Thursday, September 15, 2005
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.