Saturday, September 17, 2005

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.

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