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Home is where the heart is

For the first day of the New Year, I thought I'd begin displaying a few pictures of the effects of Hurricane Katrina on my home and the progress I'm making in trying to repair the damage.

This pic is the first thing I saw when I returned several days after the storm had passed. The streets were almost impassable, but I skirted the police blockades that turned me away, and was eventually able to make my way back home. Guess which way the wind was blowing:


Okay, that was a trick question ... with the eye of the storm moving Northward to our East, the winds first blew from the Northeast as it moved up, then from the southwest as the eye passed. My basketball goal sits in about 6 cubic feet of concrete and was twisted around and over about 120 degrees.

My tree was twice that high and was cut in half by tree removers from Texas due to the proximity of power lines. I took this picture after weeks of cleanup, so you can't see the mounds of debris that were everywhere after the storm, nor the furniture and personal effects I lost, ruined by water damage, nor the roofing material that was ripped off my guest room and laundry room to the right.

You can't see the roof over the main part of my home in the background because it is covered with tarps which blend beautifully into the clear blue sky. Although I had to work in near 100 degree heat for weeks after the hurricane, the sky was always clear and blue as you see it here. The only objects to break up the clear blue skies were the never-ending succession of helicopters that were saving people from their rooftops in the 9th Ward and passing over my head.

There was no power, no gas, no drinkable water, no telephone, and hardly a soul I recognized for weeks. After a few days there was a continual pervasive stench accompanied by gnats that seemed to e everywhere. I took to carrying a hunting knife because people were stealing gasoline from the cars left behind by evacuees, and I didn't see one police car in my neighborhood for over a month. I spent every day pulling out all the sludge-covered debris, furniture, books, clothes and personal effects that had been ruined and damaged when the ceiling collapsed and the heavy rains poured into my guest room.

I tried to salvage as many personal things (pictures, drawings, old mementos, books, record albums), but most things were beyond cleaning and repair. In between, I did my best to patch the openings in my roof. That was a hopeless proposition since the water would simply collect and find it's way through all the cracks and openings. I kept trying. Every time it rained meant another new cleanup inside (thankfully, we got very little the first few weeks), trying to fight back against the slowly creeping mold that began forming, and new pathetic attempts to seal the major roof openings. There were no materials or tools to be had and you had to make use of whatever scraps you could find.

Thank God I live near the river on the Westbank on a natural "ridge". We're still only about five feet above sea level here. Parts of the more heavily-flooded areas are between 16 and 20 feet below. Although I have the river to my north and the Harvey Industrial Canal blocks to my east, we have never had a problem with flooding here (knock on wood).

I can walk to the Mississippi River levee within two or three minutes, and it was a sad and ghostly sight looking across. Other than the choppers, the quiet and serenity were unreal, no ships moving up and down the river, unnaturally quiet, even though I knew there were still thousands of people trapped with no place to go. At times it was as though I was the last man on earth.

My battery-operated radio kept me company, but I had to turn it off from time to time because I'd hear people broadcasting from remote locations complaining about how no one was doing anything to help. Why didn't they get their butts down here and help themselves? The whiners!! Of course, misinformation was rampant. What I and people like me, needed were facts, someone to tell me where I might go to find food and water, and hopefully the few things I would eventually need. I knew this wasn't going to be the usual 48 hours and everything's pretty much back to normal. Not this time.

Of course, I didn't get any help at all for some time. The only thing anyone (the police) did for me in the beginning (when I'd try to venture out to see if there was any food or gas) was to point their shotguns and semi-automatic weapons at me and tell me to go back where I came from. I take that back. A man in an Entergy van (I think he had just come to check out the area) saw me tearing down what was left of my roof, stopped, and gave me a case of water. Also, at the end of my second week back, I got my first bag of ice from a firefighter crew which was heaven for about 48 hours. You have no idea how I'd like to thank those guys again.

For a good long while, I was the only person in my neighborhood. Although the conditions were just awful, it was so very peaceful. I tried to read after working all day before the sun went down. Sleep was almost impossible with the still stifling heat and the gnats now joined by mosquitoes and other bugs that prevented you from sleeping outside where it was marginally "cooler". I got very ill for a couple of days, maybe I was dehydrated, and one night I thought I was going to die.

I actually wanted to die in a way, but then I thought how horrible it would have been for people who cared for me if they'd found me like that. I think I actually suffered a stroke one night. I was white as a sheet, dripping with sweat, and so dizzy I couldn't move. I lay filthy (you couldn't bathe, just wipe down with wet towels) on my damp sofa, just praying for sleep to come. There was no 911 to call if you even had a phone. I slept in snatches, waking for good each morning when the Sun came up. I knew exactly what it must have been like for primitive man. I even collected rain water which, even considering the circumstances, was the sweetest I'd ever remembered tasting. I survived.

I never seemed to be making much progress though, just created bigger and bigger piles of debris in the front of my home and piles of stuff I'd saved in the rooms with the least water damage. After sunset, it was darkness like you've never seen. Just blackness. Nothing to do except listen to the radio with my earphones until I got tired of the whining and stupidity. Then it was quiet again. Just the sound of those choppers overhead, and the heat, and sweat, and solitude.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 2nd, 2006 04:43 am (UTC)
This is a very powerful piece of writing! Have you considered writing a book about your experiences?
Jan. 2nd, 2006 04:25 pm (UTC)
Well, thanks for the compliment, Jeff, but I don't plan on writing about my experiences per se. There will probably be a "flood" of such books, articles, and movies later, marketed by people with many more resources than I.

Like I always do, however, I apply my experiences and feelings to many things I do write. There were a few I experienced for the first time or to a more intense degree. The fourth book in my Hale Harlay series was supposed to center around a trip to Louisiana and I may have to hasten that visit.

Right now I'm content to help people get a sense of what what something like Katrina and her aftermath were like through the eyes and ears of someone who was here.
Jan. 2nd, 2006 07:25 pm (UTC)
There will probably be a "flood" of such books, articles, and movies later, marketed by people with many more resources than I.

But not nearly as much writing talent, I'll bet.

Right now I'm content to help people get a sense of what what something like Katrina and her aftermath were like through the eyes and ears of someone who was here.

You are doing an excellent job of that!

Jan. 2nd, 2006 05:04 am (UTC)
I agree with Jeff. That was a moving piece/personal account. It's something worth sending out. I could nearly hear the silence and feel what you were writing.

Glad that you are well and made it through such an amazing hardship. I am grateful to have you to call friend today.

Jan. 2nd, 2006 05:11 am (UTC)
Jan. 2nd, 2006 04:30 pm (UTC)
Thanks Tera... see my comment to Jeff above. Believe me, there were people far worse off than me. The irony of my experience is that I came back early to begin to salvage and rebuild and I have been penalized for that. I have been turned doen from the state and federal government repeatedly when I have tried to get assistance. It is a shame that many people are getting rich off this calamity while many who need help the most are slipping through the cracks.
Jan. 2nd, 2006 06:21 am (UTC)
Definite book material, and most definitely worth writing about!! Thank you for sharing the photos, and keep them coming as you make progress - I want to see your house as it should look!

Here's to hoping everyone down there is provided with the help they need, if not now, eventually... *hug*
Jan. 2nd, 2006 04:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks April... like I said when we first "met" you've got a sweet spirit.

You may have a long wait (lol) as there's so much to do. As far as everyone getting what they need, I think that is an impossible task. There are far too many and too many resources are being lavished on people who don't need them.

Bureaucracy is an insidious beast.
Jan. 2nd, 2006 06:27 am (UTC)
I am sorry you had to go through that experience.. that was a scary time for us all. *hugs*

I do want to see a book about this too..
Jan. 2nd, 2006 04:38 pm (UTC)
See comment to Jeff about book topic. I guess you better than most knows what happened and what impact it has really had on the area. I don't think it's possible for people who haven't been here to realize what has happened.

Thanks for the good thoughts and kind words always.
Jan. 2nd, 2006 07:36 pm (UTC)
You are welcome.. I hope things get easier
Jan. 2nd, 2006 05:02 pm (UTC)
Wow. That is an amazing experience, although I'm sure you wouldn't have wanted to go thru it at all. I am damn proud of you for being able to go back and take care of the business of restoring the home that you love. I agree it is definately book material but I understand why you might not want to relive a lot of the junk you had to go thru.

I am glad to be counted amongst your friends!
Jan. 2nd, 2006 05:22 pm (UTC)
How sweet of you to say that! If I ever get rich and make it to Chicago, we'll have to have a Flukey's together... on me of course.
Jan. 2nd, 2006 05:29 pm (UTC)
Jan. 3rd, 2006 02:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you
Thank you for sharing your account of such a disaster. I'm glad you came through unharmed.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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