After Hurricane Katrina four years ago, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin figured he could get through just about anything. But being held in quarantine in China amid swine flu concerns on what was supposed to be a simple economic development trip?
"It's pretty surreal," Nagin told The Associated Press Wednesday night, speaking from Australia hours after he, his wife, Seletha, and a security guard were released from the hotel they were taken to Sunday after a passenger on their flight from the U.S. exhibited flu-like symptoms.
"To be quarantined in China is just mind-boggling to me."
The ordeal began Friday with coach seats on a 14-hour flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Shanghai. After meeting with government officials and a manufacturing company the city is courting, Nagin said he got a knock on his hotel room door from a "quarantine specialist" and others traveling with him, saying he had to go; a passenger in the row ahead of him had flu-like symptoms. He needed to be quarantined.
Nagin said he was taken by ambulance to an isolated and quiet hotel.
"When you see people coming toward you with full hazmat (hazardous materials) gear on, it's pretty interesting," he said. He described the people he dealt with as professional and nice, "but for the most part, you knew you really didn't have an option."
Someone would come to the room he and his wife shared every three to four hours to take their temperature. There weren't many options for filling their hours — there was only one English-language TV station, for example, But he kept up with city business, including, he said, closing a deal to buy a downtown high-rise that could become the new City Hall.
He also read a lot, he and his wife talked a lot, and, if there was an upside, he said he probably slept the most he has during his seven years in office.
Nagin is set to return to New Orleans Monday, after the second half of an overseas trip that includes scheduled speeches in Sydney on climate change and sustainable building.