Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Hurricane Katrina

The storm was noisy and wet, but not as bad as I had imagined. Bill, in his foul weather sailing gear and bicycle helmet, periodically went outside to check on drains, roofing, and damage. We watched our metal window awning blow away from different sides of the house as the storm gradually changed directions in passing. We saw our neighbor's awning over his boat, detach from the house and disappear on the wind. At one point, a section of shingles on the garage started to blow up from the edge. Bill and John took a ladder, a piece of board, hammer and nails and attached those shingles down. (The board is still on the roof holding the shingles in place!)

When the storm had moved until it was blowing out of the East, we seemed to have survived in good shape. The wind was slowing down, the rain was easing, we all started to relax. The 3 guys were napping on the livingroom floor, since we made them move downstairs when the radio warned of tornados. Bill kept going out to check on things. I sat on my bed and read a book. That's when I noticed a lot of water in the back yard. About the same time, Bill came in saying water was rising and we needed to pick up the rugs in case it got into the house. I woke the guys and we started moving rugs. But the water kept coming. Soon it was running under the doors. We realized we needed to move things upstairs, as the water didn't appear to be slowing down. We grabbed the laundry baskets and loaded them with water, food, meds. Bill opened our safe and took the papers out. I realized that our miniature Schnauzer, Sebastian, would soon be treading water, so I picked him up and handed him to John, who ran him upstairs.

And the water kept coming.

The level of disbelief, frustration, and pain, as I saw my home, furniture, antiques, and treasures engulfed in swirling dirty water is indescribable.

I never realized how many things float. Within 15 minutes, the water was over 3 feet. Tables, the buffet, trunks we had put up on chairs to keep dry, even the refrigerator, which I couldn't move at all, floated.

Bill and I had packed our suitcases for a trip to France in early September, so they were hauled upstairs. I finally went upstairs too, with Mike. He would meet the others midway on the stairs, then hand the items on up to me. I had cleared space in a bedroom, so we wouldn't be blocked in. Bill, John, and Nick worked for several hours moving anything that was above water to Mike and I, to put upstairs. Wading in near chest high water, holding baskets over their heads, trying not to trip and fall. The house filled with floating debris: the antique bookcases came unglued, doors and shelves floating, needing to be pushed out of the way as the 3 worked to save what they could.

Bill had an encounter with floating ants, getting 25+ bites on his chest alone. But still he waded on. A picture here, clothing there, shoes, photos, baskets. They took most things off the walls, in the rooms they could get around in. In the bedrooms, they could get in the door, but not to the far side of the beds, due to floating and overturned furniture. There was always the risk of injury, and in this water it would turn septic quickly.

Upstairs, Mike and I dried the damp things, hung wet clothing in the shower stall, and filled up the rooms and hall. All the food was moved from downstairs. Water bottles were in a basket in the kitchen. All this seemed to only take a few minutes, when in reality we worked for hours. We finally all came upstairs, dried off, and put on dry clothing. We stopped to look out the windows at the new lake around us. The water was over the top of Nick's car, over the bed of John's F-150 pickup, just a few inches from the top of my Town and Country van. We knew our little BMW Z3 coupe was drowned in the garage. The water seemed to be staying at this level, but moving very rapidly down the street, from Lake Pontchatrain to the Mississippi River.

If we looked closely, we could see fish swimming by. Nick suggested we throw a line in the water and catch our supper. But then he thought about all the horrible things that were now in the water, and changed his mind.

We talked through the windows to our next door neighbors, Gaston and Helen, who had stayed as well. Their oldest son, Ray, was with them. Ray works for Jefferson Parish, running the big pumps. He seemed to think, once they got the pumps running good, the whole place would drain in a couple of days. Of course, we didn't know about the holes in the 17th street canal, the London Ave canal (where our water was coming from), and the Industrial Canal. We did know that if we had this much water, being above sea level, then there were places in a lot worse condition than we were.

Helen laughingly reminded us that she had said this one would bring water. She just didn't think we would have lake front property! What a couple, both 80; Gaston with Alzheimer's and Helen with a bad heart. Both native New Orleanians. Gaston wouldn't leave, Helen wouldn't leave with out Gaston, so now they were wading in water. But they both smiled.

We cooked supper on our little gas backpacking stove. Drank some of the still cold beer. Sat around trying to get our cell phones to work. There were 5 cell phones, none would get a signal. The guys sent text messages. I saved my battery. We had a radio, but it would only get one station, which was mostly useless. Folks passing on rumors. The head of Emergency Management for Jefferson Parish, who kept repeating, "It is the end of the world as we know it!", until finally, they wouldn't let him have the microphone anymore. There were helicopters from the Coast Guard flying over, most of the afternoon and evening. We discovered more of our neighbors who had stayed too. We also heard all the dogs and cats howling and crying. It broke our hearts. We kept our Sebastian close in his bed.

I put a mattress on the floor in the livingroom, Bill slept in the lounge chair, and the guys in their rooms, with Mike on the sofa in the den. We slept, then awakened, peering out the window at the water, keeping check on the level. The helicopters flew most of the night, coming close with spot lights shining. We know now they were getting people off of roofs. We were safe for the moment.

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