I can’t believe I have been blogging nearly 4.5 years and have never shared my hurricane Katrina story! Keep in mind myself and my family were all physically ok, and this is just MY story. We were very lucky, a lot of people had it MUCH worse! Ok, so let’s start at the beginning.
It was late August 2005, and college had just started back up. I had stayed in my college town over the summer in an apartment and worked, and now I was moving back into the dorms because my lease was up at the end of August. We watched as the storm went to Florida, and in horror, watched as it started heading straight for us as it churned in the gulf of Mexico. The next few days were very tense. My family had already evacuated once that summer, so a lot of people didn’t take this one seriously because the one storm ended up being no big deal. I feel this is where a huge mistake was made by many to be honest.
As the week went on and it was clear everyone in southeast LA and on the MS gulf coast needed to evacuate, plans were made for my parents, sister, and her fiancé to come up to my apartment for the weekend. We figured it would just be a precaution and they would be back home soon. Meanwhile, my now husband, then boyfriend was moving apartments from one to another, so when my parents arrived they helped us get him moved. Come to find out, the place we moved him to was a NIGHTMARE and the toilet didn’t work, so he ended up staying with us as well. If you lost count, that’s 6 adults and a toy poodle in a one bedroom apartment in Jackson, MS. My parents took the bed, and me and my sister slept on the sectional sofa while the boys were on the floor.
The fam at my apartment the night before the storm hit.
We gassed up our cars, went out to dinner to try to get our minds off the storm approaching in the morning, and tried to go to sleep. The next day, the storm went through my hometown, destroying parts of the coast and flooding entire cities. We had no way of knowing what was going on with any family members or my parents house because phones were not working for anyone. The house I grew up in is in an older neighborhood and my parents had TONS of huge huge pine trees in the yard, and we had pretty much predicted which ones had fallen on the house. My mom was panicked because all of her brothers and sisters and her dad lived in low lying areas of New Orleans, and we couldn’t get in touch with anyone.
That afternoon, the storm made it’s way up to Jackson, and it was still VERY strong. (Jackson is about 2 or so hours north of my hometown). We lost electricity at the apartment, as did the rest of the city. Luckily we got it back quickly, but my school did not and ran on generators for days and cancelled classes. (Did I mention it was August in the south, and it was HOT AS HECK?!?). There were a lot of downed trees, and the wind was so scary to go through, so I couldn’t imagine what things looked like back home (except for what we saw on TV, which was so scary.) I remember sitting on the couch with the family in silence as the wind howled around us for a couple of hours, just waiting for the worst to pass. I felt like I held my breathe the whole time.
My memory is a bit foggy, but I want to say we got ahold of some family members but still hadn’t heard from my grandfather. I found a missing persons board someone had set up online and made a post about his location, etc. Oh, did I mention in all of this my dad had an allergic reaction to some medicine and I had to take him to urgent care? Such a fun time.
We thought the worst was over, but then I woke up the next morning and we started hearing about the levee breaks and flooding in New Orleans, and all of the people trapped in the city. Meanwhile I was already online registering my parents business and personal property with FEMA, because I knew it would be a mess trying to do if we waited too long. I just had everything mailed up to me at school, because at that time we didn’t even know if they had a house let alone a mailbox. Oh, one of my families biggest worries was their business. My dad owns a small company right near the NOLA airport, it’s a metal building with a tin roof, and we thought for sure it was all blown away. After a lot of internet searching, I found where someone (who is a genius) did a fly by over the area and took pictures in a grid so you could search and see if your home/business was destroyed. I was somehow able to find my dad’s building!!! It had some panels stripped from the roof but it was still standing! We had no idea if it was looted or not, but it was still there.
After a day of sitting on our hands, we got antsy and decided to do something. My sister and her fiancé left to go be with his family in Texas as they had more room, and my dad wanted to know what was going on at home even though no one was allowed into the area, and there were road blocks everywhere. We didn’t care, and decided we were going to drive down and check on the house and the neighbors homes, etc. We filled up a bunch of gas cans because we had no idea if we could find gas once there, and the four of us drove down to Mandeville. Oh, my parents neighbors had also evacuated to Jackson so they took their car and went along as well. We were so nervous the whole ride down not knowing what to expect. We took some back roads to avoid road blocks, and were able to make it into the neighborhood. When we pulled onto my parents street, what I saw is a sight I will never forget, one that makes me cry to this very day. We later figured about 85 trees had been downed on the street, and out of a street of about 20 homes, only 2 did not have multiple tress going through the roof. I don’t just mean ON the roof, I mean slicing it down to the ground, cutting through homes like a knife. What used to be a beautiful wooded and shady street now looked barren, and all was quiet.
We were shocked yet again when my childhood home had ZERO trees through it. We felt so blessed. We have no idea how we were spared. There were trees down in our yard, one busted the water main, and one next door neighbor had 3 trees in his house, but ours was untouched. Sure there was crap EVERYWHERE in the yard, but the house was ok. We later concluded that a tornado came down our street, because the other streets didn’t look as bad as ours. based on the stories we heard from the couple of people that stayed, it sounds accurate.
This is the view from the front porch. You can see the giant tree the fell behind the car on the right, that one busted the water main, but nothing fell on the house.
Backyard. No we did not put the grill or furniture up against the house like that!
backyard See the huge tree below? We thought for sure it had fallen on the house. They later had it and about 5 other trees cut down. Everyone did. No one wanted to have these in their yard anymore.
My next door neighbors roof. He STAYED during the storm, and said it was the most awful experience. I cannot imagine how scary it was.
Another neighbors home, tree split it in half.
Our front yard. Note that we have a HUGE ditch in the yard, we think the water came up to the house and eventually everything drained to the ditch and stuffed it full of debris.
The boys did a lot of raking and bagging to get stuff out of the street, and poor Bobby had a terrible cold and felt so miserable. They also helped another neighbor rip up some carpet. It was SO hot outside the poor sick boy nearly passed out. While we worked, my mom and the neighbors that came down with us went and hunted for gas and luckily were able to get in line for some down the road. After cleaning up all day, we drove back to Jackson. We couldn’t stay, we had no water and no electricity and no food. It’s not like any stores were open, and they wouldn’t be for many weeks. We were thankful to find that one gas station. There was nothing else we could do except go back and wait.
Meanwhile, we finally got word of my grandfather. He got trapped in the second story of his condo, the bottom was flooded. A man came by on a boat and gave him food a couple times, and finally he thought to ask for a phone to call the family. So at least we knew he was safe. My extended family had a lot of loss, flooded out homes, completely destroyed. One aunt and uncle had a house near the beach and were left with a slab. When we got back to the apartment, we went to the leasing office and begged to stay on a week by week basis. My family had nowhere to go. Thankfully they agreed, and my parents ended up staying over two weeks. Even when they went back, things were not “normal”. They had to go to the local Target parking lot where military men with big guns handed out MRE’s out of a truck so they could have something to eat. It was like being in a 3rd world country. Talk about the most eerie feeling. Being in America, and having to stand in line with soldiers guarding the area so you can get food.
A lot of people think things went back to normal after the storm, but the truth is it changed things forever. My dad’s business never fully recovered, the town I grew up in is now SUPER overpopulated because a lot of people moved from downtown to my town to be on higher ground. Locals tell time in reference to the hurricane. If we can’t remember what year something happened we say “was that before the storm or after?” and everyone knows exactly what you are talking about. If you Google “hurricane Katrina Mandeville, LA” you can see pictures from my hometown. My parents are lucky and live on high ground, but a lot of people that live near the lake and river completely lost their homes. The damage was a very widespread, and now that I live in Biloxi, MS which was hit VERY very hard, I still see, nine years later, that things are not the same. If you drive along the beach road, you will see more empty lots and slabs than you do businesses. It’s very, very sad.
I am sure I am missing a LOT of details, but it’s been 9 years. It’s something I will never forget, the uncertainty of it all was very scary, and every June we hold our breathe as hurricane season approaches, wondering if the next one will be the perfect storm.
QOTD: Ever been through a hurricane? it’s not fun.