Friday, September 16, 2005

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 dinks 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.

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