Thursday, September 15, 2005

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.


Carol B. said...

This is fascinating, Charlotte. And eerily tense and scary. Keep going...

Charlotte Dillon said...

I'm writing it off line, a little here and there, then posting it when I can. And yes, we have Wal-Mart and a few other places opened during the day now, but have to shop at the bigger places while being watched by armed soldiers.