Monday, August 28, 2006




On Monday, everything in New Orleans went to hell. I direct you to a helpful flash animation that was put together by the Times Picayune for a timeline of how New Orleans was basically destroyed.
As the hurricane battered the gulf coast, Daphne was also effected as we lost power sometime around 10am. All day I kept expecting a tree to fall on my house as the winds made the surrounding trees creak as if they would snap at any moment. I boarded up many of the windows (though not all of them) on the first level of my house in case flying debris became a problem. So, seventeen people are in a house with no powers and many of the windows boarded up. Needless to say, it was unpleasant. With limited options most of us were trying to make sure that the kids weren't scared even though they could tell that the adults were. As for me, I'm a computer junkie. I get almost all my news from the internet so being without it was starting to wear on me after a while.
As I mentioned earlier, my brother Brian, and my brother-in-law, Bryan were still in Kenner doing police business. They rode out the storm in the jail. I later found out that they were mainly on looter duty in Kenner, heading off any would-be looters at various locations throughout the city. At one point, my brother officially became a total cliche by actually hanging out in a donut shop with a couple of his fellow officers. The fact that we didn't hear from them for a couple of days added to the anxiety that Liz, my sister, and Lisa, my sister-in-law were feeling, but they did a good job of keeping it together most of the time.
Monday afternoon creeped into Monday night, we were still without power, though the brunt of the storm had since passed by us as it tore its way through central Mississippi. With nothing to do we all tried our best to get some sleep. The sleeping arrangements were still being worked out over those first few days, but it eventually settled into what I'll describe now: Jamie's parents ended up in our bedroom. They're older than my parents by about 10 years so we thought it'd be best if they got the best bed in the house. My parents were in a guest bedroom on a double bed. The mattress was the one had from college so it was probably not the most comfortable place they'd ever spent a night. (Also something to note - my parents had not actually slept in the same bed for years as my father has an horrendous snoring problem. But, like so much that was going on at the time, my mom simply learned to adjust.) The only other actual bed in the house was a twin bed in another guest bedroom. Luckily, my sister had brought an air mattress, so that was placed in the bedroom with the twin and my sister and her two kids (including a nine-month baby) roomed with Lisa, my sister-in-law and her daughter and son. Nicole, Jamie's sister, slept on the floor most of the time in the master bedroom with her dog, Oscar. Jamie's other sister, Laurie, also had an air mattress, so she at first slept in Gracie's bedroom with Grace (who was sleeping in a crib at the time). We soon learned that Gracie doesn't sleep well with other people in her room, so Laurie eventually moved downstairs with her air mattress. Jamie, Laurie and I would rotate between air mattress, sofa and oversized chair each night.
Now, I'm a really picky bastard when it comes to temperature for sleeping. My thermostat has to be set at about 74 degrees in order for me to sleep comfortably. Needless to say, on that Monday night after the hurricane had passed us, it was the end of August in south Alabama so 74 degrees was not going to be happening. I eventually ended up outside on my back deck as I hoped that the wind would cool me off. Also, aside from temperature issues, I have a helluva time falling asleep without a television on. Usually, if I put on the History Channel or Discovery Channel, I'll be out within 20 minutes. But without a TV, it literally takes me hours to get to sleep. Without a TV, my mind races thinking about various junk going on at a given time; the television fills my mind with some random knowledge about ancient Egypt or engineering or some other less than thrilling subject and allows me to drift off.
So, there I am, out there on the deck, hoping to fall asleep with no TV and the temperature being around 85 degrees. Amazingly, at 10pm, the power came back on. My neighbors later told me that they heard an enormous roar from my house as we all rejoiced at having power again. Given what was going on along the coast and in New Orleans, we were truly blessed that night. Unbeknownst to us at the time, by the time we were fortunate enough to have the power back on, half of New Orleans was under water and many residents' nightmares were just beginning.
Unlike most of my neighbors, I have a satellite dish (DirecTV), so we were able to start getting television coverage within a few minutes of the power coming back on. (My neighbors were without cable for a few days.) I don't recall much of the television coverage other than the occasional nitwit standing outside as the rain and wind blew him sideways. Over the next couple of days as more and more "real" news began trickling in, it was becoming clear that our house guests would be with us for a while. The general concensus was that no one would be allowed to return to the area for at least a month, at least to the Kenner area and longer, for residents of New Orleans.
I don't remember every moment of those first couple of days. As it was such a difficult experience, I suppose that I've put a lot of it out of my mind over the past year. I remember impressions. I remember bits here and there. Among my scattered memories was a lot of sadness and crying. My mom has always been an emotional person so it wouldn't take much for her to get upset and start crying and understandably so. And if she was crying, my sister would probably start crying. Lisa was a bit "tougher" but inevitably she shed some tears over time. I recall that things were getting so bad in New Orleans (while Bush remained on vacation) that even the guys at Fox News were going apeshit crazy about the unfathomable situation taking place in a major American city.
Brian and Bryan, the Kenner cops, finally got in touch with the family around Wednesday or Thursday (while Condi Rice was buying shoes on Fifth Avenue in NYC). They had been on looter duty for a few days as Kenner was flooded with about three-four feet of water, sometimes higher, sometimes lower depending on the area. There were a lot of trees down so traversing the city was a real challenge. By Thursday, the water pumps had been turned back on in the area and the water had been cleared out shortly thereafter. My brother had been able to make it to my parents' house by Saturday. Though the water had been gone for two days by this time, the 90+ degree heat and wet carpet were reeking havoc on the house. When my brother stepped in, it was like walking into a mildewy hothouse. Since the house had had up to three feet of water in it, a lot of stuff in the lower cabinets had floated out. The garbage cans around the house had tipped over as well. Junk was everywhere. The smell was terrible. The heat was terrible. The house was ... terrible.
Bryan, my brother-in-law, got into his house soon thereafter and it was no better given that it was in the same neighborhood. Brian's house escaped with only minor flooding. Jamie's parents' house also fared well with very little flooding. The problem was, given all the fallen trees and lack of power and utilities, they were not allowing anyone to return for the next few weeks, which meant that hot houses and wet carpets were making for a nightmare cleanup operation and serious mold problems.
Day-to-day life was ... interesting in my home. My mom worked for Wal-Mart back in Kenner, so the local Wal-Mart happily accepted her (and many other refugee/employees) so she was able to work a very flexible schedule and keep her mind off of things. Dad looked terribly bored most of the time. Liz and Lisa spent much of the time entertaining the kids and keeping them somewhat quiet as Jamie works from home (for a company out of Atlanta) and she needed to actually get work done while the world was going crazy. In my opinion, Nicole doesn't seem to operate well in large groups so she spent a lot of time outside smoking with Oscar, her dog. Laurie has been on an oddysey over the last few years working on some sort of doctorate so she spent much of her time working on that. The fastest way to make my eyes glaze over is to listen to her talk about it, so I tried not to. Jamie's mom played with Gracie and kept to herself most of the time while Jim, her dad, was almost always upstairs in the master bedroom with a little radio listening to Rush Limbaugh. Ugh. (At one point I actually had to block Fox News from the main TV in the house because I just could not watch that garbage.) Everyday, I would get out the house and do some work. I don't work in an office as I'm a roof inspector, so much of my time was spent on roofs accessing damage. It was nice to get out of the house sometimes because for years it had just been me and Jamie. Then Gracie came along and she fit comfortably into our lives after a little adjustment. Now suddenly we were dealing with a houseful of people who are always nice to visit with, but not spend day after day with. The arrangement was starting to take a toll on me mentally. I missed my bed and I wasn't sleeping for shit on the sofa or the air mattress and I just missed the relative quiet that used to pervade our home.
Meanwhile, Brian and Bryan were dealing with having to operate in an environment that can only be described as war zone-like. Brian was working 12-hour night shifts while also basically being on-call for the other twelve hours. He was averaging about four hours of sleep on a given night and wasn't eating very well. Though he doesn't talk about it, I think he was about two steps away from a nervous breakdown. And honestly, who can blame him? He had not seen his wife and two children in over two weeks, he was sleeping in a jail most of the time and hadn't taken a bath in what felt like forever. One day, he and several officers had had enough and they headed to his house to take a cold shower (no hot water due to no power) and sleep wherever they could find someplace comfortable while dealing with the heat. On more than one occasion I believe that he was ready to pack it in and be with his family, but he stuck it out and did his job, which is all that anyone could ask for I suppose. I know Ryne and Shelby, his son and daughter, were missing him very much. Ryne was trying to be strong, but you could tell that it was tough on him. My dad and I attempted to become sort of surrogates for him and we played games and interacted and just tried to make sure he was having as good a time as possible. You could definitely tell that he was bored sometimes being away from his home and his friends and his toys so we did what we could to alleviate that. I also attempted to inject some amount of discipline and education while stuck away from home and school. Ryne is a highly intelligent child; top of his class and all that good stuff, so I tried to incorporate a little school time each day. We must have worked on his multiplication tables twice a day for two weeks, and I think by the end of his time with me, he had them down pretty well.
A little over two weeks after the storm had hit, power was finally restored in Destrahan, where Brian and Lisa live. Destrahan is about 20 miles due west of New Orleans. It had escaped most of the flooding and wind that had damaged and destroyed much of the city. After seventeen days of questionable sleep and being around all these other people, Lisa was ready to go home. When news of the power restoration reached her, she and the kids were packed and out the door within an hour.
Shortly thereafter, partial power had been restored to some areas in Kenner. However, my parents and my sister couldn't live in their respective houses given their condition. Bryan, Liz's husband had been able to secure a small one bedroom apartment so they were set while they assessed the damage. Where my parents would live is a different, yet amazing, story altogether.

Part III coming Tuesday. Thanks for reading.


jay lassiter said...

i can't wait to get home and really delve into this essay. it's hard to digest something so trenchant and emotional at work.


microdot said...

I read all of this tonight, part one and two! It's so good that I am not going to get around to posting on my own blog!
Thanks a lot for this chronicle!
Someday I'll post my 9/11 essay....
I'm staying tuned for part 3!