My Katrina Diary
I've spent the morning cleaning my office. I found the diary I kept when the city was flooded and I was stuck in my house from August 30-September. It's long and rambling but it gives a bit of insight into what I was thinking about during the flood.
1 PM, Tuesday, August 30th, 2005
I'm alive and well and so are the two dogs, 3 birds, and the infamous Oot, the sugar glider. I'm pretty sweaty and still covered with flotsam and jetsam I acquired earlier while swimming outside. The neighborhood is covered with several feet of water.
Hurricane Katrina hit hard yesterday. It started getting bad Sunday night as the winds picked up velocity. I was able to watch the 1st episode of Rome on HBO and I was amazed that the power lasted until 4AM Monday. The phone line actually lasted 24 hours later, even when the lines were under water. The worst part of the actual hurricane was the wind. For about 4 hours the wind blew from the NE, and nearly broke our windows out several times. It was like being on a boat with the house rocking back and forth. I think our house moved or tilted a bit from the winds, as it remains out of plumb. Then about 11AM Monday the eye passed by and wind shifted directions and came from the SW. We lost the roof over the area where we had our washer and dryer and other storage stuff. But at 1 PM the worst part of the wind was over. I went outside and talked to my neighbors about how we dodged another bullet.
Then from that time forward the water gradually rose. First it hit the curb by late afternoon, then our steps by sundown, and at 1 AM this morning the water was knee deep on our first floor, so I've spent today gathering pictures from downstairs and bringing them up. I'm able to listen to the radio, but neither my cell phone nor regular phone work at this point. Once in a while a canoe or an air boat passes the front of our house. They say on the radio it might take months before we have electricity and plumbing. I also heard that people actually saw sharks swimming around the New Orleans area. I doubt that, but the thought of fishing for food intrigues me. I sort of live in a houseboat right now. When canoes pass by the house I get my guitar and on the second floor balcony serenade them with the song dueling banjoes. My dogs bark at them.
Just by a fluke I tried my cell phone for the umpteenth time and success! I left a message on my mom's answering machine that I was OK and I spoke to my parents-in-law. I didn't have much time but I told them to encourage Therese who is still in Purvis MS to go to Omaha and enroll Kalypso and Gilgamesh in school there. They estimate that it will be January before school starts here again. Helicoptors keep flying overhead and dumping 3,000 lb sandbags on the breach in the 17th street canal.
And another shark sighting on the radio... My car is completely under water now. If it weren't I'd wait until the water dries out and then drive to either Omaha or Florida where I also have family. Reports of looting are disappointing if they are accurate. Two guys earlier swam by my house and yelled that when the water was gone they were going to break every window on this street. That was pretty scary. I feel safe with the dogs though.
Kochise is a finicky dog. He was pretty scared and freaked out with water inside our house, but tonight he finally ate for the first time. Shoot! A giant bug just freaked me out and landed on the paper on which I'm writing. Time to turn off the lanterns. My light is the only one I can see in a city formerly of 3/4 million. The dogs seem hungry. Better feed them again. I took this picture today of the front of my house:
Wednesday, August 31, 10 AM
I am thinking about leaving the city. I'd walk to Interstate 610 via Canal Blvd and then head East, me and the dogs. I'd put food all over and then let the birds and Oot go in the house. I wonder if this would work. First I've got to try to get more information from the canoe people and the radio.
I came pretty close to leaving around 11AM. But just before I set out I realized the problems with my plan. I was going to swim/walk in the filthy water about 4 miles to the 610 and then hitchhike/walk to Baton Rouge and then rent a car or something and drive North. But I was afraid if I got to the 610 the police or National Guard would make me leave the dogs behind. These were the stories that I was hearing from the radio and from people on canoes. I truly believe that the health of my dogs is my responsibility and I couldn't do that to them.
I heard on the radio that the 3,000 lb sandbags didn't stop the flow from the levee breach and that New Orleans was still filling in with water. The next 24 hours would be critical. I'm afraid New Orleans will never recover from this catastrophe. I can see and hear about 10 helicopters at the moment. About 1/2 of these are search and rescue, and 1/2 are National Guard trying to fix the breach. I've got perhaps a month of free time so I decided to better myself while in house captivity. This will be a great opportunity for a diet and I should be able to drop several pounds. This morning I weighed 197 lbs. The dogs are freaked out. I'm trying to train them to use the upper balcony outside as a bathroom, but it isn't working well yet. They just walk to the steps, see that the house is underwater, and then find a carpet upstairs to pee on.
The water quit running today. That was a sad development. It's been so hot, and taking cold showers now and then has been a welcome relief. My upstairs bathtub is 3/4 full of water. My downstairs tub was full but the flood water is well above its rim now. I waded through this waist-deep water earlier today. It was pretty gross. I threw out all of the meat and dairy products from the freezer. I opened a package of hot dogs and fed my happy dogs. Then I went back upstairs and dried off. I cleaned my room today. Tomorrow I'll pick another room upstairs and clean that. Since this is where I'm stuck for a while I'll make the most of it. During all of my free time I worry about things. I hope my wife Therese and my kids Kalypso and Gilgamesh are OK. They are safe I'm sure. Therese has a hard time driving long distances, but I hope she makes it to her family in Omaha. It's a long drive from Mississippi to Nebraska. Maybe her dad will help her.
I read the book Saving Mr Bingle today. It's a great book about Christmas in New Orleans as well as hope and loss. Plenty of time to read these days, read and sweat. I listened to the radio much less today. I felt a similar exhaustion of media and horrible stories after 9-11. People trapped in attics, all the death, murders and rapes after this flood. It is all so depressing.
I want to call anyone SO BAD to find out what Therese and the kids are up to. I need to wait until tomorrow because of phone batteries. Who knows how long I'll be here and the longer I can keep my phone working the better for everyone. On the radio they said that some gumbo crew will be cooking hot meals tomorrow, but with the flood I won't be able to go. But in a few days, some gumbo sounds fantastic. This situation brings out the worst and the best in people. They say now on the radio that this is the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States. The helicopters are everywhere and it's quite surreal. I hear Bush is in one of the helicopters. I still weigh 197 pounds. I learned some new words: "Jersey barriers," and "deuce and a half." I was not so angry to hear Bush today. But I have more respect for the people in the gumbo crew than I have for Bush. I wonder if it is a gumbo crew or a Krewe du Gumbo? It was amazing to think about Bush, Vitter, and Landrieu in the same room. I wonder what is going on in the world. They are all watching news images that I haven't seen. The water sadly is not going down at all. Earlier a boat with three people came by and asked if I needed anything, such as dog food, ice, or people food. I said no, but thanks. They said "We're just being neighborly." That was very nice. Neighbors usually aren't required to get in a boat and distribute food.
Thursday, September 1, 9:30 AM
I woke up at 3 AM and checked the water level. It was disappointing. I always go to bed thinking that when I wake up the water will be down. But alas no luck there. There are two lawn ornament pigs that I have and they along with many more things are floating around downstairs. The amazing thing is they are always together. I've seen them all over the house downstairs, traveling in tandem from the kitchen to the front door and they are always facing each other. I'm going to take a picture of it.
I went through all of the insurance information. This was in preparation for calling my parents-in-law at 5 PM today, if the phone battery holds out, and if I get a connection. Therese hopefully will be in Omaha by now and then she'll have to file a claim with Allstate. We did not apparently have flood insurance until recently, but thank God we have it now.
I hear on the radio that people near the Superdome were shooting at helicopters. Great job people of New Orleans, we're better than that. I also heard that some New Orleans police officers were filmed looting at Walmart. It's very hot outside and inside. I wish it would rain so I could take a shower.
I couldn't wait until 5 PM due to boredom. I called Omaha. Things are fine. Therese's dad is flying to Jackson Saturday to meet Therese and they'll drive to Omaha. How could I get from here to Jackson? That's the big question. I'm not willing to leave the dogs and Oot, but I'd be OK with letting the birds go outside at this point. Sorry birds. I was all set to leave tomorrow at first light. I, the dogs, my computer in about 10 layers of garbage bags and duct tape, and our important documents, and the two dogs. I was going to let the birds go. They are parakeets that like to bite me. Oot, the infamous sugar glider, I put in Kalypso's room with food all over as well as bowls of water. I think he'd be set for a year if the rats and snakes don't break in and then eat him. On the door I wrote 8 signs about how there were "live poisonous snakes" inside the room. This was an old trick I learned from Ron Tappy. He said one day he drove a hearse to New Orleans and couldn't lock it, so he put up a similar sign to keep people from breaking in. Because if looters come inside, they are welcome to any food, but if they opened Kalypso's door Oot would escape. That would be sad.
I met a neighbor named Shawn today. I'd never seen him before. He was floating by my house using a cooler to stay afloat. He also, it turns out, has a sugar glider and several pets. He said he tried to leave with his pets but was turned back by the police, so he returned home rather than abandoning the animals. I also noticed for the first time that the water has gone down about one inch. Hooray. But still several feet to go.
Shawn says he things the water was going to continue to go down an inch every hour. The 17th street canal breach seems to be patched he said. He also believed that in about a week the water would be gone and volunteers would bring food and water into the city. I can understand completely why the government and private rescue agencies are only helping humans, but I am going to stay with my dogs. I have enough food and water I believe for more than one month. I asked Shawn if he needed anything. He took a few beers but that was all he needed he said.
I believe that the government has failed horribly in this situation. People looted/rioted after Hurricane Andrew and they do it after Superbowl victories. The government should have been better prepared. I hear that the Red Cross and FEMA are not coming to the city now because they fear people will shoot at them. Screw the Red Cross and FEMA. I believe much of this is based on racism. Images of young unruly black men with guns. I keep hearing about these images on the radio. I don't hear any gunfire. But then again, there are the images. Nothing scares America more than young unruly African American males. I'm sick of hearing about governors, senators, and the president congratulating each other. We should have had martial law from the beginning.
25% of the energy in this country, they are saying on the radio, goes through this state. Take control of the situation dammit! It's not just security as an issue in New Orleans. I would imagine this could happen anywhere. It's police officers, and sheriffs, and the security of the entire country. Some heads better roll over this catastrophic managing of a catastrophe. How can a couple of gunshots stop the evacuation? Please evacuate families.
Last night I dreamed that a nutria was getting sexually active with Kochise, I shouted at it and as I walked away, and I noticed the nutria was actually eating the corpse of Kochise, as it had killed my dog. Help me Freud!
After much thought, I've decided to stay. This is the second day that I decided to leave and then decided to stay. Maybe I should see what the water levels are like in the morning and then decide.
I just heard Jesse Jackson is going to Xavier. Wow. He's trying to show that nobody needs to be afraid to go to New Orleans. I heard it's a way to demonstrate "sermons with legs on them." Great quotation. The media continues to focus on looting, not people drowning or dying from heat. Jackson stated that the levee that broke is the issue, not the looters. He's going to New Orleans without security guards. He mentions that image recycling is a major problem. Good for Jesse Jackson.
I went to Xavier today. I swam most of the way. I just got back. I thought it would be good to see my Xavier family there. I went to my office in the Administration building. It was in good shape. But I didn't see anyone. The students must have left a few minutes or hours before I arrived. There were mattresses, blankets, and water bottles strewn about in the classrooms. I swam over to the student center and rested on the steps. Then I made my way home. I saw a dead man in the water nearby Xavier. It was near the area where the I-10 and train bridges are at. They acted as a sieve when the water came into the city, collecting many dead bodies and other debris. I think the dead guy I saw was a large African American man who was homeless and mostly lived under these bridges. I saw several families pushing elderly relatives in things like inflatable pools and air mattresses as they waded up Carrolton Avenue towards higher water. On the interstate it seemed like certain people had staked out certain areas. It was very scary overall to see the breakdown of civilization. I made it back home exhausted. Tomorrow in the morning I have to make one of the most important decisions of my life, whether to stay or go.
On the radio there is talk of House Speaker Dennis Hastert who reportedly stated "it makes no sense to rebuild a city that's 7' below sea level." So we should spend money on Iraq, is that a better idea? When I get out of this I need to write an angry letter to Hastert. I hope Vitter and Jindal respond. This adds a negative image to an already negative portrayal of New Orleans in the media.
The Oakview Mall burned down today. I never went there. I don't like malls, but still, wish it didn't burn.
I heard the Garland Robinette interview with Ray Nagin. It got me teary eyed, especially the part at the end that mentioned that New Orleans will never be the same again. I concur, it won't be the same. Neither will I.
Friday, September 2, 7 AM
In the end I decided to stay. It was a difficult decision. I would love somehow to make it to Jackson to meet up with Therese and her dad. My main reason for staying is that there are thousands of people in hospitals and nursing homes who desperately need to be evacuated. There are starving children. They should get all the resources available to get help. They should be the priority. Me and my pets, despite the heat and the horrible stink, we'll be easily able to survive, one way or another.
I called my dad. I told him to call Therese Tuesday at 7PM at her parents' house. I called my father-in-law John also. I wanted to make sure my dad would get the message straight. I called my mom. She answered but we got disconnected and then I couldn't get a phone signal. My cell phone battery is waning. I'm down to two battery bars, whatever that means. When I call Therese I need to ask her if it will be OK to take inventory, photograph the items, and then throw them out once the water recedes. I also need to tell her why I stayed.
I can't figure out why emergency agencies were not ready for this. It's a problem that didn't need to happen. I've heard that the president remained on vacation several days after the levee breach. People are asking that if CNN can get here why can't rescuers? I've decided that my country's government doesn't care about me, and I'm trying to figure out why that is. I've thought about this for several days, and I've concluded it's because I live in New Orleans, a city that is predominantly inhabited by the disenfranchised of society. We're impoverished, and predominantly African American. Would something like this happen in Connecticut? It's hard for me to believe that it would.
I've heard that some hotels are raising prices and kicking refugees out for Labor Day Weekend. I thought this tragedy would change America. I thought we would come together and realize that acting humanely was more important that money. I was wrong.
NOTE: I decided to leave a few hours later on Friday September 2nd. Shawn came by with some people in an airboat who said they could get me and my dogs to LaPlace in a few hours. I had heard that getting to LaPlace was the key, as the government wasn't letting anyone else come into the city, and they set their gauntlet up at LaPlace. So I left with them, and I left this sign on the front door.
I wrote about my experiences leaving New Orleans here. Turns out it was very difficult to get LaPlace.