On August 28, 2005 , the day before Hurricane Katrina was forecast to hit the New Orleans and Gulf Coast areas , I spent all day packing personal items for my friend to move from his home, that was less than a mile from the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain, to my home 8 miles from the Lake. My home had less chance of flooding from the surge of the Lake and seemed to be safer overall. I had been living there 4 weeks and only had my bed frame and mattress with a few clothes and dishes. My furniture and household belongings were in my other home about an hour away. It was leased for 3 months to a movie producer from Hollywood. I had alerted him to leave because of the storm. He complied.
Because I had moved from Tornado country to southeast Louisiana,I had never experienced a hurricane. My friend assured me we would not be seriously affected because the area in my neighborhood was so far inland from the Lake. He said with confidence, “We have everything we need to ride it out, things will be back to normal in no time” and he added something I was not aware of “if we leave we won’t be allowed back in for days.”
Because we were both medical professionals, we would be expected to be at work as soon as possible after the storm cleared. At the time, the plan made sense. I didn’t follow the TV coverage those 2 days, preferring to enjoy the song birds and sounds of nature. I busied around his house until I had the van packed. I left for home, traveling north on a 2 lane state highway expecting to drive the 8 miles in 10 to 15 minutes. The traffic was bumper to bumper at a snail pace, people were acting erratic and odd. There were long lines at each gas station.The intensity enveloped me like a dense fog. What is going on? Where are all these cars going and why is traffic not moving?
Two hours later I reached the area where the interstate on/off ramp is located. Suddenly I knew! This is an evacuation! All these families packed their vehicles with what wordly belongings they can fit , along with the family dog, cat, Grandma and hopefully a full tank of gas.Every car but mine was in line for the on ramp to The interstate. The frightening scene was the absence of cars headed north on the state highway, there were no cars other than mine!
Dusk was rapidly approaching ,the sky had huge dark threatening, rolling, billowing clouds moving across the horizon.I arrived home within minutes and decided I needed and wanted to leave the approaching storm. Prior to this point, I had not grasped the serious threat to life and property, much less what aftermath meant.I sat on the back porch steps gazing at the dense canopy of huge trees to the back and along side of the house.When I had looked at the property in consideration of purchase , I loved the woods in the back but remarked the tall trees on the side didn’t let enough light into the master bedroom, “It needed to be opened up!” That was the reason my bed sat in the light filled living room looking out through French doors into the distant lovely woods. Little did I know my wish would be granted 4 weeks later! My Grandmother always told me to be careful what you wish for because she believed in what she called “self fulfilling prophecy!”
As I sat wishing I had left, I had a recurrent thought. If I knew a tornado was possibly headed straight toward me, would I stay or run away as quickly as possible? I knew the answer and knew I had made a bad choice to stay. A few minutes later, my friend arrived and I shared my anxiety and told him, “We should leave now!”He stared intently into my eyes and quietly said, “There is no place to go, its too late now. We will be fine.” I felt tears in my eyes as they gently cascaded down to my cheeks. I turned to go inside to a dark, almost empty house.The wind had picked up and a strange feeling was in the air. The power was turned off by the power company for safety I think, but that was unexpected, leaving the heat and humidity to rise through the night. There was an eerie silence, no sounds of the birds, the frogs, everything had left in advance of the storm , not to return for weeks.
The morning light was a welcome sight, unlike Hurricane Rita which came 3 weeks later in the night with untold terror, Katrina made landfall in the morning and throughout the day until mid afternoon. She left as quickly as she came after only a few hours. Later I learned, the epicenter had passed within 25 miles of the home in which I experienced thoughts of “this is my last day on Earth”.
The high winds came in bouts of swirling and twisting waves, creating surrounding sounds like none I had ever heard! The giant trees were being snapped like twigs and the thunder of the tress falling , slamming to the ground were terrifying.The Earth shook with each huge falling tree. Flying debris made different thuds with varying degrees of impact. The uncertainty of what was being hit was terrifying. Sounds were not traceable to any certain local because the entire landscape was being transformed all around for miles.
The most intense and unnerving scene of the day was when the house felt as if it was being lifted from its very foundation.We were standing adjacent to the large mantel in the living room, I was clutching a rosary in one hand, had a favorite holy card tucked into my front jeans pocket and was hanging on to an old recycled military ammunition carrier. All my worldly IDs were in there, drivers license , insurance papers, will,some cash and a few pieces of jewelry. I was willing to let it go at any moment in order to save my life. Nothing else mattered, only survival!
Little did we know this was the last surge of the storm. I was praying we would not be killed by being crushed or going airborne, all the while feeling the wind tugging and pulling at the house.Suddenly there was a huge boom, very close thud.A large antique vase on the mantel flew up into the air, crashing into pieces onto the hardwood floor. I began to cry and tremble while I continued to pray.
The winds were still pounding the house but there was less motion and creaking.Then silence,a deafening absence of any sound.The wind had stopped blowing, the trees stopped falling, the sun came out and we were alive! The house miraculously was still standing around us!The door to the master bedroom had been closed to protect us from possible flying glass or debris. When I opened the door to see what the loud, sonic like boom was,I saw a large hardwood tree poking through the roof filling the room with its large branches. It certainly brought light into that formerly dark room.The tree saved us by anchoring the house to the ground, immediately prior to the last gigantic surge of wind estimated at 125 to 150 milea per hour.Winds had leveled the back yard, the trees that were left standing were stripped of leaves, limbs and bark. Some of the them looked like they had been burned.
The power lines were twists of steel, dangling like vines from everywhere imaginable, the roads were impassable, total widespread devastation and disaster was as far as I could see.I was fortunate to have a house I could live in because many of my neighbors homes were destroyed. I survived and am so thankful.
The strength and courage I gained from surviving Katrina was preparing me for another storm to be played out in the following summer of 2006, my battle with breast cancer. The tough, warrior personality I developed to survive childhood battles, gave me an inner strength to survive not only the storm of Katrina, Rita but most of all cancer!
The aftermath of a serious tornado is very similar to that of a hurricane with one major difference. The area of devastation involved in a tornado may be a few miles wide and long, but there are people unaffected close enough to assist those in desperate need to quickly begin to help people cope.The outpouring of generosity of spirit with water, food, supplies, search and rescue and housing repeatedly showcases the goodness of others in disaster. In the aftermath of Katrina, it just took longer to mobilize the forces of good. August 29th 20014, 9 years after Katrina , we each have a story , some want to share and for others the pain is too great to recall. Many lives were lost and thousands had their lives changed in ways that will never be the same.For me, it is a time and event that I will never forget and will always be thankful for surviving and thriving.I am a stronger woman because of Katrina.