So much for southern sensibilities.

While his daughters
Leah (17), Rachel (15) are taking the situation hard and son Jared (13) has yet to appreciate the impact, his wife is keeping a positive outlook. He sadly stated to me, "Man, I never thought that my family and I would be homeless, but we are and we have to start over." All in all, I told him (among many other things) to stay positive and to continue reassuring his family. For Phillips and his family, he will attempt to make it to Houston and somehow rebuild their lives. Let us keep his family, as well as the people afflicted in this crisis, in our thoughts and prayers.

René Phillips and his family has just arrived in Philadelphia after a long drive from their flooded New Orleans home. They have found temporary lodging and he was deeply moved by the assistance in Philly. In addition, the chess community has begun to welcome René into the fold thanks to  Norman "Pete" Rogers. The Phillips family can be reached at the address below:

Send any cards, gifts and donations to:

René Phillips & Family
P.O. Box 2200106
Philadelphia, PA 19122-0090





~~~ Read well-wishes ~~~
The Phillips family thanks you!

Posted by The Chess Drum: 2 September 2005