The Katrina Papers
These were published on the Angel Paths forums in September 2005, following Hurricane Katrina's destruction of large parts of New Orleans.
[Please note - photos used are placed by Liam from a large collection, please let him know if you know who took them and the credits to be used.]
Author - D-man. Who was there. Visit D-man's Blog.
It’s about 5:30am and the coolness of the night has worn off and the comfort I was receiving through the cracked door is no longer evident. I slept on the hard floor once more, my bones aching and my skin feeling rather loose from all the moisture in the air.
“Why am I wet? I couldn’t have sweated THAT much.”
The entire floor is wet. It happened. The water rose high enough over night that it seeped through the rotten hardwood floors and cafeteria carpeting. There is no evidence of water yet, other than the dark stains outlining where my body pressed to the floor, soaking up the water.
The ominous “squish” as I stand up only alerts me to more trouble. The patio outside the door has a few inches of water standing on it, mocking me. Daring me to stay indoors and watch it come in and take over my life. I did not accept that dare.
Running through the house, I frantically find my camping tent. I figured I could set it up on the roof to provide a temporary shelter to my two cats and myself.
I opened the front door to be greeted by 8 inches of water the yearns to rise another inch and have it’s way with my living room. The top of the water glistens with oil and gasoline. Random debris floating by looks none too inviting. I wrap my feet up in two layers of garbage bags up to my knees and start sloshing my way to the back of the house where the stairs to the roof are. God bless these stairs – I have no ladder. Once the tent is set up, the daunting chore of bringing up supplies begins.
My cats, Benjamin and Meishka were not very happy being hauled up the stairs and introduced to the confines of a tent. It wasn’t very long until they got out of the tent and started to explore their new environs. Dashing down the stairs almost immediately, only to find water at the bottom that wholly uninviting to little kitty paws.
Twelve hours go by, sitting on the roof. Trying to grasp the attention of any helicopter flying over. I remain unseen. Too many trees survived, secreting me away from the view of my potential saviours.
“Chris!” I hear my name being called with a hint of fear. It’s my friend Petey. He stopped by to check on me. A forlorn look on his face. His clothes plastered to his body. He waded through the water that now has control of the streets.
“We’ve taken shelter over at Notre Dame, you need to come with me. Grab whatever you can float down the streets in a bucket.”
This broke my heart. I knew that I had to go. My efforts on the roof produced only painful sunburn. I will have to leave the cats behind and make my way to the shelter.
As I get back downstairs, and pass by my bedroom window, I see the water meant what it said when it dared me to stick around. 8”+ of water filled the void that I once called home. The water was only higher outside, balked for now by closed doors and the resiliency of the 60 year old house.
I’ve made the trek to Notre Dame before. Ten minutes walking time. It won’t be too bad. But as I round the corner from my walkway to face the street, I’m awestruck at the river that flows in front of me now. How on Earth are we going to traverse this. Petey did it to come and get me, so I know it’s possible.
The walk is slow and the force of currents and hidden branches underwater are a major hindrance. I found the middle ground of the street. It seems to be the highest. The water here only coming up to my groin. Unfortunately, much has been washed away and I frequently stumble into unseen holes that have been dug by the water. Splashing almost headfirst several times. Finding myself in water up to my neck.
People are walking through the water everywhere. Many with the same idea of floating their few belongings in large Rubbermaid totes. Others with their kiddy pools being pushed in front of them. Some just sitting on the roofs of cars, barely visible above the water. I stop and give a lady with her baby stuck on a roof some smoke bombs and a flashing light for night time to grab the attention of passing helicopters. She’s with four other men that are old and haggard and unable to walk the distance in the unrelenting forces of the new river.
An hour passes by. We’re getting closer to our destination that should have only been ten minutes away. Thankfully Petey was with a group that used a stolen forklift to bust into the drugstore and grab some cigarettes. I really need one right now. Carefully pulling it out and putting it to my mouth. Wiping as much gasoline off my hands as possible so I can light this luxury.
Finally we arrive at Notre Dame Seminary. There is a large group sitting on the front steps. Surrounded by a moat that turns into a sea of shimmering polluted water. Inside, the elderly and disabled are tucked away into rooms, sleeping through the heat of the afternoon. They have nothing else to do.
I am welcomed rather hesitantly. One more person is going to take up the valuable resources available to this motley crew. But those resources are offered to me anyway by the younger crowd. The older men that study there only offer me some warm tap water. But I’m made privy to the generator powered cooler in the back stuffed with cold bottled water. I think that I’ve got it made.
A small generator that is trying to hold onto it’s own life, gives us the opportunity to find a television signal coming from Baton Rouge. It’s at this time that I learn the Levee system has failed. I lose all hope. That much water flowing through, there is not going to be any chance anytime soon for that breech to be patched. And the pumps are all under water with no power source to get them operational. My heart sinks down to my ankles. We don’t have supplies to get all these people through a complete week. I’m relieved that there are lots of Preachers in here. The faith-based occupants will be able to pass on and have their last Rites. And what kind of God would wipe out students learning to pass on His words?
Two hours go by, and a large Army truck pulls up. I can’t believe it. What intervention brought me here to this place where rescue vehicles are already showing up!?!?! The truck where the troops sit in the back, and the flaps hang down on the side. Five men with AK-47’s are hawking orders to get whatever we can carry and get outside NOW!
The elderly that were cooped up are loaded on first. Then came the call for those with medical special needs. I mention quietly to the man with the gun “I have AIDS”. A look of dismay on his face, he tells me to just hold on and take care of myself for now. The truck fills up quickly. I didn’t realize there were about 70 people in here and the truck only hold about 35 plus one or two bags per person. They leave with the promise of returning either that night or the next day.
We don’t expect them that night. There are too many bandits roaming the streets with guns of their own that would hijack a truck like this in the dark. We hang our heads and go back inside. Grateful that those who got out were the ones that needed to get out as soon as possible.
Petey’s brother brought a rifle and ammo with him. He set up shop on the roof. Hidden by a steeple and slanted architecture. He and his friends take shifts, keeping aim on the sea in front of us. Squinting eyes looking for any signs of a ripple in the water. Ears trained to listen for the slightest splash of bandits coming to raid us. These are Preacher Students after all, what could they possibly do to defend themselves. And there is every chance that the rioting heard blocks away will find its way to our sanctuary.
I start to vomit. I’m offered water. I can’t keep it down. More vomiting. Over the railing into the dark. Trying not to make too much noise. We’re in the dark now, hiding from the sounds of drunkenness that loom closer to us. Flashlights are only used in the darkest recess of the Seminary. We give up hope that the truck is coming back.
The library is the coolest room inside. The old pages of the books holding in the cold of the air conditioning that ran just three days ago. I find the divine intervention to be ironic since I am not welcome in most churches due to my sexuality. A carpeted corner offers me a place to lay my head and try to get some sleep. I can’t stop getting up to vomit and void my bowels most violently. Flushing the toilet with sewage water scooped up from outside in small trashcans. It occurs to me that my medicine will put me to sleep. More vomiting. I am unable to take my own medicine. The one thing that right now will help me relax and build up some rest for the coming days.
Finally the effort of continued vomiting takes it toll on me and I collapse to the floor and sleep for two hours. Anxiously dreaming in my sleep of what awaits us when the sun comes up on Thursday.
Part: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6
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