Thursday, August 28, 2008

Flashback 3 years - Hurricane Katrina

If you weren't a reader of mine last August, may I humbly recommend you read my post from last year's Katrina anniversary. It's a love letter to New Orleans, and one of my favorite posts.
3 years ago I was evacuated, and getting news from my husband, still here in Louisiana, in random bursts of phone connectivity. I began sending out e-mail updates to a few family and friends, and by the time we returned home the list I was sending to was hundreds of people long - including friends of friends who wanted a first hand account. As I look back over these e-mails I remember what it was like: the uncertainty, the hope, the fear, the misinformation, the confusion. The darned car registration I couldn't renew because all the documents were in Louisiana and I was in Indiana. This is all the more haunting as we prepare for possible evacuation this weekend. Anyhow... I offer for you a glimpse of what it was like for us during our evacuation with these snippets of actual e-mail updates (I've edited and tried to shorten them up considerably, but it's still rather long, sorry):

Sun, 28 Aug 2005 4:05pm
As, you are all probably aware, Hurricane Katrina is basically making a beeline for our house. Fortunately, we are not there. The May Queen and I are safe with friends at the Fort Campbell Army Base along the Kentucky/Tennessee border. The Big Guy is still in Louisiana. When we evacuated yesterday he was on his way home from a conference in Mobile Alabama. He is now with some friends at their home north west of our town. They are in a high area that should be well sheltered, and should weather the hurricane well. The woman he is with is part of Red Cross and he is planning to work with Red Cross in relief efforts as needed after the hurricane passes. He has cleared our home of our photos, home videos, etc. (because I did not think to do this!)
I'll let you all know when I hear from him that he's OK after the storm passes, although it very well may be several days as phone lines and cell towers will likely be down.
MQ is doing well, as she doesn't really understand. This is just a fun adventure for her. I'll also let you know where we'll be, as we may not be able to return to our home right away.

Mon, 29 Aug 2005 3:56pm
Hello again. The May Queen and I continue to be safe in Kentucky. I have not heard from The Big Guy, but all lines seem to be down as I can't even get a number down there to ring. I've kept a close watch on where the hurricane was, and he should have been well away from the major force of it, and just fine. The eye made landfall along the Louisiana Mississippi border, probably 20-30 miles from our home. For those of you who don't know, our town is on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, which makes us a prime target for flooding, although the waters from the lake appear to have been blown south into the city rather than north up to us. If you've been watching the weather channel yesterday they were in our town before they moved out due to the danger, and today you've seen live reports from the town just north of us. I saw the damaged movie theatre where we saw a movie Thursday night. I don't know when we'll be allowed back. Our area was under mandatory evacuation, and we aren't allowed back until officials clear it. I read that in NO it may be weeks until power is back in some places. So we'll just wait and see.
Anyhow, just wanted to let you know where we are, to the best of my knowledge. Thank you all for your notes and thoughts and prayers. The hardest thing is not being with The Big Guy, but I trust that he is fine, and I'll hear from him as soon as he has access to a working phone.

Tue, 30 Aug 2005 10:14am
Still no news from The Big Guy. It's looking like it will be a long time before we are allowed to go home, and perhaps even longer before it's a good idea to go home, and stores and services are restored. Therefore, The May Queen and I will likely head up to my parents house in IN tomorrow.

Tue, 30 Aug 2005 7:40pm
Hooray hooray! Good news! I talked with our friend that The Big Guy was staying with since Sunday, and this is what I learned...
THE BIG GUY IS OK. The home he was in had plenty of food and a generator, and had no damage. Today around 5:30 they chainsawed and bulldozed their way out to the main roads. He made it to our house, which has NO DAMAGE. The only thing we lost is the fence, which needed replacing anyways (and now insurance will likely pay for it, hooray!) He is spending the night at our house. We have no electricity, but we do have water (but not for drinking, as it is likely contaminated). MQ and I had planned to head to my parents in Indiana tomorrow, but will wait for more news tomorrow before making a decision. Even with an intact home, it's likely no place to take a nearly three year old.

As you can imagine we are greatly relieved. Your thoughts, kind notes, and prayers have been priceless, thank you. It's hard to know that there are still so many families who either don't know of their families whereabouts, or know bad news. The conditions in New Orleans continue to worsen. There are so many who still need our thoughts and prayers.
I'll let you know where we girls end up and more news as I hear, but... WOO-HOO. We are celebrating here tonight.

Wed, 31 Aug 2005 8:21am
Hello! My present this morning was a message from The Big Guy, with a phone number where I could reach him at someone else's house. Phone coverage is still spotty and off and on, and he's off doing work now. But I called and spoke to him. You can imagine how good it was to hear his voice. He confirmed that our fence was gone, and one screen in our brand new screened in porch... our new shed had come off it's moorings, but was only rocked a little and not thrown about the yard. He bought a generator at Home Depot, which opened this morning at 6am with a crew from Dallas. He said in our neighborhood about one in every 3 houses has a tree through it. He says we are VERY lucky, even in terms of our neighborhood, and he's been in neighborhoods that have it much worse than ours. He's hoping to work with Red Cross, but they haven't been able to organize at all - there's just no way to get around. They are hoping to start organizing this afternoon, so there may be a way to volunteer (the eastern Maypole contingent... I'll let him know of your offers of help). In the meantime he and a crew of others are going out and just helping to clear streets, etc. Yesterday he said it took 7 hours to fight their way through the debris and out to a main road. He says now you just go out and find people working and help them, taking turns with the chainsaws and moving trees, etc. He hasn't seen any of the photos or video footage of the flooding and destruction, but he talks of radio broadcasts where they basically tell people "if you have a boat get in it and come to the airport, or the Superdome, and help rescue people" He said authorities are glad to have people there helping to clear the way - they helped some of the sheriff department get out of their office!
He said it looks like "Armageddon" and to stay away. So MQ and I will be heading up to my parents house later today. Don't know when we'll head back home. We're so grateful to have a home to return to.

Thu, 1 Sep 2005 10:53am
Talked to The Big Guy again this morning. Last night he spoke with the mayor who is saying it will be a month, at minimum, until our power is back. He is also encouraging residents to enroll their students in schools elsewhere, as you probably know N.O. is doing as well.
The Big Guy continues to be well. I imagine he is getting quite a workout with the chainsaw. He spent the night with a neighbor who had a window AC unit and a generator.
The May Queen and I have arrived safely at my parents home in Indiana. Looks like we'll be here a while, and the 5 outfits of shorts and t-shirts I packed for myself is looking pretty insufficient right now. ;) That's the least of our problems, I know. I'm horrified as I see the damage online and on the news. I have friends who have lost everything, although fortunately so far I don't know of any injuries or deaths of people we know.
Some of you have asked about donations and how you can help. The Big Guy said the best thing you can do right now is send cash, and I know Red Cross is a good avenue for that.

Thu, 1 Sep 2005 10:23pm
I talked to The Big Guy again this evening. He spent the day repairing roofs. It rained today - thunder and lightening - which makes working much more difficult. He is working with several people from our congregation who are back in the area as well. They are getting ice, water and MREs (that's "Meals Ready to Eat" if you don't know - I had to ask!) from a FEMA distribution center. He continues to call the situation total chaos. So far homes are not being looted, but he said that trucks drive around after dark with their lights off, listening for generators. When they hear one they hop out, take the generator, and leave. Signs are showing up all over saying "looters will be shot on sight." Neighborhoods are organizing groups to patrol the neighborhood and try to keep them safe. I of course urged him to get out if he thought it was unsafe. He is frustrated with what appears to him to be a poor government response to the needs of the city (not our town, but New Orleans)
There will be no US Postal Service for at least a month. i don't know about fed ex or UPS, but I imagine that is similar.
the N.O. airport is closed until after Christmas. Guess my parents and brother and his family will have to change their vacation plans. They were going to visit us in October.
Entergy, the energy company in N.O. (who also supplies all the energy to our energy company) pulled workers from the city after they were shot at - saying they won't return until order is restored. The Big Guy knows someone who works for Entergy who says that they are considering cutting their losses and abandoning N.O.
I'm trying to readjust my thinking and settle into the idea of being displaced for quite a while. My mother worked fabulously by contacting a local Lutheran church which has agreed to take The May Queen into their preschool on a per week basis. She will start school on Tuesday. It will be good for her to play with other kids and have a bit of a routine here. She is enjoying being here at Oma and Opa's house - playing with Opa's trains, trying out roller skates, reading books. She is doing well. Thankfully she's good at adjusting to new situations. Plus, Oma and Opa have lots of toys. ;)
It's amazing to think that tonight I will sleep in a bed, while tens of thousands of people will sleep in the Superdome, or the Convention Center, or other shelters. It continues to break my heart.

Sat, 3 Sep 2005 4:55pm
The May Queen and I continue to be well in Indiana. She keeps telling me that "Daddy is cleaning up the trees." Several people here, as well as some friends from afar, have helped us by giving or loaning clothes, so we are fine in that regard. Many of you expressed concern about our funds. I just received news that The Big Guy's pay will be wired directly into our bank accounts. We should be fine.
When i spoke to The Big Guy today he said they have checked on 110 homes of members of our congregation, and there is much devastation. The church will hold one service tomorrow morning. When they visit homes to assess them they are leaving notes on doors, giving info on what other church members are up to, etc. There is a drop box at the church for messages, and that is one way they are keeping in touch through all the spotty phone service.
He also said that last night as he and others were keeping watch on our neighborhood, a pick up truck with it's lights off pulled up. When it saw that the road was blocked, and several armed men were guarding it, they put the truck in reverse and left. Hopefully the looting will continue to be thwarted - how horrible that some people take advantage of others in a time of such devastation and despair.

Sun, 4 Sep 2005 7:33pm
Our church held a worship service today with 90 people in attendance. I enjoyed worshipping with my parent's congregation this morning. The pastor (my dad!) spoke to the only thing that can make sense out of all this - Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection. We know that our Lord understands the pain. He did not send this hurricane and it's aftermath to us, but he is with every one of us as we struggle to comprehend it and survive it. God is greater than Hurricane Katrina.

Mon, 5 Sep 2005 3:50pm
I talked to The Big Guy Sunday night, and he was battling a cold. He, and others he has been working with, have decided to take tomorrow (Tuesday) as a sabbath, to rest and take care of themselves and their own homes. He says that people there are really struggling with what he called "the end of life as they know it." For people in our area, many of them have lost their jobs. It means a loss of income, the possibility that they may have to move their families, etc. There's also a lot of uncertainty as to whether a job will be there or not. I think people are tired, sad, and confused. I was, however, heartened by the pictures on the website of their worship yesterday. The community is really pulling together and helping each other out.

Speaking of community, so many of you have asked how you can help. I've pulled together a few resources, and will continue to share others with you as I can. The rescue and repair and restoration process will last many, many months, and as someone said to me, this is not a race, but a marathon. There will be lots of opportunities for you to help in the coming months. I know that we will have lots of personal stories from our friends and church members.

Wed, 7 Sep 2005 9:19pm
The Big Guy says that a couple of neighborhoods near ours have electricity, so it may not be long before ours does as well.
The Big Guy continues to help clear trees and stabilize damaged roofs and homes. He has also located a friend's cousins who live in a nearby town, and is helping with the search for a friend of a friend's mother who is missing after being evacuated from a New Orleans hospital. Otherwise, there is not a whole lot of new information.
The May Queen started preschool here yesterday. She loved it, and is very excited to go back tomorrow. She'll go two days a week. She was scheduled to start school this week at home, so it is good for her to have this as a chance to interact with other kids and have some regularity in her life.

Thu, 8 Sep 2005 8:47pm
The Big Guy is feeling much better after getting antibiotics. Thank you all for your prayers.
He said that in our neighborhood the trash is not getting picked up, and it is getting pretty rank. Hopefully that will be taken care of soon. Other trash services are picking up in other neighborhoods, so there is hope.

The Parish where we live is officially "reopening" tomorrow at 8am. Although according to The Big Guy people have been coming and going all along. I'm sure he is thrilled that today they lifted the ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages. The curfew (9pm-7am) is still in place.( In case you haven't figured it out, a "Parish" in Louisiana is the same as a "County" anywhere else in the US) Power is restored to 36% of the Parish, but as of this afternoon not yet to our home or church. Official word is that they are hoping to open the schools Oct. 3, but The Big Guy heard that it may not be until January, particularly if they wait until they can get the whole parish up and running, as several schools are severely damaged and a high school is being used as a shelter.

Sat, 10 Sep 2005 3:20pm
As of 10:33am on Saturday, Sept 10, WE'VE GOT THE POWER! The Big Guy is thrilled. He has the air conditioning running and has the downstairs of our home in the 70s (down from 95, pant, pant) Also, trash was picked up today, AND mail was delivered! Still no phone service, and no cable or internet. Grocery stores, Walmarts, Kmarts, drugstores, etc are open. Restaurants are starting to open. Other businesses will likely be close behind.
In our Parish, five of 51 schools are too damaged to be use, but school officials said the 2,600 students who attend those schools will be enrolled in the parish’s other schools. Officials said schools will reopen Oct. 3 (MQ's birthday!) Our preschool is hoping to open at the same time.
So, now we're starting to talk about when The May Queen and I head back down. Probably within the next week or two. We'll figure that out.

Mon, 12 Sep 2005 3:57pm
Hello! Tomorrow morning The May Queen and I are heading back to Louisiana, and my mom is going to travel with us. We'll leave after MQ goes to school in the morning, and drive into the evening, hoping to land somewhere south of Nashville. We plan to get home Wed. night.
It will be good for our family to be back together, and to figure out as a team how we move forward from here. I'm sure that much of our lives for quite some time will be helping with restoration in our immediate area and beyond.

Sun, 18 Sep 2005 3:47pm
Hello! The Maypole family is back together in our home. Hooray! I cannot tell you how blessed I feel to still have a home, and that it doesn't have a blue tarp on the roof.
We are back online - sort of. Our cable internet is still out, and will be for the foreseeable future. We hear that the office and all the equipment that gets internet to our area was destroyed, and it may be months. We'll see. In the meantime we are using dial-up. I had forgotten how painfully slow this is. So, please hold off on sending us attachments and forwards until we have a highspeed connection. In the meantime, I'll try to get things done while I wait for a new window to open - like maybe read War and Peace. ;)
My mom graciously made the drive down with The May Queen and I. About 20 miles north of Tuscalusa, Mississippi we began to see the effects of the hurricane - trees snapped in half, signs torn and blown over, piles of debris that had been cleared to the side of the road to make the highway passable. We would see these here and there, and more consistently the further south we got. It's odd to me how a hurricane will take one tree and not the next.
We did a brief tour of the area before sending Mom back on the train on Thursday. Our community is slowing getting back on it's feet. And I say slowly, but things are moving much faster than first predicted. Many businesses are open, but often with shortened hours and services. Cardboard signs are posted out by the road proclaiming "open" for local stores and national chains alike. There seem to be an unusual amount of "now hiring" signs as well. Most neighborhoods, including our own, have piles of chainsawed trees lining the road, waiting to be removed (who does this and when, I don't know). This makes our narrow roads even more narrow, and often you have to take turns driving down the road. Our neighborhood is filled with the sounds of chainsaws, tractors, and cranes. Our neighborhood still has piles of garbage and torn out carpet/drywall, etc. along the road. The only garbage they have collected is what has been in trash cans.
We went down to the area in our town that got flooded - water came up about 1/2 mile from the lakeshore. We stopped at a local social service agency that we usually work through that gives assistance to people in need and runs a thrift store. They had flooded, and had to throw out most of their inventory, and redo their building. They were closed and not taking donations. We visited the home of a member who had flooding on their first floor up to about 3 feet. Fortunately, their first floor is entirely garage and storage. We could see where the water had shattered the glass in sliding glass doors and bent the frame. Everything in the garage had been pushed into a big pile in one corner of the garage by the water. We visited another home where a tree had hit the home, puncturing the roof. There are still downed wires in a lot of places, and it was a bit unnerving to drive over them with my car!
We had a full worship service this morning, and next week will return to three services. Sunday School, Confirmation, etc. will start up in Oct.
Here at our home our phone is now working! We also have cable again, sort of. Some local channels aren't broadcasting (PBS, NBC) and, inexplicably, we get some movie channels and not others. But we now have access to CNN and Nickelodeon, so life is good. ;)
A lot of people in our community are having to work elsewhere, either temporarily or permanently, as their New Orleans offices are destroyed, or at least inaccessable. Our neighbors, who already have 4 kids, have taken in 4 children and 3 adults - all family who have lost their homes on the "South Shore."
We are all humbled by the generosity of our church, friends, and the rest of America as offers of help continue to arrive. We look forward to the arrival tomorrow of my cousin and his father in law - who will be here this week helping clear debris, patch roofs, etc.
When The Big Guy described what it was like during the hurricane, he said it sounded a lot like a tornado, only it lasted 24 hours! He said several hours before the first rains began it was eerily quiet - no birds, etc. He watched trees snap in half, and the upper halves fly 200 yards before spiking into the ground
A guy is here from our insurance - gotta run!


Kathryn said...

Wow. Thank you for this insight and personal experience. It is amazing. I am so glad that you saved these emails.
Thank you for sharing them!

thailandchani said...

Wow.. this was great! Do I have your permission to print it and keep it?


the dragonfly said...

I remember reading these when you originally sent them. Reading them all together like this brings a lot back..

And I have odd little flashes of your stay with us: taking MQ to the playground, making cornbread, singing the crocodile song, listening to Avenue Q while MQ slept on our "flight" north. And, of course, endlessly checking for news on the internet or on CNN..

Amy Y said...

That had to be hard to re~live through your emails.
Sending positive thoughts your way for this weekend and hoping you and N.O. don't have to live through this again with Gustav!

Where in Indiana are your parents, btw? Mine live there, too (and I grew up there)! Crazy!

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Wow, this was extraordinary, PM.

I am praying for you all as Gustav circles in.

Melissa said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing all of that. And you have my prayers that you won't have to go through it all again.

Emily said...

Oh, PM!

Praying that the only showers you have to endure are showers of grace.

Sending love...

Aunt Becky said...

Oh wow. Wow. Just wow.

I remember we were on schedule to get married on September 10, 2005, and while I am a Northerner (altho I will relocate to NO at some point. It's my REAL home. Even if I've never lived there), I'll never forget how stupid and inappropriate I felt getting married while Katrina was devastating the South.

What an amazing post, PM. Seriously, I'm all shaky now.

MamaGeek said...

This is nothing short of fascinating and sad and amazing all in one.


niobe said...

Amazing. Absolutely amazing.

Don Mills Diva said...

What scary time - you should print these every year so no one forgets what you and others in NO went through...

Jennifer said...

"Wow" really does sum it up. Incredible. And scary. And so glad, again and still, that you're all okay.

JCK said...

What an amazing journey! So great that you have a record of these days. And THE BIG GUY? Awesome.

jen said...

i remember this like it was yesterday, friend.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. (There is one place where you didn't change MQ's name and another where you didn't change The Big Guy's.)

painted maypole said...

thanks emily. i thought i proofed it a gazillion times, but still missed those. fixed now. if anyone sees any more, please let me know. trying to keep us mostly un-google-able. ;)

carrie said...

Thank you so much for sharing this - it is incredible to read about your journey home.