With less than 24 hours to go before hurricane Katrina hit land, my wife and I started to pack up the car to leave St Bernard Parish Louisiana. We had to have the brakes repaired only an hour before we left. We had to depend on the kindness of a neighbor who was frantically working on the car as we loaded it with those things the officials said we should take with us.
We loaded a few changes of clothing our important papers and our dog, Patches. We went to pick up an older gentlemen whose daughter could not pick him up because she lived north of Lake Ponchartrain which was already nearly impassible. He was a member of our church and we faithfully picked him up for every service because he could hardly walk on his own. Looking back now we know he would not be alive if we had not gone to get him out of his house.
We drove through the night. At first we could not go over 15 miles an hour across the twin spans, an 8 mile long bridge across the lake a bridge that today is largely destroyed. The winds came just behind us only hours later and washed the spans that weigh thousands of tons into the water like toothpicks in a bathtub. In time we got up to about 50 mph but not once did we ever reach the speed limit. We arrived at a friends house near Birmingham, Alabama where we stayed for two days. We contacted the old gents family and arranged for his family to come and pick him up. The power went out several times throughout the second night as the winds gusted and threatened Old Birmingham.
On the third day only hours after Katrina had moved above Jackson, Mississippi did we began the 450 mile trek to my wife’s sisters house in West Baton Rouge Parish. We listened to the radio reports with some measure of hope that all was not that bad. Our hearts began to sink as hour by hour reports came in about broken levees and rising waters.
Over the next two weeks we followed all the news reports and searched for friends and pictures from our neighborhood on the internet. During the first week it was totally impossible to get a call through to anywhere from Alabama to East Texas. It was a long dark moment of knowing nothing at all about anyone or anything we ever knew.
The news began to trickle in slowly but none of it was good. We saw pictures of our neighborhood with water up to the roofs. We slowly got reports from people we knew who were scattered all across the country in places they had gone to take refuge. Some of them said they would never return.
Next came reports and pictures of toxic laden mud through out our Parish and talk of houses that needed to be bulldozed into the ground that was said to be uninhabitable. Rescues of people, animals and the retrieving of bodies went on with all the pictures being shown daily on Baton Rouge TV stations. If things weren’t glum enough then we began the business of trying to call FEMA and Red Cross.
My wife must have dialed FEMA over 500 times before getting through. Then we were promised a packet in the mail after they took our information. We have still not reached the Red Cross and they are still talking about gathering 40,000 volunteers to help answer the phones. The insurance company that covered our house informed us that their coverage would cover our house only and no more but they are not sure they can do anything without seeing the house. But no one is seeing our house not even us. The St. Bernard Parish President Junior Rodrigues held a news conference in the capitol building here last night and spoke of months before residents could return, not weeks. Only hours before this bad news came in we went to get shots to protect us from a host of diseases that we could get if and when we do return.
Our bank accounts were not accessible and money doesn’t grow on trees even in this fertile Mississippi valley so I thought of making an appeal on my own little one page website. Now we feel as if we are caught between the warnings people are hearing about fraudulent sites collecting for Red Cross and other organizations and indifference. No one as yet has responded to the appeal but then only 35 or 40 people a day click on my site.
My wife volunteered her help in feeding some 200 people in a shelter here. She helped prepare the food and serve it. The food was provided by a small Baptist church in Erwinville, Louisiana. Later we visited the people in the shelter and we are continuing to do so when we are not knocking our heads on the wall in the biggest communications nightmare in the history of the telephone. We asked one family if there was something we could get for them in the shelter, they asked for a bible. We purchased it the next day and delivered it to them in person. That warmed us greatly, not the giving of the bible but the request for it. Unlike stories out of the Superdome, this was a wonderful family of black Americans that had a different set of values. And thousands like them are suffering and waiting to begin their lives again, just as we are.
We have had several invitations to go and live with family and friends in other towns and in other states but we are staying close to New Orleans to attempt a look see and to retrieve what we can. So far all we are hearing is stay away and of course the endless buzzing of the busy signal from the aid organizations.
We are a praying couple, and when we talk to Jesus we are sure he is saying, I love you and I will take care of it all. We believe Him and we are very grateful that his line was not busy.
Background: Hurricane Katrina was the 11th named storm and 5th hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. It was the costliest natural disaster, as well as one of the 5 deadliest hurricanes, in the history of the United States. Hurricane Katrina is currently ranked as the 3rd most intense United States landfalling tropical cyclone, behind only the 1935 Labor Day hurricane and Hurricane Camille in 1969. More than 1833 people died in the hurricane and subsequent floods, making it the deadliest United States hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane. Total damage was estimated at above $105 billion, making it the most costly hurricane in terms of economic damage.