One of my favorite shows (Ghost Adventures on Travel Channel: http://www.travelchannel.com/tv-shows/ghost-adventures ) did an episode in New Orleans and now my mind is on Katrina. I’ve said for so long that I needed to get what I remember down on paper but it’s still exhausting to think about.
I’ve lived in Louisiana my whole life, with the exception of one year at the top of the Uinta mountains in Wyoming. My mother grew up about 5 blocks away from the apartment where I now live and has also lived here her whole life. You have to remember that Katrina was a level 3 hurricane until right before she made landfall and the thinking of the people who lived in the city was that NOLA had survived Camille (1969- my mother was 8 months pregnant with my sister) which was a category 5, and Betsy (1965) which was a category 4. Nobody wanted to pack up and run from a cat 3. We’ve all done that. It’s expensive and inconvenient and when you leave you’re wondering if there’s damage to your stuff in a house that may or may not have been broken into while you were gone. Plus, nobody was making a big deal out of this storm. These were the weather reports we were watching:
One of my sisters and myself were both in college at SLU in Hammond. We’re very close and have never spent a storm apart so I stayed with her in her apartment in Hammond, my parents were with my brother in Bogalusa and my other sister was in Mandeville. We were all less than 45 minutes away from each other and the storm wasn’t supposed to be that bad. I remember the exact moment I really scared was when they said the storm had knocked over a buoy in the gulf- which just doesn’t happen.
Katrina made landfall Monday morning, but we hadn’t had power or cell phone signals since Saturday so all we had were AM radio stations to keep us informed of what was going on. All of our family left the city (and only the ones from St Bernard parish ever went back) and we all knew where everybody was supposed to be- we were lucky. Really though, the actual hurricane wasn’t that bad. I mean, it was bad ass hurricane, no doubt- but it wasn’t even as bad as Andrew while the hurricane was passing. Also, nobody actually thought that this hurricane was going to hit New Orleans the way it did. Here is a map of the landfalls in Louisiana:
Right before we lost power this was the kind of forecasts we saw:
When the storm was over we thought we were in the clear but the worst hadn’t even come yet.
So during a hurricane, I don’t know what other families do but mine pretty much sits by any available window not boarded up and watches what’s going on outside. Since you’re scared and always lose power its the only way to know what’s going on. Like you can tell when the eye is over you. Its creepy as hell. It’ll be hurricane weather and then the rain will let up and it won’t be dark outside anymore- it’ll be just like any rainy day until the eye passes and the sky goes dark again. This is the only real means people have though to put into perspective where the storm is and how fast its moving. We weren’t hearing what was really going on on the radio. I remember they said that the levee had been breached but we really had no idea of the extent of what happened until much later.
In Hammond there were so many trees and power lines everywhere that even if you tried to venture out on foot and see what was happening you couldn’t go far. However, when you’ve been locked inside for like 3 days you have to get some fresh air and move around so we did walk around some in the neighborhood. We had no lights and I don’t remember if we had running water but as a general rule after a big storm you use bottled water- never use tap water until you have word that its ok.
I think we ate ramen noodles everyday for almost a week. We would put them in a pot of water and let them sit there until they were soft enough to eat cold. After a few days we could somewhat communicate. We couldn’t make calls on our cell phones but we could text. When I say we could text I mean we could text my Aunt Renee in Connecticut and she could forward that text to my sister 20 minutes away. Everybody was accounted for except for my parents. The word-of-mouth grapevine was that you couldn’t get into Washington Parish and since there was no such thing as more gasoline we couldn’t risk leaving until we knew. Nobody could even get a text through to them and we were started to panic. My dad is a diabetic and we didn’t know if they had ice to keep his insulin cold and my grandmother has health problems including Alzheimer’s and we didn’t know if they had enough medication to last until the pharmacies opened.
At the time I had been working for Wal-Mart and they said on the radio that the Wal-Mart in Port Allen was open and set up so that employees could come get hurricane relief funds (I think it was $300) and we knew if stores were open they probably had gas, too. Now Port Allen was at least an hour away with no traffic, but it was the closest civilized life and if we couldnt get enough gas to get back from Bogalusa, then we couldn’t go there and we still had no word from my parents so we really had no choice.
We loaded up every gas can we could find and headed to Port Allen. It took about 3 hours to get there in traffic and by the time we were halfway there we didn’t have enough gas to get home. I got to the Wal-Mart and the managers said that I didn’t look needy enough and couldn’t get the hurricane relief funds and I broke down. I made them let me use the phone to call home office and I told them what had happened and how we had used the last of our gas to get there for a lousy 300 bucks and if we weren’t desperate why in hell would we have come so far? So they gave it to me and (along with some dirty looks) and we made the trip back to Hammond to get ready to make the trip to Bogalusa to try to get to my parents.
We found some guy that had gotten through who told us how to get there going around Amite and coming up through the back way into Franklinton. Eventually we made it, when we got closer to my parents we drove through paths that were basically holes cut out of tree trunks laying across the roads. I had a Ford Focus and in some spots tree trunks were scraping the top of my car- just so you know how small these cut outs were. They were ok. The national guard had been there handing out ice and the only major problem was that my grandmother would be out of her medications in the next week or so and there was no way the pharmacies would be open any time soon or they were coming back with us. Eventually we found an Eckerd’s who let us fill them and our problems were solved.
So back to New Orleans the day of the storm…
During and right after the storm, this is the kind of stuff we were hearing on the radio and sometimes they play it but we really weren’t sure what was happening. At 1:01:01 of this clip you can hear this reporter getting choked up talking about hearing people screaming for help and they had to suspend the rescue efforts.
They’re talking about Katrina shutting down the damn oil refineries and how safe the water was going to be or not be. They never mentioned the death toll on the radio that I recall. On this news footage they briefly mention that at least one person saw one body and that’s all they said but we didn’t know anything about any of that for a while. It just wasn’t something they were focusing on. I don’t know why this has always bothered me so bad, but I’ve always been pissed that that with all the news coverage of Katrina’s aftermath, the lives that Katrina took never got a moment of silence. Those people deserved that. Here are some firefighters accounts of the levee breach that no one ever saw:
Then there were all the people stranded in the Superdome. Officials came back later and said the reports were totally exaggerated and they didn’t find any evidence to support all these atrocities but I know people who were in there and the ones who can even talk about it said that the reports of what was going on there were true. The following are some accounts from people who were inside the dome:
Then there was the Convention Center:
Then came the house to house searches. I’m not trying to downplay the rescue efforts, but I am telling you that were were houses that were marked empty and weren’t. A friend of mine’s cousin went home to a house marked empty and found (her cousin’s) father dead in the house. This was weeks after the storm. Plus everyone criticized the police for looting. They weren’t taking flat screen TVs, they were hungry. I know a guy that was on one of the swat teams and he said they started eating pigeons because they were stranded under a bridge with no food.
and yes, it even gets worse…
The Hospitals and Nursing Homes:
(Charity Hospital was the mac-daddy hospital where they took you when no one else could help you.)
Memorial Medical Center
St Rita’s Nursing Home
Lafon Nursing Home of the Holy Family
Here’s just this family’s account of their stay in the city and it’s awesome:
There are still a lot of negative remnants. There are still people who were never accounted for. There are countless victims of violent crime that suffered and will never have justice for what happened to them. There is still a lot of truth that is ignored because its ugly. There is deep mistrust of our government and its willingness to help the people of New Orleans when its needed.
Chris Rose is a writer for the Times Picayune and was here the whole time. He put together his articles from the ordeal into a book titled “1 dead in attic” I have it and its amazing.
New Orleans has seen epidemics and natural disasters and self-inflicted problems galore but in the long run- nobody can keep New Orleans down. These are some of my favorite things I’ll leave you with.