Katrina: A Journal, Revisited (Part 1)

Monday, August 29, 2005, The Day Of. I had a sinking feeling Katrina would toggle east and hit the Mississippi coast. Hurricanes always seem to change course at the last minute. A Category 5 storm was barreling toward the same coastline Camille ravaged in 1969.

Early morning, I watched CNN track Katrina as she made landfall at 6:10 near Grand Isle, east of New Orleans, with sustained winds of 140 mph, a Cat 4 hurricane. Then I went to work, assured the worst was over and the storm would weaken as she moved north over land.

My older son, his wife, and three dogs live in Flowood, Mississippi, a suburb east of Jackson, about two hundred miles inland, and I knew they’d get some wind and rain. My family land is east and north of Jackson, near the Alabama line. I worried about my tall pines and hardwoods. I had just contracted to cut timber in a few months.

About eleven, my son called from his Jeep Wrangler. He occasionally calls me as he does his errands, making efficient use of idle driving time. “I’m going to get Nicole. Most of the businesses here are shutting down early and sending their employees home. It’s going to be worse than we thought. We’re supposed to get 100-mile-an-hour winds.”

They’d left Nicole’s car parked in a safe place. She has a brand new vanilla PT Cruiser with a black convertible top. He had recently spiffed up his Jeep with new big tires and a lift, and afterward, he and a few friends drove it through someone’s pond just because, so a hurricane shouldn’t be much of a challenge for it.

I went home at noon, checked my yard—I’m in the next state up—for loose items that might blow away, and decided against going to Publix to buy bottled water and candles. After all, I still had a disaster box prepared after Nine Eleven.

My son called again around one. “My office is closed, too. I’m on my way home. Nicole just called and said our doorbell is ringing nonstop—from wind pushing against it. Listen. Can you hear the wind through the phone? It’s awful. Oh, shit! Oh, no, something hit my windshield, damn, it’s cracked!”

“How far are you from home?”

“Quarter of a mile.”

“Get there. Hurry.”

I sat glued to CNN, watching the radar track Katrina as she moved up through Biloxi and Gulfport, Picayune, Laurel, then Jackson.

Mid afternoon, after the worst of the winds, my son called again from his Jeep. He’s always got to be out in the middle of things. “We lost power. I’m out looking for ice. I just bought groceries for the month—can’t lose all that. Got to have ice. I’ve driven from one side of this city to the other and haven’t seen anyone with power. And every gas station is closed.”

“Just don’t open the refrigerator door. It’ll be okay.”

“You don’t understand. It’s going to be down for a while,” he said, spitting emphasis on down and while, then his voice lowered. “I can’t believe this—in Flowood there are two police cars at every intersection. With their lights flashing. There’s definitely a police presence here.”

“They’ll deploy the National Guard. That’s the first thing that happens in a disaster. The Guard will patrol the streets and keep people from looting. They’ll hand out water and ice. You’ll be fine.” I remembered the problems my parents had during the Great Ice Storm of ’94. The entire Mississippi Delta was without power for eleven days. Every store was closed, and people ran out of water and food and flashlight batteries and candles. The Guard was there johnny-on-the-spot and eventually opened Kroger, allowing residents to go in, ten people at a time, and buy things they needed.

“You don’t understand. Much of the Mississippi Guard is in Iraq!” he snapped.

Oh God. A homeland disaster and no homeland defense ready to roll.

“There’s one city block in Flowood that has power, and my office is on it. So is the police station. I can take my groceries to the office. We have a full kitchen there, so we can cook and eat there, too.”

He was trained in survival and always kept emergency supplies on hand. I thought of all the times we’d laughed and made fun of him for doing so. I knew he’d make it.

Now, Katrina was headed up Interstate 55, toward me, fast on her way to becoming Tennessee’s first tropical storm. I went to bed and waited for her to come blowing through. At 2 a.m. the sound awoke me. Winds pushing the trees in the backyard—tall, old trees that had been there for decades. I was afraid one might fall on the house, so I moved downstairs to the couch in the front living room, and the dog settled against my leg, sensing my anxiety and nervous in her own right about the noise outside. We both kept our eyes on the front windows.

Rain swept in sheets across the yard and the street beyond. It shimmered white under the glow of the streetlamp. The Japanese maple slammed and scratched against the window. The river birch banged against the chimney on the side of the house. The power flickered, the UPS on my computer screeched, and I dashed upstairs and shut the system down. I flipped on the TV to get a quick weather update and heard breaking news that a levee had broken on Lake Pontchartrain and water was pouring into the streets, a death knell for the city of New Orleans. A doomsday scenario. Oh God.

My cheeks stung and my eyes burned wet as I played flashbacks in my mind of trips to New Orleans, that hot, humid old city of character. Strong coffee, beignets, eggs Benedict, old bricks, iron fences, cemeteries above ground, artsy-craftsy people on Jackson Square, music in dark dives. I thought of the picture we shot of my dad on Bourbon Street in front of one of those dives, standing beside a poster of a mostly naked woman with a bottle in a brown bag under his arm. We threatened to show it to the deacons at church. I remembered my youth group’s trip down there, riding slowly through the French Quarter in our long green bus with First Baptist Church written on the side, before disembarking and walking though the streets of sin. I bought a little gold crucifix there and was told that Baptists don’t wear necklaces with Jesus hanging on the cross; we wear empty crosses. All the memories, the laughs, the fun, all the history, everything, now in water, under water. Gone.

The worst of the storm passed, and I went back to sleep.


2 Comments on “Katrina: A Journal, Revisited (Part 1)”

  1. Great images of a terrible event, Kathy. I’ll probably do a post tomorrow… I was on the beach in Biloxi the day BEFORE Katrina hit….

  2. Tana McLane says:

    Lest we forget. Thanks for sharing these memories of Hurricane Katrina, a life-changing, culture-changing event in our lives along the Gulf coast. Beautiful shots…

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