On this date five years ago, I was living in a state of blissful ignorance. It was a Friday, and there was a hurricane called Katrina that we were sort of keeping an eye on. I say sort of, because forecasters had it going to Florida. We figured it would hit Florida and weaken as it traveled inland, as hurricanes do, and we might get a few showers, maybe a little wind. We had already thought, as this time, that we had missed the big one.
I sent my daughter to school that day, the first Friday of the first week of first grade, in a new school no less. She had attended a Catholic school for Pre-K and Kindergarten, but the first of several magnet schools to come had opened in our parish, and although it meant a half-hour drive every morning and afternoon, when my daughter tested in there was no doubt we would try it out.
My younger daughter, a little over a month away from turning four, stayed home with me every day, having just missed the cut off for Pre-K by three days.
In any event, that day started the same as every other day that week, nothing special. There was no talk of a hurricane, and no provisions had been discussed at the school. Just as we were not busy securing our houses or packing our belongings, the school system was not taking the time to secure the buildings for a big storm, nor send home the plethora of school supplies we had just purchased.
Sometime Friday night, well after school and work hours, the newscasters started to get a little jumpy. One in particular who tends to be a Chicken Little had the sky falling, and soon the other weathermen joined her.
I alternated between calling my mother, who had been living alone for the past six months since my father died, and lived about fifteen minutes away from me, and calling my sister, who had a four-month old baby and a nine-year old. We vacillated, unable to decide if we should evacuate. Many times in the past we had contemplated, sometimes going so far as making reservations, and then deciding to stay put and not leave.
By late Friday night, we still believed everyone was overreacting. My mother tried to talk me out of evacuating. It was assumed if we left, my mother would come with me, and she really didn’t want to leave. My sister’s husband worked for some internet tech company, and if an evacuation was officially ordered, he would be relocated to continue working to keep websites up, and my sister and her children would go with him.
Late Friday night I made reservations. I assumed, as did so many of us, that we would be gone for the weekend, and by Monday when the storm didn’t hit us or didn’t turn out to be as bad as we thought, we would be going back home. We were going to Houston, mainly because it was the New Orleans thing to do. I had been to Houston so many times I knew exactly where I wanted to stay, and what areas I wanted to avoid. I ended up reserving a room with two queen beds and a sofa bed for me, my mother and my two girls, because my husband had decided he was going to brave it out. Our hotel was something like 67 steps from the Macy’s entrance to the Galleria, and had swans in the lobby. I figured if we were going to be stuck out of town for the weekend, we might as well be comfortable.
We waited until the following day, Saturday, and threw together a few bags of our belongings, and hit the road prior to the mandatory evacuation being called. Traffic was fine until we hit Lake Charles, Louisiana, right before the Louisiana/Texas border. There was a wreck, and with all of the people fleeing the state, it put us off schedule by several hours. The normal 5 ½ hour trip took 9 hours. We arrived late that night, but we arrived, checked in, and started watching CNN.
After staying up all night and watching the various news channels, I called my husband and convinced him to get on the road and join us. Katrina had been upgraded to an expected category 5, with a track of a direct hit on our city. He left Sunday evening, and the rain began as he was still making his way out of Louisiana. He ended up at the hotel early Monday morning, mere hours before the hurricane made landfall.
And then we watched the cable news channels and waited.
I’ll post part 2, Katrina’s landfall, on the August 29, the fifth year anniversary.