Ongoing Katrina journal (warning: long and detailed)

Discuss the recovery and aftermath of landfalling hurricanes. Please be sensitive to those that have been directly impacted. Political threads will be deleted without notice. This is the place to come together not divide.

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#21 Postby myred » Tue Sep 06, 2005 8:44 am

Is the rest of the story comming?
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#22 Postby LAwxrgal » Tue Sep 06, 2005 8:58 am

myred wrote:Is the rest of the story comming?


Yes, as soon as I either 1) get it transferred from my laptop and 2) return home. I've had a death in the family too... so the hits keep on coming :lol:
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Re: Prelude to Armageddon (warning: long and detailed)

#23 Postby donsutherland1 » Tue Sep 06, 2005 9:54 am

Fantastic piece, LAwxrgal.

Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I'm very sorry to learn of the death in the family and you have my fullest condolences.
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#24 Postby LAwxrgal » Tue Sep 06, 2005 2:20 pm

Time to go
“The National Weather Service has issued a hurricane warning from Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Alabama-Florida state line, including metropolitan New Orleans,” so screamed the television set in my bedroom. “That means hurricane conditions are likely in the warning area within twenty-four hours.”

Those were the first words I heard on Sunday, August 28. Around my neighborhood, it was a pretty typical Sunday. It didn't look like a day with a hurricane warning attached to it. I could swear I had never seen a more gorgeous sunrise in the summertime. I remember the clear, cloudless sky and the breeze swaying through the trees. People had gone to church. They were sitting on their porches in wicker chairs, talking on their cell phones. They were walking up and down the street. Nobody had any clue what would happen.

I then turned on my television, and my eyes were drawn to the satellite image on the screen. Hurricane Katrina was even more perfectly donut-shaped and round. In weather speak, she was annular. I had to hold my breath. I was incredulous by how much she’d blossomed even overnight. She was a storm in full flight, spinning around in the water. I couldn’t believe how beautiful she was. But I couldn’t enjoy the view. I had to run away and hide from her.

Frantic, I dialed my sister in Houston again. “We’ve got to get out of here,” I told her.

“What?” Monica asked drowsily. I could hear her chomping on her Cheerios through the receiver. "I just got up."

“Katrina’s a Category Five hurricane, with 160 mile-an-hour winds," I announced to her. "They just issued a hurricane warning, and it's headed straight for us. This storm's much too powerful. I’m not staying here.”

“Danielle, I’m tired of hearing about this. You’re panicking,” she said. “This won’t be as bad as you think it will be. I’m getting ready to go to work.”

“Monica, listen to me, this is serious!” I shouted in the receiver. “It's going to be as bad as I think it's going to be. This storm’s coming.”
After resigning herself to admit that there's a possibility that I might be right, she then went on to give me the directions to the apartment she had moved to, in Houston. It was a straight shoot, off Interstate 10. A blind man could find it.

I had difficulty sleeping the night before, and even more difficulty eating breakfast that morning. Within twenty-four hours, the table at which I sat could be submerged. The roof, which already seemed to be held on by rubber bands and Scotch tape, could be blown off. Everything I had could be gone.

I looked again at the satellite image, and I couldn’t believe what I saw. Katrina was a buzz-saw, bullying her way through the Gulf of Mexico, her mind made up to stroll down Bourbon Street. Thoughts of what could await me when I returned consumed my mind. I had never been more afraid in my entire life.

As the morning wore on, more sobering news arrived: mandatory evacuations were ordered for the entire New Orleans metropolitan area, for the first time in history. We no longer had a choice. We had to go.

How would you like to have an hour to pack your whole life in a few loosely put-together suitcases? How would you like to have to decide what to take and what to leave behind? How would you like to have to go somewhere, anywhere, and not know where you're going, when you'll return, or whether you'll have a place to return to? We threw together a loose amalgam of birth certificates, Bibles, and a few changes of clothing. I added several computer disks and my laptop computer. I also packed my mother's medicines. I tried to be brave, but I was scared out of my wits.

Thinking of another option, I dialed a special-needs shelter in Baton Rouge. My mother was furious that I’d done that.

“I’m not going to any damned shelter!” she yelled at the top of her lungs, her voice straining to get her point across. With a much firmer tone, she added, “I’m not going to be anywhere where I don’t know anyone.”
“I’d rather be there,” I told her, “than anywhere in our area. If this thing hits as strong as they say it will, all of this could be either underwater or destroyed.”

After my mother convinced me that a special-needs shelter probably wasn't the best idea, I had to now deal with my other sister. Melissa is even more stubborn than Monica is. What’s more, Melissa has three children and lives in a mobile home in a rural area accessible with only one road. A mobile home can barely withstand a tropical storm, much less a hurricane as powerful as Katrina. The urgency of leaving hadn’t quite gotten through her thick skull. She was in complete denial. I pleaded with her, “You can’t stay there.”

I could almost hear Melissa’s frown. “Why not?” she asked.
“Because there’s a very strong hurricane and it’s headed this way.”

I could picture Melissa giving me one of those incredulous looks, as if she were standing before me, talking to me. “You’re crazy! There isn’t a hurricane out there! It’s a great day today.”

“Missy, I’m serious. Turn on your TV now.”

Sure enough, I heard the television blaring hurricane warnings through the receiver. “Don’t be fooled by the perfect weather,” the anchorman warned. “This is a dangerous storm and all in its path must leave.”

Melissa muted the television and then asked me, “Where are we going?”

I thought about it for a moment. “I think we ought to try Houston, where Monica lives.”

“Are you crazy?” Melissa asked me. “I can’t drive all the way to Houston!”

“You want to know what’s crazy?” I asked. “A Category Five hurricane threatening the city of New Orleans. That’s what’s crazy. Getting out of here actually makes sense.”

Melissa, who lives about twenty minutes away from me, promised she would be there soon.

After getting off the phone with her, I knocked on my uncle’s door. “They’ve ordered mandatory evacuations,” I told him with a serious poker face. “We’ve got to go.”

He reluctantly agreed to bring me and my mother to my aunt’s house. I could still tell that he was skeptical about the storm’s path and effects.

While I waited for my uncle to prepare to bring us, I decided to knock on the doors of clueless neighbors. I felt that it was my duty to inform them of the impending threat. I walked across the street to the Joneses. The Joneses were a young lot, consisting of a mother barely out of her teens and three children. They were watching a movie on cable, while the children ran around with their toys. “They’ve ordered a mandatory evacuation, you got to go.” I didn’t explain anymore, instead, I left them to ponder my words. It was clear to me that I had struck a nerve for them, and that they had no idea what was going on.

The next family at whose residence I arrived was the Whites. Rosemary White was a diabetic on dialysis with three grown sons. The youngest son’s girlfriend answered the door. She looked at me like I was crazy. I didn’t mince words with her. I told her she and her family had to pack up and leave. I had to explain to her why. She had even less of a clue than the Joneses did.

Fifteen minutes later, Melissa showed up, along with her kids. After about half an hour of last-minute preparations and wheeling mother out of the house, we decided to meet at my aunt’s place twenty minutes or so west of where we lived. West, of course, at that point was better than east. I had made up my mind that I wasn’t staying there. My mother, however, wanted to stay there, with the rest of her family.

I screamed, “You can’t stay here!"

"Why not?"

"Suppose the levee breaks and the whole street fills with water. What are you going to do then? You can’t move!”

My mother cried. And so did I.

After more begging and pleading, I finally convinced my mother to take the ride with the rest of us to Houston.
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#25 Postby LAwxrgal » Tue Sep 06, 2005 2:26 pm

On the road
At noon on Sunday, seven of us piled into a gray Ford Escort and pulled out of my aunt’s driveway, headed for parts unknown, not knowing whether we would ever see it again or whether it would still be standing when we returned.

It became a race against time. I figured that since Katrina’s estimated time of arrival was Monday morning, with some of her outer bands moving in Sunday evening, it would take us a few hours to completely clear out of her sphere of influence. We reached the interstate at Gonzales in Ascension Parish. Interstate 10 was bumper-to-bumper, full of cars and SUVs and campers and boats heading out of the New Orleans area. The traffic was so slow that I thought on several occasions we would never get to our destination.

Usually when we take long car trips we like to listen to music. But on this morning, the apocalyptic weather reports filled the air. The more time passed, the more ominous they became. Katrina had reached the Holy Grail of hurricanes. She had become the fourth strongest storm on record in the Atlantic Basin. Her maximum winds had increased to 175 miles per hour, with gusts as high as 220. She was, indeed, the perfect storm. So perfect, in fact, that the scenario setting up was catastrophic. Off our coast was Armageddon – the end of life as we knew it.

The same feelings of dread and uncertainty were echoed in some of the many weary travelers we encountered. “Is this what they went through in Florida?” one lady asked me in a restroom in Breaux Bridge, just east of Lafayette.

“None of the storms that threatened Florida last year,” I reminded her, “was a Category 5 monster.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of. I’m scared I won’t have anything left when I get back. If I get back.”

We continued to creep along I-10 west, stopping occasionally to seek hotels. None were available. At every stop we made, we were given the same refrain. “No vacancies.” “I’m sorry we don’t have any rooms.” “We’re booked until Wednesday.”

We had already been on the road for four hours and were weary of riding. The three children in the backseat were restless beyond belief. We filled up with gas, got some snacks, and got a stretch. I went in and picked up a couple of Advil to deal with the splitting headache I’d gotten. What we didn’t know was that our trip was just beginning.

While back on the road, we passed the scenic town of Westlake, with a lake that emptied into the Gulf of Mexico. Looking down at the lake, one would never know that the monster storm known as Katrina was lurking just to its southeast. Only a few ripples gently caressed the shoreline, while the boats cuddled next to the marina and the beach. By that time we had been on the road five and a half hours.

While I looked down at the marina and over at the hazy late-summer sky, I was certain that we had outrun Katrina. But what about those that couldn’t and wouldn’t get out? What would we find when we returned? My soul was consumed with dread.
Last edited by LAwxrgal on Wed Sep 07, 2005 9:34 am, edited 1 time in total.
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#26 Postby Stormtrack » Tue Sep 06, 2005 4:48 pm

LAwxrgal wrote:Time to go

Frantic, I dialed my sister in Houston again. “We’ve got to get out of here,” I told her.

“What?” Monica asked drowsily. I could hear her chomping on her Cheerios through the receiver. "I just got up.".

How did you know they were cheerios? I never would have guessed you're an author...lol. The important thing is you and your family are safe. The country will help you rebuild or relocate.
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#27 Postby Hfcomms » Tue Sep 06, 2005 5:42 pm

Your missive is quite incredible and I'm glad your doing it. Your familes denial is probably quite common but they have you to thank for their very lives. Both them and your neighbors if they made it out.

How could one who is not dumb and deaf not know a hurricane was out in the gulf?? All the news, papers, radio stations ect were doing nothing but talking about it.

I'm not sure my family would of survived as I don't know if I could of been as persistant as you were. I would do my best to explain the situation but if you care for their lives more than they do.............. short of clubbing them over the heads and throwing them in the back of the truck I don't know what more you could of done.

I don't buy many books but you can sure write. There might be some good books coming out of this experience. God Bless.
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#28 Postby decgirl66 » Tue Sep 06, 2005 6:27 pm

OMG...I am sitting on the edge of my seat...when is the next installment??
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#29 Postby LAwxrgal » Wed Sep 07, 2005 9:14 am

DOUBLE POST :P
Last edited by LAwxrgal on Wed Sep 07, 2005 9:15 am, edited 1 time in total.
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#30 Postby LAwxrgal » Wed Sep 07, 2005 9:14 am

Stormtrack wrote:
LAwxrgal wrote:Time to go

Frantic, I dialed my sister in Houston again. “We’ve got to get out of here,” I told her.

“What?” Monica asked drowsily. I could hear her chomping on her Cheerios through the receiver. "I just got up.".

How did you know they were cheerios?


That's what she eats in the morning. :lol:
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#31 Postby LAwxrgal » Wed Sep 07, 2005 9:16 am

decgirl66 wrote:OMG...I am sitting on the edge of my seat...when is the next installment??


When I get home. I'm still in Houston. I managed to get those two typed in. Next I'll tell you what happened while we were here in Texas the morning Katrina hit.
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#32 Postby LAwxrgal » Wed Sep 07, 2005 9:19 am

Hfcomms wrote:Your missive is quite incredible and I'm glad your doing it. Your familes denial is probably quite common but they have you to thank for their very lives. Both them and your neighbors if they made it out.

How could one who is not dumb and deaf not know a hurricane was out in the gulf?? All the news, papers, radio stations ect were doing nothing but talking about it.

I'm not sure my family would of survived as I don't know if I could of been as persistant as you were. I would do my best to explain the situation but if you care for their lives more than they do.............. short of clubbing them over the heads and throwing them in the back of the truck I don't know what more you could of done.

I don't buy many books but you can sure write. There might be some good books coming out of this experience. God Bless.


Thank you!

Yes, these neighbors were completely clueless. Heck, some family members were completely clueless. They had no idea there was even a storm in the gulf. We've had so many near-misses with hurricanes in the last few years that nobody paid attention to this one.

And I think a lot of people paid the price unfortunately. :cry:

Most people in my area just don't pay attention to the tropics, at least not as much as they should, living where they do.

I'm going to tell you guys a secret. I probably wouldn't have paid as much attention to Katrina if not for Storm2K and that member who showed me the forecast models clustered around New Orleans 3 days before she hit. Like I said in the beginning, I was fairly confident that Katrina would go elsewhere. It probably wouldn't have hit me that she was worthy of my attention until probably when the local stations did round-the-clock coverage.

And no, I don't doubt that there will be some books coming out of Katrina. Maybe one by me, but certainly some by others. :D
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#33 Postby JenBayles » Wed Sep 07, 2005 10:28 am

BUMP! BUMP! BUMP! Can someone "Sticky" this thing so I don't miss the next installment?!
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question

#34 Postby RichG » Wed Sep 07, 2005 11:36 am

LAwxrgal

Thanks for your reports. I think for historical reference it is important for us outside of NO to understand the depth of the lack of complacency on the part of everyday people. In South Florida where we are vulnerable, however we are not as vulnerable as NO, people are very aware of the tropics. EVERY media outlet every year does some type of hurricane education reports furthermore, all media hypes every storm. I guess my question is did NO have that type of education every year and was there constant education as what could happen to the levees in cat 4 or 5 storm? I cannot get my head wrapped around the fact the folks there were so complacent. I am wondering if there was a lack of attention to NO unique situation. Thank you.
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Re: question

#35 Postby LAwxrgal » Wed Sep 07, 2005 1:56 pm

RichG wrote:LAwxrgal

Thanks for your reports. I think for historical reference it is important for us outside of NO to understand the depth of the lack of complacency on the part of everyday people. In South Florida where we are vulnerable, however we are not as vulnerable as NO, people are very aware of the tropics. EVERY media outlet every year does some type of hurricane education reports furthermore, all media hypes every storm. I guess my question is did NO have that type of education every year and was there constant education as what could happen to the levees in cat 4 or 5 storm? I cannot get my head wrapped around the fact the folks there were so complacent. I am wondering if there was a lack of attention to NO unique situation. Thank you.


I can't speak for the city proper, but the area I'm in is quite complacent. Sure there are some parts that have a little bit of knowledge, but for the most part a lot of people in my area are fairly complacent. They have access to televisions, and some to the internet, but a lack of knowledge definitely contributed to the scope of this disaster.

And even now, in my area, there is a huge sigh of relief because most of Katrina's damage and devastation was to the east of me. Not far to the east, about 40 miles or so.
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#36 Postby LAwxrgal » Wed Sep 07, 2005 1:59 pm

Are we there yet?
After another hour of driving and sightseeing, we reached the Louisiana-Texas border. Of course, a border is not a point, neither is it seen (except on maps) save for a star sculpture and a sign which read “Welcome to Texas.” Tents were set up in the entire area, with free food, maps, water, and an area where people could rest and chat. Even Salvation Army vehicles surrounded the area.

Melissa, treating the impromptu trip like a vacation, wanted to take pictures of the “Welcome to Texas” sign to her right. She and her boyfriend constantly argued during the trip, about where they were going, what they were going to do, and how they were going to do it. It became sickening. Even though I and just about everyone else wanted to check out the rest stop, the boyfriend wanted to keep going, so we did.

The five-year-old, Logan, who is hearing-impaired, decided he needed to go potty, so we had to take a stop on the side of the road to allow him to relieve himself. His seven-year-old sister Pamela had to cover him up to do that, so that passing cars wouldn’t see him doing that.

Getting back on the road proved even more of a challenge. It was getting dark, and the kids were becoming even more restless, if that was at all possible. Upon getting through the maze of construction reaching Baytown, we made another stop – at Popeye’s Chicken. At least something from home was familiar. Everything else seemed like it was transplanted from an entirely different country.

We took many detours in southeast Texas due to construction on the interstate – first between Orange and Beaumont, and then in Houston itself. The traffic detour really threw us for a loop. I thought for awhile we were going in circles. The eventual trip from Beaumont to east Houston took another three hours, when on a normal day it only took one. By that time it was eleven at night. I dialed Monica again to let her know we had made it into Houston, and were on our way to her place.

In another fifteen minutes, we were unpacking our bags and walking up the staircase with the stuff. The eleven-hour trip was over, and now it was time to rest. Of course rest was a foreign word at this time, because I was sick with worry for the people back home. Because we didn’t have internet access and we were unfamiliar with the Houston area radio stations, we wouldn’t know what the next day would bring.
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#37 Postby LAwxrgal » Wed Sep 07, 2005 2:00 pm

I have a next installment, but it takes place while the storm hits and dealing with its aftermath. So it can't be a "Prelude" anymore, right? :D
Last edited by LAwxrgal on Sat Sep 10, 2005 12:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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#38 Postby LAwxrgal » Sat Sep 10, 2005 12:24 pm

Since I'm hoooome... :D I'll treat all of y'all to one more installment...the later parts aren't done yet...


The day after tomorrow
I awakened at about six in the morning on Monday, August 29 – a day that would live on in United States and hurricane infamy. It was still dark in and around the Houston apartment complex where my sisters, mother and I were holed up. Ironically, it turned out to be the same time Katrina showed up at the mouth of the Mississippi River, near Buras. Most hurricanes make landfall at night. Katrina was brazen enough to show up at sunrise, right on schedule.

She pounded the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts with high winds, torrential rainfall, and astronomical storm surge. As the day wore on, while I enjoyed perfectly hot late-summer weather, my remaining family, neighbors, and friends to the east were dealing with their uninvited guest. I felt a little guilty.

We decided that, to get our minds off the situation back home, we would go exploring around the Houston area. So we woke up, bathed, and got in the car to explore the area of the city we found ourselves in. Our first destination was a rather large pet store, where the kids saw rabbits, birds, and even white mice kept as pets. The kids were most interested, though, in the many colors of tropical fish that swam around in the various aquariums lining the walls.

After leaving the pet store, we decided to ride around, not knowing where we were. We wound up driving around the interstate looking for a Wal-Mart, just to kill time. Somehow wandering away from the group, I found a McDonalds where a New Orleans area television station was playing, albeit the reception wasn’t great. I watched this local station along with other evacuees from the area, who were, like me, trying to find out news from home.

Through the local station, I learned Katrina had yet another trick up her sleeves. She weakened a tad and veered a little east of her projected path, supposedly sparing the metropolitan New Orleans area and bringing the bulk of her ferocious winds and heavy rains to the eastern part of the city, to lower Plaquemines and St. Bernard, and to the Mississippi gulf coast. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I thought we had dodged yet another bullet, but cringed at the realization that thousands of people in southern Mississippi might not have evacuated, thinking the storm would hit New Orleans.

We did get one glimpse of Katrina's power in Houston as we returned to the apartment -- a lone, far-outer thunderstorm that developed around her center of circulation. This was a particularly violent but short-lived storm, with a burst of heavy rain and gusty winds.

It was as if she decided to send me a postcard.

As soon as it passed, though, we decided to hear news of the storm's passage at the apartment. We saw video of her ferocious winds, heavy rain, and storm surge. Through a phone call to my mother, which she relayed to me that evening, my doubting-Thomas uncle, the Vietnam vet who stayed in our home just to prove Katrina wasn't coming, admitted the storm had frightened him, too. “The winds sounded like a freight train,” he said. “I could hear debris crashing against the side of the house.”

Speaking of our home, the hours that I hadn't heard about its fate seemed like an eternity. As far as I could tell from the various reports I got, I thought most of the New Orleans area had been spared the worst of the catastrophic damage, although I'd heard Monica's friend and co-worker in New Orleans east lost everything.

I was wrong.
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#39 Postby simplykristi » Sat Sep 10, 2005 12:40 pm

Thank you for sharing your experience. I look forward to reading more. My thoughts and prayers are with you and everyone affected by the hurricane and its aftermath.

Kristi
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#40 Postby azskyman » Sun Sep 11, 2005 8:53 am

LaWxGal....clearly you have a gift for promoting intuition into action (and it may have saved some lives) that only comes from people knowing you and respecting you. That you sensed that inaction could be deadly is a credit to both you AND your growing relationship to S2k.

You also have wonderfully sorted through all the confusion of those early days to paint word pictures for those of us who have been watching and reading about the "collective" agonies of countless thousands.

The personal side you are presenting puts a wonderful perspective we all need to see and read.

I hope you do write that book. As a weather fan for decades, I would offer to write a Foreward for you to review and consider.

You have a gift, and it could surely become part of the healing process that must now take place around this country.
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