My Katrina Story
Life with Katrina - Part One

I didn’t write the below as each day came and went. In fact, until this morning,
which is almost three weeks after all of this began; I haven’t thought much about
writing anything more than a couple of messages and blogs to let people know we
are okay. I guess I’m writing this for me while my memory still holds most of it in
order and in sound and vivid color, and for people who have asked why we
stayed, or why we left afterwards, or what it was like.

Friday August 26, 2005

This was such a very normal day. The last normal day we would have for a long
time. I bought groceries, paid bills, did e-mail, cleaned house, just like any other
Friday. But of course just like with all last normal days before the abnormal ones
begin, we are often clueless and left expecting the expected to go on.

Since I’m in southeastern Louisiana -- in Bogalusa actually, right on the
Louisiana/Mississippi state line a little ways above New Orleans -- I always keep
an eye on any tropical reports that come in during weather, so I knew about
Katrina. I knew she was out there, that she had crossed over the bottom part of
Florida and was in the Gulf, but I wasn’t worried. The expected path was for her
to hit a high building over us and turn back north and give Florida another punch.

Then Friday evening came and suddenly all bets were off. She hadn’t made that
turn and we begin to get our first real warning that we needed to watch this one
close, just in case -- though they still expected her to stop moving west and to
take that north turn. Of course there had been about six in the last couple of
years that were slow to turn that we had to watch close, but the bad ones always
turned.

And yet, even if not, Friday evening late is a bad time to tell people in and around
the Big Easy that, surprise, a hurricane might be a comin’ before the weekend is
over. People are out at football games, either pro or high school, people have gone
out to party with friends, or just to share a good meal, or have curled up on their
couches with the latest hot DVD rental or newest novel to entertain them. They
aren’t watching local television where they have a chance to catch a special
weather report.

I was, but it was still only a watch and wait game.


Saturday August 27

This morning we find that Katrina still hasn’t turned, but they’ve seen a couple of
jogs east and a little more north, so those are good signs. Now they are saying
she’ll probably hit Alabama, maybe around the Alabama/Florida state line, but we
need her to take that straight north turn soon. She’s still supposed to. There’s a
high over the east side of Florida and a high over us in Louisiana, which leaves
an opening in the middle. She’s supposed to turn and follow that opening.

Since nothing is for sure, they say to get prepared. Time to do the hurricane
dance.

For those of us who live this far south, we know it as well as our parents knew
the two step. I consider it my own little hurricane-go-away dance. It always
works. You simply go to the store and spend bill money or add debt to your credit
card to buy tons of bottled water, batteries, bread, can goods, ice, dog food, snack
foods, and such…oh, and stop by the gas station to make sure your car is filled
to the brim and get cash from the bank -- more bill money. Once you’ve done all
of that, the hurricane smiles and heads away, or if she comes, she gives you a
good blow without much damage and you find out you bought way too much stuff
and spent way too much money.

So just to run her off or weaken her down, I went out and did my dance that
morning.

Something went wrong this time though. The update that came in after lunch --
we call it dinner but I don’t want to confuse anyone -- was worse. They were now
saying the Mississippi/Alabama state line probably. That’s too close for comfort.
We could get a good side blow from that, depending on how wide the storm was,
though we would be on the good side of the hurricane. The left side is the
weakest.

But there was a threat of worse news. The chances were building that Katrina
might take the turn too late and even make a Louisiana land fall.

I still didn’t believe it would hit here, not really.

Better safe than sorry, so we headed back out to buy more supplies. The news
was reaching people by then though, so it was hard to find more of some things,
like water, bread, ice and batteries. But we did get them. Even bought a five day
cooler that promised to keep things cold for five days in ninety degree weather.

While out I met up with more than one friend who asked what was going on, and
had to explain to them that Katrina hadn’t taking her north turn yet which put us
more in her expected path.

It was too late for some things at this point. I’m on three daily medications. Two
that I can’t miss. One for high blood pressure and one for being a diabetic, what
we call having sugar. My drug store where my doctor had called my next refills in
to, closed at noon. I have a dog that has seizures and he can not miss his daily
meds either. I couldn’t get him more this late, since his vet has to order it and it
takes three or four days to arrive at her office. It was also too late to buy plywood
to board up the windows with, since the lumber store closed at noon.


Sunday August 28

Long before daybreak Sunday morning I was up checking on the news. Katrina
hadn’t turned during the night, she was heading for us and had gotten stronger
over night, reaching a category five. To give you an idea of how bad that is, there
is no category six.

I didn’t know how we were going to do it, where we were going to go, but I knew
it was time to prepare to run from this one.

(I’ve heard people say harsh things about those who didn’t run, especially those
in New Orleans who stayed because everyone knew it would flood so badly, but
you have to remember that leaving for a hurricane is hard. It takes money, lots of
it, it takes a tank full of gas just to get started, it takes a vehicle and one that is
in good enough shape to get you far away, it means leaving almost everything you
own behind for looters to do with as they will, it often means leaving family and
friends behind because some can’t and some won’t go, it means finding a place
you can go to, and if you have pets, finding a place that will take you and them,
or it means leaving them behind to die. Lots of people had also just left a short
time ago for another hurricane, which like the others turned at the last moment.
It’s a very hard thing to do, to leave, and this time there wasn’t much warning or
time to prepare or decide.)

On this morning for this hurricane, even though I had never left once in my
whole life and we are above sea level and our area was only under a voluntary
evocation, I decided this was the one to leave for.

And then we didn’t.

We spent a few hours getting things packed, figuring out where to go -- the only
family I had outside of the warning areas was my sister way up at the tip-top of
Arkansas almost on the Missouri state line -- how to fit eight dogs in our truck,
what few possessions we could squeeze in and what those should be. That was
really hard too. My son lives next door to me, so he was doing the same things,
getting ready to follow where we went.

Then we found out the lumber store had opened so people could get plywood and
we rushed out to buy some. I think that’s where we lost the momentum we had
going to leave. It took hours to board up the windows on both our home and our
son’s. During that time Katrina took a little jump to the east and she dropped
from 175 mph sustained winds down to 155. That lowered her from a category
five to a three. We also heard from one of my son’s friends who had left that
morning and was now stuck in crawling traffic up in Jackson Mississippi. She
said service stations were running out of gas and lines to get any were long even
up there and that she feared it would be worse as the day went on.

By the time the windows were all boarded up, we were all packed up and knew
we were going to head to my sister’s, it was nearing nightfall and we decided it
was probably safer to stay and face a category three hurricane in our brick home
that to risk being stuck in traffic or running out of gas some where, still maybe in
Katrina’s path.

Was it the right decision? Even now I’m not sure.

We didn’t sleep Sunday night at all. Not long after dark the first feeder bands
from Katrina began to let us know she was coming. Really they are just gusting
winds that give us a little hint that a storm is out there. We weren’t supposed to
feel the real start of Katrina until after midnight. Which will take us to Monday.
Life with Katrina - Part Two


Monday August 29

By two in the morning we were getting some pretty good gusts, some of them
hanging on longer than others. Of course it was night, but with the help of the
moon and streetlights we could watch the wind in the trees, as well as hear it.

As we watched news over the next couple of hours we learned that Katrina hadn’
t weakened any more and she hadn’t turned any more either. It looked like we
were going to get the eye. It felt like a trapdoor had fallen open in the pit of my
stomach, but all I could do was look at my daughter, my son and his wife, and
assure them that we’d be fine. When my husband spoke those same words to
me, I knew he was doing the same thing.

By daybreak it had gotten bad enough that I was wishing we had left the
windows unboarded and gotten out of here the day before. But like stepping off a
cliff, once the fall has begun, you can’t jump back up. There was nothing left to
do but stay and pray for the best. I had prayed for help to make the right
decision before we decided to stay, so I hoped I had made the right one, for my
children’s sake most of all. My daughter is seventeen and in her last year of high
school. My son is twenty-one, recently married, and on his fourth year of college.
His wife is nineteen.

We kept getting powerful blast of winds, but since they were hitting the left side
of my house we are able to leave our storm door shut and our wooden door open
to the inside so we could watch the trees across the street in front of my house.
By seven that morning power was out, so that open door gave us cooler air and
light. I think the phone was gone by then too, or within a short time there after.

Through that open door we heard the roar of each gust as it came, we saw the
trees bend and bow toward the earth. Along with that load roar was the pops and
cracks of trees that gave way. The pines were the ones to usually pop while the
big oaks cracked. We didn’t hear them crash to the ground, just the almost
gunshot-sounding pop of those that snapped and the crack and crunch of those
that broke. With the passing of every few minutes the gusts seemed to build and
to last longer. A huge pine right on the other side of the road snapped and we
watched it fall. My son’s home is across the other street, beside my home, so we
couldn’t see it.

I wondered how much stronger the winds would get, and how long the giant oaks
around my home could hold on under such an onslaught. Some how I made sure
I appeared unworried. All three children -- yes I know how old they are, but they
are still my children -- were sick to their stomachs. I guess just from nerves.

I told myself that it couldn’t get much worse, and then it did.

Slowly the gusts built, pushing the rain sideways so it became a white sheet that
we couldn’t see through. Finally those winds got strong enough that even though
they were hitting the side of my home, we had to shut the door. We turned on a
lantern for light and listened as the wind became a constant roar, almost like a
jet engine getting ready for take off. We could no long hear anything else unless
it was something big that hit one of the plywood covered windows near us.

My husband held tight to the front door, his back and weight against it, but we
felt the air moving in the house. We had closed every interior door, making us a
center haven in the middle of the house in the kitchen. (An hour before then my
husband and son had taken the mattress off of my daughter’s bed and brought it
into the room so we would have something to throw over us if the roof did come
off.) The only exterior door in that area is the one in my little office that was
really supposed to be a dinning room. That room is open to the kitchen. Those
closed doors rattled, adding to the noise around us.

At around that time, the first true wave of undulated fear hit and almost knocked
my feet out from under me. I have been through hurricanes and even tornados
before, but this was worse. I was still telling the kids we would be fine, but
inside I honestly thought the roof would be ripped away or an oak tree would
come crashing in at any moment. It just went on and on and on.

After about an hour more, when I thought things couldn’t get any worse,
suddenly they did.

Water began to pour in under the front door. As my husband took off his shirt
and began to jab it under the opening, I noticed that water was also coming into
the kitchen from my bedroom door. There wasn’t an exterior door in my bedroom.
I opened the door and found water coming in through the walls, and since my
bedroom was lower than the old part of the house, it was already an inch or two
deep in there.

We had lived in that same house for over twenty-one years, and although water
had made it onto the porch a couple of times before and even threatened to come
higher once, it had never come in on us. Now here it was. My son can’t swim and
has a fear of water, so after already hearing all of the news and warnings about
hurricanes and how many people drown, he went pale. So did his wife and my
daughter.

I promised them the water wouldn’t get more than ankle deep. I thought I was
telling them the truth.

My son looked out the little window in our front door and then called for his
father. The front yard and street that had still been there only moments before,
were suddenly gone. There was a lake there, a lake of deep dark rushing water. I
could see the top half of our high chain-link fence and our mail box. I figured the
water outside was at least three feet deep and rising. Inside the water was rising
too, trying to match the outside, going over our feet, our ankles, up our legs,
almost to my knees but still it stayed lower than what was outside the door.

The wind didn’t sound like it was letting up at all. I picked the smaller of my dogs
up and actually put them on my kitchen table to keep them out of the water that
was deeper than they were tall. Even the big dogs walked around in it crying.
There was nothing we could do but stand in the dark smelly water, in the heat of
the house, and listen to the hurricane roar on outside, wondering if it would ever
stop, if the water would keep rising, if the roof would tear away or fall in on us.

I think it was about one that evening before we finally heard the roar lessen.

In a short time we were back to gusts and we could open the door again and
breathe. A little longer and the gusts became further apart and weak enough that
we were able to step out on the porch into the water and get our first look at our
new neighbor.

All I could do was cry.

It was over and everything looked like hell had blow up around us, but we were
alive and our house was still standing. The water level was already falling some.
We ventured out a little further and realized that although oak trees had fallen in
front, behind, and even beside and between our cars and truck, they were okay
other than some good dents in the truck -- my husband’s pride and joy. My
husband and son made it across the street to my son’s home to find it flooded,
but there.

Bogalusa is a saw mill and paper mill town. We are surrounded with pine forest
and every street is lined with big old oaks. (Well, that’s how it was before this.)

The huge oak tree next door, in front of my son’s home…my childhood
home…had been pulled up by the roots. A tree at least a hundred years old that
probably five men couldn’t touch hands and reach around. It was resting on its
side, all the way down my son’s fence and then on the mom & pop type grocery
store next to him. The oak trees next to my house had held ground, but the top
half of them had been snapped out and dropped into the road and my yard.
These were huge oaks too. The one in our neighbor’s back yard had come up by
the roots and falling across our fence, over our new shed, across my fruit trees,
over my birdbath and picnic table, and then through the other side of the fence
into our driveway. The pecan tree beside my house was now on top of my roof.

Every where I looked it was just a jungle of limbs and green leaves. There was no
yard or street left.

While we were still looking around and celebrating the fact that our houses and
cars had made it, the wind suddenly changed directions and began to increase. It
was then that I realized that the hurricane must have not turned at all, and that
we had gotten the eye wall.

Katrina wasn’t through with us yet.

My husband rushed us all back into the house. Soon we had to shut the door
back and the wait began again. My daughter and daughter-in-law cried. My
daughter sobbed, “Please not again.” I added my own silent prayer as I told them
the back side wouldn’t be as bad. Back sides were weaker. If we made it through
the front we could take the back. I was wondering what winds from the opposite
direction were going to do to things that were already weakened, but I kept that
thought to myself.

We were lucky; the back side was weaker and quicker. By three that evening or a
little after, it was really, finally over with.

Little did I know that a new form of long-term hell was just beginning.
Life with Katrina - Part Three

Tuesday August 30

We stayed up late Monday night trying to get as much water out of our house as
we could. (We found a crawfish that had gotten into the house and waited out
the storm with us. We put him back outside where he could go on his crawfish
little way and tried not to think about what else might be in the house.)

By the time we were done, we were so exhausted that even in the heat we
managed to sleep some. I think I probably slept three hours at the most though.
I can actually take the heat better when I’m up moving around then when I’m in
bed. It just feels hotter for some reason.

The sun rose Tuesday morning, the day after Katrina, and brought more heat
with it. The air was humid and still, thick and heavy. The shade my oak trees
had once provided around my home was gone. Even the trees left standing didn’t
offer much shade since most of the leaves had been stripped from them by the
wind. When I first looked outside that morning I felt shocked all over again.
Maybe I just thought it had all been a bad dream and things would look normal. I
don’t know.

When I stepped out on the front porch I did notice one thing that was normal
again. The day before the hurricane came, three long days ago, our trees went
silent. I don’t think I saw one squirrel rushing around or heard one bird sing. It
was kind of eerie. But they were back Tuesday morning, fewer in number it
seemed, but there. Usually after a hurricane or sometimes even a really bad
thunderstorm, I end up with some new family members for a time, either baby
birds or baby squirrels. At first I was relieved that I didn’t find any to care for
this time, and then sadly I realized that the flooding had probably washed them
all away. Poor little things.

There was a new sound filling the air; Chainsaws that went from dawn to dusk.
My husband’s is one of them. From what we saw around us, almost every single
street was blocked by fallen oak trees. We know now that the whole city of
Bogalusa was in the same shape, and even all of the roads and highways leading
in and out were blocked. We had been cut off from the rest of the world. No way
to drive out, no way to call out, just our little city here all on her own.

While my husband was trying to cut the oak trees away that had fallen in front of
and behind his truck, I found out something about my car. My son and I had
been so thrilled to find no trees across our cars that we didn’t even think about
the flood. Flood water has never gotten high enough here before to get into cars.
But of course this time it did. I opened my car door and sat down to try to find a
radio station with news. When I sat, there was a squish. I looked down to find
water on the floorboards. I said the word please aloud even as I raised my gaze
up from the floor. The little tray that holds my sunshades was filled with water, a
glance at my gearshift showed dried mud over it. Both of cars were ruined.

Tuesday we had cold bottled water and drinks thanks to the ice we had put in
our new five-day cooler. We cleaned up inside some, tried to drink plenty, and
even though none of us had much of an appetite, we ate sandwiches and some
chips. (Not a good diet for me since I’m a diabetic.) We didn’t have power, phone,
or even running water. We had saved some buckets of the flood water to flush
the toilet with. I had hoped our cell phones would work at least, so I could let my
family know we were okay, but they wouldn’t, still aren’t working often even now
as I write this almost three weeks after Katrina.

That hot Tuesday we were all sweaty and still wearing the same clothes we had
on during the hurricane. We sure didn’t smell pretty, and neither did the house.
The flood water hadn’t been rain water, but a mixture of probably creek, river,
ditch, and by the smell of it, even sewer water. But there was no water to bathe
with, or to even wash up with. We didn’t know how long we would have to
depend on the bottled water we had for ourselves and our pets. We couldn’t
afford to waste any on the luxury of a bath.

I tried my best to sleep Tuesday night. My husband finally got up and went and
slept on the porch in a chair. I soon followed him even though the mosquitoes
were doing their best to eat us alive in spite of the bug spray we applied. I dozed
a little, but never did really sleep. Our daughter slept better. Our son and his
wife had gone across the street, home to sleep. They slept most of the night. I
guess being younger and in better health is a big plus in the heat.

At around four in the morning I came back outside after trying to pick up
something on our battery operated television. All we could ever get was one little
blurry station out of Mississippi. When I came back out and sat down I thought I
heard something, so I switched on my flashlight and pointed it into the yard. I
didn’t see anything, but then I heard a soft female voice say hello. I turned my
light back on and pointed it at the gate as I elbowed my husband. Two young
girls, probably about nineteen or so, walked up to the gate and asked if I could
help them please. They had walked all the way across town in the dark, trying to
reach the home of a family member, which was still a long ways off and down a
curvy road that runs through a pine forest. They both had backpacks on. I have
never been one to pick up hitchhikers -- writers just have too vivid of
imaginations -- but I couldn’t just let them keep going.

My husband brought the truck around, even though we were breaking the law
since there was a dusk to dawn curfew in effect, and we drove them out to their
family’s home. I did make them put the backpacks in the back of the truck
though. (Smile)


Wednesday August 31

Wednesday morning the ice was holding on well enough to keep our drinks and
lunch meat somewhat cold in our cooler. We were almost out of bread and
lunchmeat, but I had can goods. I tried not to worry too much over our shrinking
supply of water.

The heat, the high carbohydrate foods, the stress, the mosquito bites and the
lack of sleep were already catching up with me. I felt awful, my head hurt, and I
was staying sick to my stomach a lot. I was beginning to run low on my blood
pressure meds and didn’t have many more of my diabetic meds either. One of my
dogs is on daily seizure meds, and his was getting low too. If any of us got sick,
there would be no 911, no hospital, no vet, no help. All I could do was to try and
not think about it.

Five great things did happen Wednesday. First, my husband got our road
cleared, at least the end behind his truck, so we could get out. The Army
Reserve and the city had cleared the main road in front of our house with a big
bulldozer since that road led down to the Army Reserve building that was about
six blocks from my home.

Second, one of our local radio stations came on the air, not full time, but most of
the day and was sharing info with us. Even at that point our little city was still
isolated from the rest of the world.

Third, our local Piggly Wiggly opened up with no power, but was allowing two
people at a time into the store to buy what ever was there as long as they had
cash to pay for it. After a long wait in line, my husband and son came out with
buns and more can goods and drinks. There was no sandwich bread or water
left. Not a lot of many things left, so they got what they could.

Fourth, a huge convoy rolled by the front of my home. Truck after truck from
light companies and tree removal companies. I never knew a convoy of trucks
could make grownups cry.

Fifth, our water came back on. It wasn’t drinkable without boiling and it had very
little pressure behind it so it was little more than a pencil-lead thick stream, but
it was water.

We spent that night out on the porch again, in chairs, dozing some, slapping
bugs a lot. If you haven’t ever lived way out in the country, where no street light
or any human made light can reach you, then you have no idea how dark the
night really is. All of us were out there, when we heard the sudden sharp sound
of glass breaking and then shattering. We knew it was looters breaking into the
little mom & pop store on the next block. There was nothing we could do but sit
and listen and hope they didn’t come down our way and start going into houses.

In that pitch darkness, with no phone, no way to call the police or anyone else
for help, I felt more afraid than I had even in the middle of Katrina’s wrath.
Life with Katrina - Part Four

Thursday September 1

By Thursday morning I had really had enough, about all I could take in fact--both
physically and emotionally. I started the day feeling even worse than the day
before. I’m only forty, but I felt sixty at least.

Our local radio station came on the air at a little after eight with an announcement
from the mayor. He expected that it would be at least thirty days before even
partial power was restored to Bogalusa, probably ninety days before every home
had power again in the area. There had been no shipments of bread, ice, or
supplies, and he didn’t know when there would be. The water was unsafe and he
expected sewer to begin backing up into homes soon. He said, “If you have a
vehicle with a tank of gas in it, and there is any where you can go, leave.” They
did have one highway opened leading out. There was just nothing more the city
could do for us. Even the police station had no power or phones or gas for their
cars.

My husband still didn’t want to leave, just drive off and leave our home and
everything in it to looters or what might come, but I think at that point I was
getting sick enough that he feared losing me was becoming a real possibility. He
told me he could replace things, but not me. All I could do in return was cry. I had
begun doing that a lot. He started calling my little outburst of tears my special
moments. I’m still having them even now, but they are much fewer.

We were lucky; we had our truck and our daughter-in-law’s car, and we had filled
both with gas before the storm. Together we went through our homes and picked
out the few most important things that we could fit in. I thought we were doing
this quick, but it took hours. It’s so hard to stand in your home of twenty-one
years and look around and decide what you should take when you can take so
little. I wanted to save it all. The things from my children growing up, things from
my parents since I had already lost them both, pictures, family papers, things like
my computer and my research books, but there was so little room because the ice
chest and four big dogs were going to be in the back of the truck and three of us
and four small dogs were going to be in the front. My son and his wife had less
room since they had a car and pets too.

So we all got what we thought best, grabbed a few days’ worth of clothes for each
of us, and some how loaded up all of our animals. We tied each of our four big
dogs to one corner in the back of the truck. Two of these dogs had never been
around the other two and didn’t like them. None of them had ridden in the back of
a truck before. To say this was awful is putting in mildly. I just knew one of them
was going to hang himself. We finally had to put my daughter back there with
them while we drove through town, working our way under fallen lines and
around fallen trees that had been pushed over so one side of the road was open,
weaving our way through, finding a road open here and there until we finally made
it to the highway.

We didn’t know if we’d be able to find gas when we ran out, but we knew where
we were heading, to my sister’s near Lead Hill, Arkansas, and we hoped and
prayed for the best.

It took over two hours of driving mostly west, away from the path the hurricane
had taken, before we stopped seeing down trees and damaged homes. That’s
when we realized just how big Katrina had been. I’ve looked it up now and we
caught the left side of her eye in Bogalusa, but hurricane force winds extended
out over 120 miles from the center of that big powerful eye wall.

Bogalusa is right on the Louisiana/Mississippi state line, about thirty miles up
from Lake Pontchartrain, about forty miles up at an angle from the Gulf. We were
actually a little closer to the eye than New Orleans. Most of the land before New
Orleans does nothing to weaken a hurricane. The weather man said that’s
because it’s marshes and swamps so it’s almost the same as open water to them,
so even though Katrina crossed over that little toe of Louisiana that sticks out into
the Gulf before getting to us, she didn’t really start getting too bad of a beating for
a good ways. Still, looking at the maps and charts, it looks like she did weaken
from a category four to a category three before hitting Bogalusa. I don’t know what
would have happened to us if not.

As we drove we watched for a place to buy gas, but there wasn’t one. We had to
keep pulling over to calm the dogs down in the back. Those first four hours
seemed to take twenty. Finally our cell phones began to work and I got to call my
sister. We both cried. She had thought we were all dead. She had called the Red
Cross and everyone else, and no one could tell her anything about us. The Red
Cross had told her that morning that they had sent help in to Bogalusa, but they
didn’t even have a way to contact their own people there. All my sister knew was
that our city had taken a direct hit and everything there was out. She was so glad
to hear from us and even glad we were on our way, pets and all, to stay with
them. I also managed to reach a couple of friends for short calls, so they could
maybe let other friends know we were alive after all, but then our cell phones
went back out for hours.

We found gas just in time. We had to wait in a huge line, but filled up and heading
on. We thought after that we would be able to find gas without trouble, but mostly
we only found stations that had no gas at all. A few times I really thought we were
going to end up on the side of the road with empty tanks. Other times I thought
my son or husband was going to fall asleep behind the wheel and some of us were
going to end up dead. We were all so tried. I needed sleep so badly, but didn’t
dare doze off and leave my husband to keep himself awake. I tried to keep an eye
on him, on the dogs in the back, and on my son’s car behind us. Every time I saw
my son’s car swerve I held my breath. Our cell phones weren’t even working so I
could call back and ask if he was okay.

A little after midnight I got really sick and started having chest pains. I didn’t tell
my husband, I just tried to force myself to relax, to stay calm, to hang in there a
little longer. It was almost over. Just a few more hours and it would be over.
Life with Katrina - Part Five

Friday September 2

We arrived at my sister’s house at a little after four Friday morning. We had left
Bogalusa a very long fourteen hours before. We were exhausted, dirty, sick,
hungry, and so glad the ride was over.

It took us a while to unload all of the pets and to get them situated. My sister
had a pen out side for my son’s female dogs since one of them was in season and
all of my dogs are male. We put our two big yard dogs out in another pen, and
then brought the six others in with us.

Everyone soon crashed into the nearest bed, not even worrying about eating or
cleaning up. I wanted to follow but my sister and her husband were about to
leave for work so I stayed up a few moments more to see them off. When they
went to leave I found my two yard dogs had gotten out of the pen so I ended up
staying up alone for a good while catching them and fixing their pen. I just didn’t
have the heart to wake hubby or the kids to help.

I finally got to sleep for about an hour or so, and then couldn’t rest any more. I
guess I was just too wound up. When a neighbor brought a meal over for us
before my sister got home from work that evening, my daughter actually cried as
she fixed her plate. I can’t even think of a way to explain how great it felt to have
hot food, ice in a glass, and an actual shower, clean clothes, and air conditioning.
Things we have every day and never think anything of it.

We also had television and got to watch news. What we saw was so awful and
since we had already been through it, we didn’t watch much more about Katrina
for days. My husband said I was still having enough of my ‘special moments’
without the new stations helping me. I think we all were still having those
moments, even when the tears didn’t show.


Saturday September 3 through Friday September 9

We went to bed early Friday night and got our first full night’s sleep in nearly a
week. We got up early still, but I felt so much better. My sister and her husband
had a three-day weekend, so they stayed home with us until Tuesday. We still
had family members missing in Mississippi, and spent a lot of time on the phone
looking for them. My sister didn’t have internet so the phone was the only way
we could try and find out info. I also made a lot of calls to Bogalusa, my friends,
my neighbors, my doctor, my vet, the city hall, the police station, hoping just one
phone was working in one place. Nothing was.

My sister did her best to make us feel at home, and soon we did. Even the dogs
settled in and enjoyed her wide open yard in the mountains. She lived out in the
middle of no where.

Tuesday my sister drove us to the nearest town that had more than a gas station
and a little market. It was in Harrison. The Super Wal-Mart there had a special
program going so even though I didn’t have a refill left on my bottles, they let me
buy a one month supply of both of my important meds. We stopped by a
veterinary office too. When I explained where I was from and about my dog’s
seizure meds, the vet there let me buy enough for a month without seeing the
dog, even let me buy some tranquilizers for my big dogs to help make the trip
home better. It seemed everyone we ran into was so open and friendly and nice
to us.

Just when we finally located the last missing family member and knew for sure
that everyone was okay, my brother who lived in Mississippi, had a heart attack.
His daughter and wife kept us updated as best they could, but things looked
really bad that first day for him. (I’m happy to say he came through fine, had
some stints added and is now home doing well.)

Thursday evening we got our first answer in Bogalusa, a friend who lived near
the highway. She said only a handful of people had phone service and pretty
much no one had power. The water was on, but still not safe to use. We tried
everyone and every place else we knew, but couldn’t get another answer.

Friday the police station answered. They had just got phone service but still didn’
t have power. They said help had made it in and that the power companies that
were working on things had the main grid up and going, the one that went to the
hospital. That was great news since our home and my husband’s job and even
my daughter-in-law’s job, were all along that same grid. My husband still couldn’t
reach the sawmill in Bogalusa where he worked, but was able to reach another
one owned by the same company. They said he could start back to work Monday.
My son goes to college about an hour and half from Bogalusa in Hammond. He
was able to reach them and find out he could start back to school. That meant we
really needed to be home for Monday. We tried off and on, but couldn’t get any
other calls through to anyone else.

As we made plans to leave for early the next morning, I wondered what we would
find when we got home. Did the looters break into our homes? Did we really have
power and water and maybe even phone service? Would we be able to find gas
once we got close to home? Would the drive back be as ruthless as the drive up
had been? Would there be stores and places to buy food and supplies?

There was only one way for us to get the answers to any of those questions. It
was time to go home.
Life with Katrina - Part Six

Saturday September 10

We got up at three that morning and intended to leave at four, but it was nearly
five before we heading down my sister’s long driveway and then up the steep
rocky road that lead to the highway.

The tranquilizers didn’t seem to be helping the dogs much at first, but after about
an hour they settled down and we decided to drive as straight through as we
could, only stopping when we had to for gas or to walk or water the dogs.

We didn’t have trouble finding gas until we got about three hours from home.
Another hour or so and we hit the damage we had left behind. Instead of fourteen
hours it only took us eleven this time.

When we hit our parish the roads were all mostly opened, but it almost seemed
as if things looked even worse than they had when we left. Now all of the pulled
up, broken down, and splintered apart trees were dead, their oak leaves or pine
needles brown instead of green. Roof tops were covered with big blue tarps and
power trucks, tree trucks and army trucks were every where.

When we reached our street we found our homes were still there, waiting for us.
After a few moments we were thrilled to find no looters had entered or damaged
either house and that the sewer hadn’t backed up into them either. Everything
was just as we and Katrina had left it -- including no power.

We expected that we wouldn’t have power since the main line to our home had
been ripped from the pole, but since the business below us and above us had
power because of us being on that main grid, there was no reason for my son not
to have power. I wanted to just sit down and cry as I thought of the miserable
nights ahead of us. I was also worried about my dogs, two of them really. One is a
big husky who has too thick of a coat to handle the heat well, and the other is my
dog that has the seizures. He has short hair, but because of his health and
meds, he can’t take the heat even as well as the husky.

My husband got back into the truck and went in search of the power crews, of
someone who looked like a boss maybe. When he found a lone man sitting in a
power company pickup talking on a cell phone, my husband approached him and
explained that our street didn’t have power and that the lady who lived next door
to us was on meds that had to be refrigerated and the next neighbor over was in
an electric wheelchair, and that we were on the grid that had power so he didn’t
understand why we all didn’t have it.

The man came and took a quick look, moments letter he had bucket trucks here,
and moments later we all had power! I think the whole street celebrated.

Our happiness soon came to a sudden halt though.

In celebration I headed through the house turning on each light. I didn’t really
pay much attention at first. Things had been left in a pretty good mess. Furniture
stacked up, stuff scattered about, flashlights and lanterns and such here and
there. It just all looked like the way we had left it until I got to my bedroom. When
I flipped the light switch in there, I couldn’t miss the colorful mold that covered all
of the walls from the floor up to about two feet. Closer inspection revealed it on
the walls of all the newer rooms we had built onto our house over the years,
including the second bathroom, the living room, and the utility room. It was also
on cabinets, shelves, furniture, and so on.

We had cleaned all of the water out of the house after the hurricane, we had left a
number of windows open when we headed for my sister’s so the house wouldn’t
be sealed up, but it hadn’t done any good. The mold had taken over anyway.
There was nothing we could do but gather up the things we had unloaded from
the truck and carry them across the street to our son’s home. (Thankfully his
interior walls are paneling with no insulation behind them. Nothing there to soak
up the water and hold on to it in the walls.) We couldn’t even begin planning a
clean up or repair work until our issuance company and FEMA came and looked
at things.

Everyone we asked said it wouldn’t be safe for us to stay in our home until the
mold is gone, which means throwing some things away, cleaning what we can,
and ripping out all of the sheet rock and insulation from the floor up to about four
feet and then replacing it all. I don’t even know what we will be able to save. It
seems the water destroyed motorized things and the mold is trying to get the rest.

It’s hard to live right next door to my home, to be able to look out my son’s front
door and see my house sitting there, empty; to see my totaled car sitting in the
driveway. But it’s hard to walk through the yard too. I’ve spent years on my yard,
on roses and fruit trees and lovely plants and shrubs. That giant oak tree that fell
through my whole back yard pretty much did them all in with one fall, including
my large Japanese persimmon trees that took me over ten years to grow big
enough that I was getting a decent amount of fruit from them each fall. They were
both loaded with persimmons too, and you can’t buy Japanese persimmon fruit
around here.

I even feel guilty for feeling sad -- and sometimes even angry. We lost so little
compared to what many others have lost. We are all alive, we have a running
vehicle, our home is still standing, we have a roof over our heads and food and
water and power and I know everything and anything else above or beyond that is
more than I should ask for, but being human as I am, I guess I can’t help but
have an occasional pity party for one or a special moment as my husband has
named them.
Life with Katrina - Part Seven

Sunday September 11 through Sunday September 18

Life might not be what it was before Katrina, right now it doesn’t feel like it will
ever be again, but it’s much better than it was for the first two weeks after her
visit. We have power, running water, phones, and even internet -- though I’m not
on my own computer. The water pressure dipped a few times during the week,
but is about normal now. The water is still unsafe to drink, so we drink bottled
water and I boil water every day for the dogs.

We are so grateful to have phone and power. There are lots of people here who
have only one or the other, or neither. We were lucky in the fact that our homes
are along the main grid that supplies the hospital and other important things.
(Something you might want to think about next time you’re looking for a house to
buy or rent.)

The home phones weren’t working too well when we got home, but have gotten a
little better each day. Now they seem to be fine most of the time, of course there
are lots of people and places around here we can’t call because they don’t have
phone service yet. Our cell phones still don’t work, but my son’s does now and
then. The internet is a little less reliable. Sometimes I can get on line and
sometimes I can’t. Often it means trying over and over, and then only getting on
for a few minutes before I’m kicked off. I’m really not doing any e-mail for now but
will play catch up later, I promise. If you sent me a message it might take me
awhile, but if I actually got it, I will get around to sending a reply.

I’m writing my blog entries off line as I have a moment here or there, then when I
manage to get on line, I post it. There’s not much time to be on line anyway
really. We only have one phone line here and dial up, so being on line ties up the
phone, and we are stilling getting calls from our insurance companies with
questions and follow ups and such, and better still, from caring family and
friends.

Needless to say, there is no cable. We tried to find an antenna but there isn’t one
even in any of the towns around us. Satellite systems are sold out too, and there’
s a waiting list weeks long to get someone out to add one to your home. At least
we do have a little portable black and white that picks up one channel out of
Mississippi. Of course it’s a station that plays nothing we like to watch and the
screen is so tiny and the picture so snowy we’d all have to hover around to see it
anyway. (Smile) At least we can watch, or should I say listen, to news on it,
although they only talk about Mississippi.

I’m not too happy about the news right now. Yesterday they mentioned Rita. She
will reach hurricane strength this week and work her way into the Gulf. They are
showing her going across the Gulf below us, maybe getting Texas it looks like,
but Katrina was supposed to go up and get Florida when she came here.
Watching that weather report made me sick, literally. There’s nothing we can do
though, but watch and wait and pray. To be honest, I’m too emotionally battered
to even think about it much right now.

There is still damage every where here in Bogalusa and the places around us.
There will be for a long time. I know with so many trees gone, the area won’t look
even near to the same for probably twenty years or maybe double that time.
Tress are still down in yards every where and huge piles of them, or even whole
trees, are stacked high on both sides of most roads. There are still down lines
and leaning tress over many streets. Our little city can only do so much.

Smaller communities like ours and others here in Washington Parish and the
surrounding areas, what you would call rural areas, haven’t received the same aid
and assistance or even attention as larger more metropolitan areas. We kind of
got over looked in the shuffle with those bigger cities like New Orleans, Gulf Port,
Biloxi and others all getting so much coverage. The reports say that they are
having trouble locating and accessing the resources they need for smaller
communities. I know our mayor and others are doing the best they can in a very
difficult situation.

We have had help too though, and it’s been very greatly appreciated. Crews from
Duke Power in North Carolina showed up in Bogalusa in huge numbers. It’s
thanks to them that I have power all ready. We are safe here thanks to the
Pennsylvania National Guard. I will admit watching those trucks roll up and down
the roads filled with armed soldiers or going into Wal-Mart and finding them
strolling the aisle on guard with loaded M16 rifles in hand, gives me a little
pause, but in the same second it gives me comfort. Things had gotten bad here
before we left, and from what I’ve seen and heard, it got worse after we left. More
people fighting in lines or parking lots trying to get food or water, looters not only
breaking into stores and taking what they wanted, but then setting them on fire,
and, well, I guess you get the idea.

The Pennsylvania National Guard has been handing out lots of bottled water, ice,
and even MRE’s. Let me tell you, those little ready to eat Army meals aren’t so
bad when you’re hungry or sick to death of can goods or sandwiches. (Smile.)

Others have come in and set up shelters, fixed meals, handed out can goods,
clothes, and what ever they had collected and could bring in. I guess it’s been a
group effort with cities, churches and groups of all kinds and from all places
helping out how and where and when they could. I know it’s all meant so much
to everyone here in Bogalusa and every where else that has needed and gotten
help, slow or how ever it came.


Monday September 19

As I write this, it’s been three weeks to the day since Katrina left. There are still
armed shoulders riding around, walking around, and watching. We still have a
curfew in affect, but many stores and even some fast food places are opened
during the day. Each day more and more things are becoming available. I walked
down to the store by my house yesterday and they had fresh vegetables and fruit
and even ice cream. (Smile)

The insurance people and FEMA have all come now to see our house and cars.
The auto insurance actually showed up the quickest, days ago. They totaled my
car. I think I mentioned that in one of my earlier posts though. I wish they would
come get it already, so I don’t have to keep looking at her just sitting there. I don’
t know what I’m going to do about getting another car yet. Mine was in great
shape and best of all, she was paid for. We have a truck that we are still paying
for, so I’ll just have to see if I can use the little they are giving me for my car to
make a down payment on another one and then stretch the budget enough to
pay a car note along with a truck note. If not, we’ll just make it with the truck. We’
ve done it before, for years, and that was when I had two kids to run to school
and to all those meetings afterwards. I only have one to run around now. I’ll just
take hubby to work at five in the mornings and then I can keep the truck to go
and do what I need to.

The house insurance was a real disappointment. We have hurricane coverage,
but when the man came out he said all of the damage inside our home was done
by flood, and we aren’t covered for that, even though the flood was caused by a
hurricane. That just doesn’t make any sense to me. If you have hurricane
covered and that hurricane brings in a surge and floods your home, inland, well
away from where anyone would even expect a flood, then it’s hurricane damage.
They say no and they aren’t paying. They are going to pay something to fix the
roof and the fences, but won’t say how much yet. FEMA came the same day, last
Friday, so I’m hoping they will help. We won't know for a week or two more. I’ve
heard they will loan money to do repairs and to replace things like my living room
furniture and our refrigerator and all, at a really low interest rate with long-term
small monthly payments.

We started working over at our house this weekend. We are hoping to at least get
a few rooms livable in the next couple of weeks so we can finally go home. I’m
really happy that my sister took us in for a week. And I’m happy my son was able
to have us here in his home for now, but I just want to be back in my own home,
even if it’s only part of it. I think everyone can understand that feeling.

My husband has gotten to go back to work, my daughter-in-law has too. My son’s
college, SLU, which is about an hour and a half away has started classes again
and he is using his wife’s car to go back and forth. (The insurance company
totaled his car, too. He had only had it a year or so. They are going to pay it off
and he'll still get a little bit for a down payment for another one.) My daughter’s
high school here in Bogalusa isn’t supposed to be able to open back up until
about October the 3, and that’s if they can get all of the damage repaired well
enough by then to hold classes.

We started getting mail a little over a week ago, the day before we came back
home. It comes in a piece here and there, and seems to be taking a long time for
it to get here, but it is getting here. We also got our first local newspaper
yesterday since Katrina. Each little thing is one more step back into the normal
world, and right now the closer to normal things can get, the happier we all are.
Click here to read newspaper articles about Bogalusa,
Louisiana in the first couple of weeks after hurricane
Katrina. Click
here to see pictures of my home after
Katrina and other
pictures taken around Bogalusa in
the days and weeks after. Or even read
My Own
Katrina Story.