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Leaving High Ground

A story of life in New Orleans
during hurricane Katrina

(click on image for large pic)

Preparing for the Big one

Katrina Pic2Make no mistake about it, Katrina was not “The Big One”, and it did not hit New Orleans directly. If it had been the big one, things would have been a lot worse. Katrina hit very close, but the town should have been prepared for this one. Since I moved to the Big Easy three years ago I have been through a handful of category 1 and 2 hurricanes. I have seen so many "big ones" like Ivan turn to Pensacola at the last second. Every time a sizable storm comes into the region, the housemates at 4419 Baronne prepare. After each storm we were always a little more prepared. On August 27, 2005 we had all the boards cut for our windows, 2 generators, guns and ammo, enough food and water for several weeks, GPS, satellites, a flare gun, inflatable boats, a bass boat, and all sort of other survival toys. We have seen all the specials on TV. We knew where our city floods. We knew the worst-case scenario. I was working on plans to cut up all the wood to make a nice raft on the third floor if it came to that. We lived in a fortress on the high ground.

The last Hurricane Party

Katrain Pic4The day Katrina started to barrel towards our great city we made one last stop for gas, water, food, and beer. We took all of our nice cars to the Grand Palace Hotel parking garage; in the not so nice part of downtown located on the corner of I-10 and Canal St. We drove a van that I had paid $250 for 2 months previous back to our fortress on the high ground. We grilled up our ribs and waited with a little fear as the powerful storm smashed Grande Isle. She turned north at about 3:00 am. New Orleans would not see the brunt of the storm. Our power went out at about 4:00 am when the wind and rain got a little crazy. We turned on our generator, fired up the tunes and started what would be the last hurricane party. As we enjoyed our adult beverages, our house shook. Trees were flying everywhere, but we live in a fortress on the high ground, so all is well. When we woke up and the big one had just missed us, we rejoiced and felt so satisfied that we had stayed; while at the same time praying for friends and neighbors in Slidell that must have seen the worst of the storm. The mother of all Hurricane Parties was in full swing.

Into the Madness

Katrina Pic5I have seen some bad storms but the destruction outside of my fortress on the high ground was widespread and dramatic. Huge tress covered the streets. Many of the large oaks had destroyed cars and houses. A few houses near mine were totally flattened. Police and other large vehicles cut a path in the trees on the major street next to mine (Napoleon and St Charles) to Claiborne, (Claiborne had no trees pre Katrina). As we made our way through the maze of partial streets we came out of the oak covered streets to wide-open Claiborne. Claiborne was filled with looters with their shopping baskets teaming with goods. As we came near the intersection of Claiborne and 1-10 the pawn shop was in flames and the mob was looting the stores on the other side of the street. We darted into the back roads of the bad neighborhoods. The streets were covered with broken water mains and block parties. We made our way around the fire and went up the on ramp of I-10 to take a look at the Superdome. The road leading to our cars was under 4 feet of water. We watched the choppers land and take off from the Superdome helipad. Army vehicles already covered the Superdome property. Things were starting to get a little rough so we all hopped into the van and made the journey back home. We cleaned our yard and put the trash out for Thursday, fired up the grill, and started to watch the madness on our satellite and Hi-Def Big Screen.

Hours till Anarchy

Katrain Pic3After seeing the rampant destruction we decided not run the air conditioner to save gas in case we had to keep our computer network up for a few days or even a week. Small gangs started to roll down our street looting the corner drug store and showing some muscle. It was time to go to our buddy’s house down the road (who had left town) to get his pistols, just in case. The day started to get a little tense with talk on the TV of the levees next to the lake breaking. But we were on the other side of the city. No way the water would get too high. It might be a few more days before we could get the cars, but surely they could plug the levees at some point. After not taking my camera out into the madness the previous day, I was anxious to take the bikes out to the downtown area and take some pictures. We made our way down St. Charles to the Superdome. The water started to get about knee deep as we made our way down Canal to the Grand Palace Hotel. By the time we got there, the water was waist deep and a little nasty. But it was only about 100 yards to the highway and then we had a clear shot to Claiborne and that road was clear. The scene at the Grand Palace was something out of Mad Max. People were screaming out of the hotel rooms for help. One lady tried to sell me some cocaine from the window of her hotel room. Small groups of people with their shopping carts filled the parking garage taking inventory of what little they had. We talked to the owner of the hotel for a brief moment as we made our way out of the madness. When we made it to the dry ground of 1-10 the highway was filled with people sitting on the road wanting to know what to do. We stopped and talked to a few of them and told them all that we knew. Mothers with de-hydrated infants and small children filled the streets. They all sat on the side of the road in the heat with a look of surrender. We made one last stop along the way to take some pictures of the Superdome. To our horrific surprise as we raced down the elevated I-10 Claiborne ramp it was covered in water. We waded 3 miles throughout the very bad part of town while the sun was setting. All along the last leg of this day’s journey we passed sites of desperate and violent poor people that we will never forget. One man with several stab wounds and a smashed up face was dragged out of his house by his buddies in the hope that we could help. We gave him all the clean water we had, tried to make some calls on our cell phones, tried to wave down a chopper, and then had to leave. We asked all boats and rafts along the way to take him to the Superdome. I am sure he died within the hour on the roof of the car. As we made in back to our home, the horror of the situation and the exhaustion started to sink in. Our housemates were relieved to see us and we settled in with a hot meal of pot roast, potatoes and cold beer. The night was about to get nasty.

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