The Gathering Gloom
On Tuesday, August 23, 2005, a tropical depression known as ‘Twelve’ is given category one hurricane status and named Katrina. Monday, August 29, 2005, in the early morning hours (really Sunday night), Katrina (at Cat 4) made landfall. Some people got lost in the storm some made it out alright.
In New Orleans the mayor had ordered a mandatory evacuation the day BEFORE. The traffic was stacked up for a dozen miles. We hunkered down in our second floor French Quarter apartment on Dauphine Street, veterans of many storms before.
Saturday September 3, 2005 small white 2005 Toyota Corolla with seven critters and three humans was seen speeding out of town as the first First Responders were entering their part of the Quarter This column is way too short to tell the entire tale so I’ll just sketch in some particulars.
The storm hit like a giant off-the-rails-run-away locomotive. A pained banshee of an uproar; screaming, tearing, growling, thrashing; the virtual embodiment of tortured spirit: howling with malice, pure evil and soul sucking. Trees coming down on houses, tornados roaring up and down the streets; chimneys imploding; roofing, siding and gutters being ripped from buildings. On and on and on the punishment went until it didn’t. We hid in the hallway under mattresses.
As soon as the winds died down, I went looking for coffee and a newspaper; in the same moments, looters were taking out the shops at Canal Place: Gucci, Brooks Brothers, Pottery Barn. They were more successful than I. The French Quarter looked like Agrius and Oreius had had a drunken brawl and had wrecked everything in their path.
We didn’t know it then but, we were the lucky ones. The gulf coast took a wall of water thirty feet tall (with five foot crests). Water flooded 80% of New Orleans. We were stranded on an island called the French Quarter. Island: a piece of dry land surrounded by water.
It got real quiet. Most of our neighbors had left. We had access to a land line; all satellite communications were down. Tuesday I started a journal:
8/30/05: Light rain, kind of sweet—no breeze and gladly NO WIND. Talked to Gallivan about letting us ‘loot’ his apt for supplies He says reports are that the French Quarter is the only dry spot for miles—35,000 and counting at the Dome w/ no elect, no AC.
Walked down Dauphine to share some dog food, Told about Looting. Dress To Kill looted by staff’s relatives at D.O. that are staying for free, Robert’s, Radio Shack and emptied Walgreens on Decatur. Johnny White’s and Molly’s at the Market open for beers. Saw Chris Owens and husband on the street, waved high. Pretty complete silence.
8/31/05 Mint’s roof (all copper) litters the F.M. We’re boiling water to make it drinkable. All day seeing looters with bags. One policemen said that when they started looting Winn- Dixie and the cops arrived—citizens opened fire on the police. Trees, debris, tile, glass and bricks litter the street. No groceries to be found. We have a sign on the door “THINK TWICE!!!” big letters Paula ready to shoot to kill any intruders. Roving bands—armed--- on Iberville. 3 ft of water on Poydras. Electricity went out at 6:35 AM. Had beers @ Jennifer Flowers. Breach on 17th Street identified.
9/1/05 Walked the streets with the dogs (Molly, Ginger, Rosie), trying to train them to bark on command. no building unscathed. Back of the cathedral—huge trees felled and down except statue of Jesus. Magnolias down in Jackson Squarer. No police presence on the street. We still have gas and water and all the junk in the pantry. Woke up with the fear that someone might burn us down by lighting the collapsed tree on fire---cedar---make a lovely blaze. Cleaned the yard. They shut the water off about 9. Neighbors to the left scooted yesterday, now with no water the neighbors across leaving. We were given a transistor radio.
Got a ride to Dauphine and Conti and walked to Canal in water and Rampart where it was up to my thighs. 6:30 PM got back from 2 beers at Molly’s- quick sandwich and coke for me and Deb and I took our last bath. Helicopters incessant, rumors of roving gangs, lake has risen to sea level. Mass lootings and fires, words of rapes in7th ward.
9/2/05 4:36 AM what happened was that there was a giant noise and a light like sun. Fiery missiles shooting across an otherwise black night. Explosion after explosion the whistling of projectiles, the fear of being attacked. Safety becoming illusion. (we found out later that a propane storage unit couldn’t stand the heat.)
6:30 AM Being too nervous to sleep we determined that as hasty an exit as possible was now a necessity. We sewed money into our waistbands we gathered supplies and got ready to dash when opportunity came.
Mosquitoes starting to bite at 9:05, sitting in the yard at “Dogpatch, La.” four dogs around me. Time for coffee. Word on the radio is that thousands are still standing crushed while they wait for busses they got water to them and some MRIs but no Portolets, no pets allowed, animals running wild, children crying and people standing in their own urine. Got extra water from Mark who was leaving, freed a chained Pit Bull, missed Happy Hour at Molly’s. Gave away some socks. Police snipers on roofs.
9/3/05 8:00AM went over to Deb’s apt and saw Kevin, had a beer and listened to him tell about his wife, sister and ma got evacuated and had left him the keys to the car… “and they KNEW… I don’t drive!”
With famous last words, I turned to him and said quietly: “Kevin…I drive.”