With Hurricane Danielle in the Atlantic on a northward path and Tropical Storm Earl predicted to do the same, it seems as if the New Orleans area got a pass this year on the anniversary date of Hurricane Katrina. While the next two weeks are the most critical in development, it is hopeful that wind shear continues to turn each tropical system upward and out of our area. The rule of thumb my family follows is that if you don’t have something headed your way by Labor Day, you probably got very lucky because after that the cool fronts start coming down and the storms turn before they come near the panhandle of Florida. There are exceptions, of course, but the time we are in right now is when our fingers are on the panic button.
Katrina taught the people in this region some very serious lessons. The biggest I think is that if you decide to stay, even on the northshore where I live, you are pretty much on your own. With a storm of the magnitude of Katrina it is pretty much a definate that you are going to lose electricity, gas and water. There will also be no phone or cell service. Texting became the only option and this was sporadic at best. New Orleans may have flooded, but the southeastern states along the coast were devistated. We learned that if something this powerful is coming the best thing is to pack up and get out of its way. If you don’t, make sure you have a pretty powerful generator.
So many things happened during Katrina that we never considered. First of all, we remained isolated as trees and downed power lines littered the area. Some grocery stores were open, but what they had was limited because new stock could not be delivered. There were bans on alcohol sales due to the rowdiness of some of those that remained in shelters, and many feared for their safety and property as looting was now common.
As for me, I packed up and drove to Baton Rouge and stayed with friends. My husband, a fire captain in an area right outside of Orleans Parish, called Jefferson Parish, served during the storm as did my daughter who was an EMT for East Jefferson Hospital. They rode the storm out in a building called Doctor’s Hospital and spent the next three weeks trying to help put the city back together. My son who is, and was at the time, National Guard stayed in our home with my husband’s father and some of our extended family that had been invited to leave New Orleans and stay there. I chose not to stay because I’m a control freak and I knew that if the storm was going to be as powerful as they said, I would have a lot more to cope with than wind and rain.
I can not say enough how wonderful the people who took me in are. Brent Dozier and his wife Sherry and their children welcomed me with open arms. They were worried about the storm as well and had included me in thier plan to bug out if need be. These are some of the most selfless people I have ever met in my life. They knew I had no contact with my family and made it their business to keep me occupied. Their children, who were teenagers, took the time to spend with me, shopping for food and going to the mall to pick up things I had forgotten at home. Brent even came to our house after the storm and helped us repair our home. We are so lucky to have such wonderful friends.
I tried to return home the day after the storm and after many detours, I had to park in the hospital parking lot that was located on the corner of the street where my nieghborhood began. After climbing over trees marked by people who didn’t want to lose track of the path through our residential area, I finally made it home. The reason I made the trek is because the one call that did manage to get through from my husband was one in which he tearfully asked if I had heard from his father and he wondered if he and my son were alright. It was somewhat ironic when I reached my father-in-law standing outside of our home puffing on a cigarette. He looked at me suprised and said, “What?” I hugged him and told him I was glad he was safe and I did the same with my son, who was leaving to meet up with his National Guard Unit and was on orders to report to Zephyr Stadium.
My father – in – law and extended family returned to his house in Mandeville, which is still northshore, but was in the mandatory evacuation area. I however stayed. My son texted me and I told him I was fine, I was staying and he became very angry with me, informing me that I was not safe there alone. But control freak that I am, I stayed. He freaked me out so much at one point, that I walked to the hospital and stayed in the waiting room until the sun came up the next morning. My son obviously ratted me out to my husband (because he loves me, I know), and my husband made the trek to our house from the southshore to make me leave. It is true there was no electricity and no running water and no gas, but I wanted to stay with my home. Well, my husband broke down and cried and I suddenly realized that if I stayed he would not be able to do his job and help restore order to chaos. So I packed back up, and was taken back in by the Dozier family in Baton Rouge. Three weeks later, I was finally able to return home, as was my husband and daughter. My son was deployed directly from his Katrina tour of duty to Iraq.
Trees had fallen on two of the families cars and had to be towed from our home. One of the pine trees fell on the back of our home and our electical box and roof shingles had to be replaced. But for the most part our family was safe and things were returning to normal. It took a long time to get over what had happened, but now, five years later, we hope for a kinder, gentler season for very different reasons. Yes, we still worry about home and hearth, but we also worry about the remaining oil that has spilled into the gulf and how a massive storm will affect our seafood industry.
New challenges change the picture, but how we prepare these days is a direct result of what we learned from the experience of dealing with Hurricane Katrina. We take the usual measures, but Katrina has also taught us that during these weeks, a refrigerator that can be quickly cleaned out is better than coming home to find that the smell of rotten food is permanent, and the only solution is to replace the fridge. Stocking up on pet food is also a direct result of not having enough to go around after Katrina. Many people only took a few days change of clothes with them when they evacuated for Katrina and lost everything else they owned; they are determined that this will never happen again. Hotel rooms are on speed dial, and generators are now the rule and not the exception. Chains for chainsaws are now bought before the storm and not after.
Hopefully this 100 year storm is true to it’s name and another will not occur for a long, long, time. But as for the people it has affected, we have not only been humbled, but we are also more appreciate for all that we have.
So enjoy your Labor Day and keep us in your prayers as we hope that this season remains silent for the southeastern coast of the United States. In your life, I wish much abundance and hope that you will know what it always means to have your family by your side.
Onward and Upward!