Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hurricane Katrina Anniversary- Part 1

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.


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Wow! I don't know why I never asked you about your Katrina experience before. How scary! Of course we watched all the TV coverage too, but this really brings it home.

Holli said...

Marilyn, I guess it's because I've had other problems much more recently to talk about! I like to think my life is dull compared to my characters, but not always.


Sunny Frazier said...

I was sailing on a cruise ship to Alaska when a rumbling started among the passengers that New Orleans no longer existed. It sounded too weird. We tried to get a news channel on the TV. Finally, we were gathered and the cruise director calmly told us of the hurricane.

The shock of it all, the guilt of being on a wonderful cruise while a whole city suffered--well, let's just say it put a damper on the trip. Until I met you, Holli, I didn't know anyone from New Orleans. Now it hits home even harder.

Thanks for your post.

BillieJohn said...

Holli...thanks so much for your bird's eye view of the Katrina days.

Not to take anything away from that city by the bay, but my heart was stolen by New Orleans many years ago. When Katrina hit, I had several dear friends and a few colleagues there who I was frantically trying to get information about.

What a time! Thanks for sharing!


Kaye Barley said...

Holli, I can't even begin to imagine what you and your family and friends went through with this. It must still hurt, deeply and to the core, for you to talk about it.

Anonymous said...

Holli, my uncle died in 1995, 10 years before Katrina. He had lived through a number of hurricanes in the 30+ years he lived in New Orleans. He would never have left the city; as a Catholic priest his greatest joy was being with the dying, offering them the sacraments.

He was a chaplain for the NOPD as well as for the hospital. He would tell us about the successful experiences he had with those who were on the bridge, desperate enough to jump into the river. We never heard about the times the river won.

I have a post ready for tomorrow in which I use Dan Baum's book NINE LIVES. There will be another on Sunday.

Although it has taken me considerably off topic on my blog, it is something I had to do for him and for the people who meant so much to him. As I wrote in today's post, 1 Dead in Attic could have been on of his friends, could have been one of the people I got to meet on visits to New Orleans.

People died because of indifference.


Marja said...

I simply can't even imagine what it must have been like. We're on the west coast, but we were glued to the TV, shaking our heads in disbelief. I'm so glad you had the foresight to leave when you did.

Holli said...

Thanks everyone for the comments. Our biggest fear now is that the public officials, the same ones who didn't rise to the occasion five years ago, are saying they think the levees will hold up just fine through another hurricane, which means many people who actually did leave last time may decide not to if we are threatened again.

M.M. Gornell said...

Oh Holli, to hear about Katrina from you makes it so very real, and heart wrenching. I got the shivers. How it must have felt leaving,,,

Just saw a TV report today about questions concerning the new levy pumps (if that's the right words) Good grief. Stay safe

(what we worry about in CA is earthquakes, and for some reason they don't seem as scary to me a hurricanes)

jrlindermuth said...

What a devastating experience for you and your beautiful city. It's hard for outsiders to imagine what it must have been like.
I have a personal memory of another hurricane called Agnes back in 1972. I was en route home from upstate New York with my then wife, our children and my mother when flooding from the storm marooned us 20 miles from home for nearly a week in a National Guard armory. Coincidentally another storm had stranded my father in the same town in 1936.

Stacey Pearson said...

I hope we never, never, never forget ....

Stacey Pearson

Lori Trahant Drury said...

Wow Holli, that really brings back memories. I moved to Baton Rouge in 2004 but was still commuting to my job in New Orleans for a while afterward. I vividly remember going to work the Friday before Katrina and seeing the weather report right before I got on the road to come home that afternoon. A few people at my office were starting to make hotel reservations, but most were just going about their day with the impression that the storm was headed to Florida. I remember calling my sisters on my way home who lived on the West Bank and telling them that they needed to watch the weather report and evacuate to my home. They weren't worried at the time either, but on Saturday they both decided to come to my house. We went to the grocery that night to stock up on supplies and it was very eerie to see almost every shelf at Wal Mart completely empty. Gas stations were closing because they were out of gas. The next few days were so stressful as we sat in the dark with no power listening to the news reports on the radio and worrying whether their homes had survived. I hope we never have to experience that again!

shirley said...

Glad you got out Ok. How sad to have watched the coverage of the storm, and now as NO begins to recover, to see it impacted again by the oil spill. How brave of the people to fight to bring this exceptional city back.

Anonymous said...

Holli -- thanks for sharing your experiences with everyone! Glad you evacuated. -- Brenda W.