Note: This post was scheduled to run on August 29, 2012. It was postponed due to Hurricane Isaac.
From the original Slabbed website at WordPress.com
We lived close to the beach in West Gulfport, Mississippi in our dream home. This is the story of how we survived Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
I grew up on the Mississippi Sound and our dream come true was moving back to the water over Easter Weekend 2005. We bought our house in September 2004 and spent the next 6 months renovating and adding on. All that is left now is the foundation. We will rebuild.
I am also a Hurricane Camille survivor. My family moved to Waveland, Mississippi in May 1969. I hope what I write here will serve as a memorial to those there who survived Camille but not Katrina. Hurricane Camille was the measure of the damage a hurricane could bring. The prevailing wisdom here is that Camille killed more people on August 29, 2005 than on August 17, 1969. We could have easily been in that number. One of the reasons we stayed is that our neighborhood received only 1 foot of water from Camille. Little did I know that a “lesser” storm would bring 8 feet plus tidal waves.
My neighborhood was beautiful, full of Live Oaks and Magnolias. The “Friendship Oak” was my neighbor. Thankfully it survived.
Growing up here on the coast means loving the water. I swam the waters of the Mississippi Sound during the numerous tropical storms which have blown through over the years and enjoyed shooting the “rapids” in the rain swollen Wolf River. My best friend and I were threatened with arrest when we were enjoying the rough seas before Hurricane Frederick back in 1979. Looking back I am convinced such foolhardy behavior in my youth helped keep me and my family alive on the 29th.
Preparing for Katrina
Our story begins on August 27th when we received first indication Katrina was coming our way. Fearing long lines we made the decision to stock up on Hurricane necessities at the Long Beach Sav-a-Center and gas up our vehicles. Surprisingly, the crowd there was sparse and the shopping easy. We made plans to secure my Mom’s place and the house we were trying to sell Saturday and if necessary our House on Sunday. We followed our plan and prepared our place Sunday. We woke early that morning and I found time to snap a picture of the Sound. I posted my “wisdom” here.
We kept an eye on the weather as we began receiving phone calls from our friends and family from across the country. “Please leave” was the familiar refrain but I preferred a more cautious approach. If it looked like we were going to be hit directly we could always evacuate to my Mom’s place north of the interstate. I was trying to get my house ready that Sunday and found the steady stream of phone calls annoying. I stopped answering the phone while we prepared the house. We also packed some clothes just in case we had to leave.
While I was finishing up outside on Sunday I looked up and saw a swirl of high clouds……the first indication Katrina was coming. I took comfort in the fact the sea birds were not leaving like they did before Camille hit. My thoughts were with the people in New Orleans who we all knew locally would be devastated. The winds began picking up….
Most of our neighbors had chosen to evacuate…Tom, Judy and their boy Chris across the street, Mr. and Mrs. Irby to our North. By 5 that afternoon our neighborhood, normally full of life, was a ghost town.
We kept the weather on alternating between our local station http://www.wlox.com/, a channel out of New Orleans that has a good meteorologist http://www.fox8live.com/ and the Weather Channel. The indications were Katrina would strike New Orleans directly or slightly to the east. I knew the weather would be rough but it would be nothing I hadn’t been through many times before.
I told my wife and son to go to bed. I would stay up to keep an eye out in case Katrina turned our way. Our vehicles were loaded with our clothes, tools and chain saw (in case we had to cut our way back in). I watched the weather and dozed on my couch the rest of the evening while the weather steadily worsened. Up until the time our power went our around 4 AM on the 29th I had no indication Katrina was coming for us.
When the lights went out I pulled out my weather radio but could find no operating stations. My battery radio was also not picking up any signals…it was still early so I didn’t wake my family. I walked outside several times on my carport between 4 and 5 that morning and while a few big limbs had fallen, it was nothing out of the ordinary for a close call with a Hurricane. At 5:00, my wife awoke but we left our son to sleep more. We had no idea then what kind of hell was fixing to break loose…..
First the wind
The weather continued to worsen though as a large water oak fell from my neighbor’s yard across my driveway. I was thankful it didn’t fall on my carport but also understood the die was now cast. We could no longer leave. One of our backyard water oaks then fell and my back porch was lifting up and falling back down. I went outside and fixed a crooked support beam on two occasions. Then a gust of wind lifted that porch roof completely and flipped it over on my back roof. Thankfully, none of the windows on my split roof were broken but we had our first damage. Trees continued to fall but none had hit my house. I told my wife to get our boy up just in case. It was around 6:30 that morning.
While she did that another gust of wind lifted that porch roof from my roof and slammed it to the ground across the back of my house. I was actually happy with that turn of events as my cleanup was made easier and the roof then protected the windows I had across that east side of my house. I was amazed that I had no broken windows despite the wind and flying objects.
I called my mother who had evacuated to Panama City Florida to ask her for an update. She said the storm had turned and was heading our way. The anger in her voice was unmistakable when she asked me how much water we had in the house. Don’t worry Mom, “There is no water.” I walked back to master bath and its South facing window so I could see the water first hand. It was high but not over Highway 90. “We’ll be OK” mom, the water isn’t over the highway but it is hard to tell. I’ll call you back. I called my partner who lived close to 40 miles inland and asked how they were doing. “Storage is gone…there are three big pine trees on it….our cars are crushed.” “Storage” is where we kept our archive files and computer backups. I relayed our damage and told them to please be careful. I was amazed my Nextel phone was still functioning in the weather we were getting.
My wife and son sat in his bedroom while I tried to secure the ventilation pipe on my water heater which was moving up and down in the utility closet. It is amazing what duct tape can do. My wife and son were calm while the weather outside continued to worsen. I was glued to the window in the master bath watching nature’s fury when I noticed neither had shoes on. Nervously “I said get dressed!” “We are dressed daddy” said my son with a smile. “No son you need to get shoes on just in case.” They did ask I asked and my wife sat my son back down in his room with his game boy.
Next the water
I noticed water was coming in the back room and could see around 6 inches of water on the remains of my back porch. Around that time my son yelled, “The carpet is wet!” as the water had risen another foot in less than a minute. “Here we go”, I thought, “Our foot of water” just like Camille.” Little did I know…
I again looked out of my glass door on the back porch and now saw at least 2 feet of water. My living room furniture began to float as my wife made her way to our bedroom trying to salvage some of our possessions there. The water kept rising. I brought my son to our bedroom and put him on the bed while I went back to the master bath. I saw a huge diesel tank floating in our back yard. I thought nothing of it but in a few moments the South facing wall in our master bath made a large noise as water rushed in. The tank had busted a hole in the wall and had ruined my new whirlpool tub. The water kept rising. My wife called her mother to tell her we were flooding… I called mine back to tell her the water had finally come. “What are the coordinates of the storm?” I asked. She didn’t know but said “the Weather Channel said you should expect 4 to 6 more hours of hurricane force winds.” “You’ve got get out of there!” she said nervously. “We can’t.” I said. I could hear some chattering in the background then another voice came on the phone, “You have to get out of there!!!!” More useless advice, I thought to myself as I hung up the phone.
“Ok guys we may have to leave.” I said above the howl of the wind. We had new windows in our master bedroom so I open the one on the North side just in case. A branch hit it at the instant I opened it and badly lacerated my thumb. “I’m cut!” I screamed. My wife and son were in a state of shock and didn’t hear. I quickly regained my composure as I saw that diesel fuel tank now ramming my bedroom wall. ” We have to get out of here” I told my wife. So we went to the hall. The water was now almost 4 feet.
Through it all my sons cat had managed to hide, we found her floating on my couch and my wife grabbed her and put her in the kennel. As I watched that tank smash our bedroom I knew we’d soon have to abandon ship. A sinking feeling came over me as I knew the decision to stay would probably kill us. There was only one place left to escape, the North side window in my sons bedroom. The water was now 5 feet deep as we made our way down the hall shoving our floating furniture out of the way. I called my partner back and said, “We are flooding!” but she couldn’t hear me over the howl of the wind. She put her husband on and I repeated our predicament but he also could not hear. I was amazed my phone was still working but I also knew it was now dead weight so I tossed it aside. The water was still rising.
My son’s bedroom was yet to be renovated and had old crank windows without the cranks to open them. I knew I would have to bust the windows out and suffer the jagged glass to get my family out as we made our way down the flooded hall. When we entered the room the entire north wall was gone and somehow one of my vehicles had “swam” on its own from the south side of my house to just outside the remains of that north wall. We held on for a time just inside the wall hanging on to the bar in my son’s closet with the cat in its kennel on the top shelf of the closet. My wife then exclaimed “Oh my God Look!” and to our amazement there was a cargo container from the Port of Gulfport smashing the house across the street to our northwest. A wave then swept through the bedroom to the ceiling. My son then said in a calm voice, “We are going to die.” I looked back at him sharply and said, “No we are not going to die….we are going to keep our wits about us and we WILL LIVE.” “Remember to keep situational awareness!” I told them…”If we don’t panic we will make it through this.” Those words had a calming effect on all of us as we looked out of that hole in our north wall and watched another cargo container make its way up our street.
I grabbed the kennel while my wife and son held each other. The handle broke but I was not going to leave our cat to die without a chance so I opened the door and grabbed her. She crawled onto my shoulders and back digging in her claws…she saw my son’s bed floating and wanted to be there. Another wave came in and almost washed me and the cat out of the house when my wife said, “Let her go, maybe she can save herself.” She climbed on top of my sons floating bed. It was the last time we saw her.
Then the escape – roof surfing
When I saw the walls were about to give way we let go and managed to swim our vehicle it and climb on top. The remnants of my roof came toward us and my wife and I were able to jump from the roof of my vehicle to roof of my house. There was only one problem, my sons foot was caught in debris and my wife couldn’t pull him up. “NO!!!!!” I screamed as I went back down on the roof of that car and pushed against the roof with all my might. His foot was freed and we made on top of our now floating roof. We were about to embark on the ultimate water ride.
We immediately began to make our way north running over my neighbor’s flag pole. We then hit his magnolia tree which temporarily stopped our progress. Debris was flying all over and black plastic cartons from the port were skimming across the water occasionally hitting us along with hard insulation. I kept an eye out toward the sea so we could dodge some of the debris. My roof was sandwiched 2×6’s so it was sturdy and was covered with “rolled roofing”, essentially felt and tar. It suddenly peeled away and caught my wife and son. I grabbed my son and got him away while my wife held on with all her might. I then grabbed her and got her out from under the felt – it flew away with some force. “That was close” she said huddling with my son with her back to the sea. “I scared Daddy” he said sobbing. “Here is what how we are going to make it”, I said, “Mommy is going to watch out for you and I am going to watch out for Mommy.” “Who is going to watch out for you?” he sobbed. “You are son, you are going to keep me safe” and with that he gained resolve and the frightened look on his face disappeared. “We are going to make it through this.” I again said…”We will keep situational awareness!”
I noticed an oil tanker truck was now pushing us to the North and Mr. Irby’s Magnolia was strong enough that we spun around it. We were able to shelter behind its branches as we were again stuck. Its branches caught all the debris coming our way but our shelter was short lived as the tanker truck began to push it down. We were again free and floating to the North. I have heard many times how wind blown rain stings and was amazed that it didn’t hurt. “Does this rain hurt you?” I asked my wife. She nodded her head.
Our next stop was Mr. Irby’s live oak but its branches were swaying violently and we couldn’t shelter under them. “We’ve got to move” I told my wife and son. It was then I noticed blood streaming down my left leg…I had a 4 inch gash in my thigh. I had no idea how I suffered that cut. We moved away from the branches to another part of our life raft as the tanker truck broke free of the Magnolia and again began pushing us. That old live oak was very strong as we swung around it…we were able to move behind its branches and again not worry about flying debris. It was then the tidal waves started coming in…
“Big Wave” I screamed as I grabbed my wife and son. I estimate the swell was almost 15 feet coming towards us…..our roof life raft rode the wave flawlessly. The waves kept coming in smashing against the two houses to our north which had floated with us. The waves kept coming…..I lost count after ten. With each swell that came in I would shout the warning, “Big Wave” so that my wife and son could hang on tight and we rode each swell up and down. The waves kept coming and I “knew” one would capsize us and seal our fate. I looked at my wife and said, “I know I haven’t always been there like I should have but know I love you.” She started to cry and told me she loved me as the three of us embraced. We were prepared to meet our maker…
I saw another big wave coming in and I snapped, I looked at my son and smiled and said, “Watch this!” I then stood up against the next swell and yelled “YEEEEEEEEEEHAAAAAAAAAA MOTHERFUCKER” as loudly as I could. “YOU AIN’T GONNA KILL US YOU BITCH!” I sat back down and saw my son was giggling because his daddy had said a “bad word”. “Daddy you’re crazy.” he said half smiling.
“Look, when the water goes out it’s going fast,” I told them, “we may have to jump off to keep from getting swept out into the sound.”
That was wishful thinking as the tanker truck broke loose and was now pushing us against the blue house pinned against the trees to our north. The Irby’s house was now to our east and I was scouting a way over the debris pile to it. “Babe”, I told my wife, “We may have to get off this roof.”, as we moved towards the blue house. “That tanker is going crush us against the house.” Another wave came in and pinned the roof against the house. “We’ve got to go! Follow me.”
Back on not-so-dry-land
I don’t know how we did it but we walked over the floating debris pile to the Irby’s….I felt as though I was a lumber jack negotiating the floating lumber….about the time I was confident in my new found skills I fell and busted my shin, blood poured from the new cuts on my legs. “Watch out there” I said getting up, “we are almost there.” I made it to the west face window and kicked it in….not good enough as I cut myself on glass entering the room. I quickly removed the shards of glass from the frame and my wife and son entered. We collapsed on the bed floating in the room, exhausted and covered in blood. I was overcome with emotion as I felt we had truly made it but I kept my composure. I looked at my wife and smiled, “I think we’re going to make it.” I noticed my wife was barefoot. “What happened to your shoes?” I asked. “Gone, I lost then in the bedroom before we got out.” she said. She then got up from the bed and opened the closet door. Mrs. Irby had a pair of shoes in the closet and they were my wife’s size. “New shoes”, she said smiling. She found scraps of fabric in the closet and made a “battlefield dressing” for my leg and thumb.
“Look I’m exhausted and need a nap,” I said. We were still flooded and the wind was still howling but I was at peace. I lay back on the bed and nodded off only to awake moments later to a large POP. The plywood on the wall was buckling. My newfound optimism was shattered as I told my son, “Look, I may have to throw you out of here if this wall gives way. If me and mommy don’t get out behind you wait until the wind water goes away and get help.” I kept an eye on the buckled piece of plywood and listened to the house creak under the pressure of the wind and water. Exhausted, I passed out.
When I came to about 10 minutes later the wind was still howling but the water was gone from the house. I looked outside the window and saw our roof life raft was about a third of its original size on the ground next to the blue house. It was still raining. I still wasn’t sure the walls in our shelter would hold but was again feeling better about our prospects. “Well babe”, I said to my wife, “shall we rebuild here or in Robinwood?” Before she could answer I said, “I want to come back here.” She nodded in agreement. While we waited for the winds to die down the enormity of the experience began to settle in. All my business computers were gone, my partner had told me storage was gone….without data my business was completely destroyed. We spied one of our dining room chairs outside and the remains of one of our prized leather sofas. A beautiful computer armoire we had just purchased was smashed just outside the window. The debris pile was almost 15 feet tall. I also noticed chicken leg quarters everywhere in the heap of debris.
I climbed outside the window and made my way back to the tanker truck. I climbed up the ladder on the back and stood on top looking to the south. The water was still very high….not a single house was standing from Finley Avenue to the beach. My place, which had water views from parts of the property now had unobstructed views. I looked back at my wife and smiled, “We have a beach front lot now.” I looked down and saw I was standing in a pile of leg quarters. “How in the hell did these things get up here.” I thought to myself. Another big wind gust convinced me to get back inside for a while longer.
We waited inside another 30 minutes or so before we left, the debris pile was huge and I wondered how we could make it through it. We made our way to the top of the pile on the street when my wife spotted someone in the house across the street to the northwest. He was yelling at us but we couldn’t hear – a cargo container had been left literally feet from his front door when the water went down. The house was very badly damaged but had somehow made it….as we got closer I noticed the guy was “bailing” leg quarters from his premises. He recognized me and asked, “Were you in your house?” I nodded we were and he said, “How did you survive?” I shrugged my shoulders and said, “My roof”.
With that we introduced ourselves. He also had a lady friend with him who was in a state of shock. “I have no water and my son is thirsty do you have any?” “No” he said. Looking at his house I didn’t doubt him. I turned to walk away, back to the Irby’s, “Where you going?” he asked. I pointed back at the Irby’s (which he couldn’t see because of the container.) I said, “We are going to get out of here, how far up the street do you think this pile goes?” “Probably to the tracks.” he said, “You can’t risk it today, you should stay if you have shelter.” He continued, “I’m looking at that blue house (across the street from him), the man who just bought it is very nice, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.” “I think it’s heavily damaged.” I said. “But I’ll go look.”
With that I made my way back over the pile of rubble and to the back door of the blue house. I kicked it in and saw it was uninhabitable. I then went back over the debris back across the street. “You won’t be able to stay in there.” I told him. “We are in the Irby’s house and while we couldn’t get out of the room we were in it looks to be in better shape, come stay with us.” I noticed the man had two beautiful Great Danes behind him as he motioned for me to come in through his new “front door” which was actually a busted out window on his front porch.
“Mr. Y, I don’t want to be rude but I need to get back to my family”, whom I had sent back to the Irby’s. “I have some water and food for you.” he said, “Come on in.” I entered his shattered home and we walked around the chicken scattered inside. “Look, I know one of the wheels at the port,” I told him, “and if I ever see K again I’m going to kick his ass.” I helped Mr. Y get his refrigerator upright and he gave me some soup and a gallon of water. I thanked him and he said, “Look, you can’t be proud, if the Irby’s have food in their house you take it….I’m sure they won’t mind given the circumstances.” I knew he was right so…
SOP became a looter and heads for help
I made my way back to my family and handed the food and water to my wife through the window. “Look, I’m going to try another way in and see if we can get the bedroom door open.” So I went to the window by the front door and kicked it in, this time carefully removing all of the glass from the frame. I went in and looked to the south and saw the water. The Irby’s house had no south face wall in their living room. I understood why the plywood buckled. I kicked in the door to my wife and we looted fruit and a V8 from their refrigerator which had floated on its back. I found another bedroom which was in decent shape considering and looked at my wife, “Mr. Y and his friend can stay in there but I still think we need to leave.” With that we made our way back across the street where I told him what we had found. I gave him back his food and offered him some fruit. I told him we were going to leave. “Can my friend come with you?” he asked and I nodded yes but she changed her mind. About that time we saw two more faces from up the street.
“Holy shit how did you survive!” the guy yelled, “I recognize you…you lived further up pointing to the water….you actually stayed!?” Before I could answer he yelled, “How stupid can you be? What a dumb ass!” Overcoming my urge to murder I asked, “You came from up the street, how far do the debris piles go? Can we cross the tracks?” “You can get through it he said; I’ll show you the way.” With that I told Mr. Y I’d send for help and we left.
Our guide was drunk and obnoxious as we made our way up the street as he kept saying, “I said watch out for those nails!” and “Man you sure are stupid.” When we got to his apartment building he said, “Come in we have a place for you to stay.” I laughed inside at the prospect of spending the next 14 hours or so in hell with a drunk telling me how stupid I was in front of my son and declined his offer. “Where are you going to go?” he asked indignantly. “We are walking to life, sir. There is no life left here.” I gave him the bag of fruit as we made our way to the tracks.
Hitching to the hospital
We crossed those tracks on our way to the hospital. There were three men guarding the crossing and they looked at us like we were ghosts when they saw us. Knowing there still was no help we walked by them and began the mile or so trek to Memorial Hospital, trying to thumb a ride as we went. Several cars passed us by as the drivers looked the other way. We must have been quite the sight covered in blood and diesel fuel. One of our neighbors came back to view the damage and saw us. He had walked over and introduced himself once when my wife and I were outside painting. “Can you take us to the hospital?” I asked. Without a second thought he said, “Get in” and we stuffed 5 people plus his dog in the cab of his truck. His wife asked if anything was left and I told her no. Tears welled up in her eyes. I looked at my wife and said, “You know they think we are dead.”
My neighbor let us off on the east side of the hospital. We walked the last block to the ER. They had a man outside doing triage, “How are you hurt?” he asked. I pulled up my torn shorts leg to reveal the gash in my thigh. Without saying a word he put a tag around my next and called a nurse. They put me immediately in one of their cloth partitioned rooms…we had to walk past a badly hurt man begging for morphine on the way in. “There isn’t room for your family in here.” one of the nurses said. “I’m taking them to the food court where we have our shelter. They’ll be safe there.” With that they let my wife and son away.
A stream of nurses and administrative personnel came in. One lady came in with a clip board to get my information. “Look”, I said, “I pay my bills but I have nothing but the clothes on my back, can the hospital work with me until I get my life back together.” She looked down and said, “Given the circumstances we won’t be pressing you to pay, just give me your info and we’ll send you a bill later.” I answered her questions when an LPN came in to clean my wounds…they had nothing but gauze soaked in alcohol. She began to clean me up. An RN then entered and we started to chat, she asked me to point out all the cuts I was aware of and I showed her what I knew. She saw the cut on my leg and asked, “How did you get that?” I broke down and started to sob, “I’ve lost everything I owned.” She hugged me and whispered in my ear, “You are not alone, I lost my house too.” I regained my composure and told her she was brave for hugging a wretch like me covered in blood and diesel fuel. “This shirt used to be yellow.” I told her pulling on my now brown shirt. “I haven’t showered in a day so I’m nasty myself.” she said back. With that I mentioned broken glass. They then asked me to take off my shirt so they could examine me – I was way more beat up than I knew.
Dr Killebrew stayed behind at the hospital and was the ER doc that day. Doc stapled me and derma-bonded my cuts. Because of derma-bond he treated my wounds in a fraction of the time stitches would have taken. He left one of the nurses behind to finish up. From the other side of the curtain came the voice of the badly hurt man (who had since gotten some pain medication). “You lose everything?” he asked. “Yeah”, I said, “And we got to ‘roof surf’ to boot.” “How’d you make out?” I inquired. He then told me his parents were old and wouldn’t leave…their house was in Biloxi so he went to be with them.
There was another old couple next door in a three story house. “A big wave came in and destroyed that house…there is no way they could have made it out.” he said. His parent’s two story house survived that wave but they were on the second floor about to drown when like me, God opened a path. They too had roof -surfed. “How did you get hurt?” I asked but he continued. “A neighbor came out to us in their boat in the middle of the storm and got us off the roof. They got us to dry land and I walked to the fire station where I collapsed…now I’m here.” “Are your parents OK?” I asked. “They made it.” he said…his voice choked with emotion. “God bless you.” I said. SOP would no longer feel sorry for himself as others had it far worse.
They offered me a tetanus shot which I declined (others would need it worse). The nurse did not give me an option on antibiotic samples or pain medication. “I don’t need those pain meds, someone else will need it worse.” I told the nurse. “Trust me”, she said, “You’ll need them later.” The hospital would run out of tetanus vaccinations later the next day….
A Gathering of Survivors
They then led me to the food court. My son became a “Scotsman”, wearing a large Memorial hospital T shirt and nothing else. My wife also had a new T shirt on. I was “lucky” being a patient; I got a shirt and a gown. We settled in for the evening. We immediately started swapping stories; most all of the 30 or so people there had one like ours.
There was also an older gentleman there who had brought only one day of medication with him to the shelter and couldn’t get back home from the hospital because of curfew. My family and I ended striking up a conversation with him and Mr. W became friends. As we finished our tale, I looked down at the trash bag containing the clothes we had worn and said, “And all our possessions now fit in that bag.”
“I have a car here, I’ll take you wherever you need to go tomorrow.” he told me. Tears welled up in my eyes as I thanked him. He then said, “After you’ve had a chance to recover, you need to write down your story…its one worth hearing and writing it down may help you heal. Mr. W taught classical guitar at USM Gulf Park, he is a spiritual and wise gentleman. We then talked of Segovia and an old intern of mine who also played. My thoughts were also of those who thought we were dead. Telecom was non existent that night, they would have to wait. “My family thinks we are dead.” I told Mr. W. “My daughter was in the Pass,” he told me with a frown, “I hope she made it.” “You got to have faith.” was my reply. He slept in his car that night as it was more comfortable than the hard floor.
Around 9 that night they wheeled in a guy who was in a considerable amount of pain, we helped him out of the wheelchair and sat him down. I could tell from the way he looked he too had roof surfed. I looked at him and said, “Roof surfing?” At first he was puzzled but the light bulb clicked on, “Good term” was his reply. He stayed in his beachfront apartment and managed to get out as the building collapsed. He and his dog rode the waves but he was hit by a door which broke his collarbone. Despite his injury both he and his dog survived to tell the tale. “I’m from North Carolina” he said, “as soon as I’m able I’m going back up there and never come back…” I understood how he felt. “I don’t blame you.” I replied, “I grew up here, this is part of the turf so we’ll be staying. North Carolina is also very nice.” We made him as comfortable as we could. I knew things were bad upstairs when a man with a broken collar bone couldn’t get seen quickly.”
My family huddled up on the floor and we tried to sleep…the floor was very cold…the pain medication did come in very handy that night. My wife didn’t sleep much; it was her time to look after me. At 4 Mr. W came in looking for coffee. There was none and the cafeteria didn’t open until 6. We waited until then and got some coffee they put out there. He would later buy us breakfast while technicians hooked up TV. The local station is an ABC affiliate and when GMA came on showing aerials of our beloved coast, people in the room began to sob in the face of such utter destruction. I wondered if my Moms place north of the interstate was still there. We ate and were able to leave. At that time my wife’s mother was walking our debris field looking for us….her search would still leave her with questions about our fate despite the fact we were a mile apart.
Finding Family and Beginning the Journey to Recovery
Mr. W drove us through downtown, my son’s school and our church was relatively undamaged. You could tell from the randomness of severe destruction that many tornadoes had accompanied Katrina. We were able to make it to the house with some difficulty as many of the streets were blocked with down trees. “You still know how to break in?” I asked my wife. She told me she could and her old “skills” had not eroded. We were in the house but the phone wasn’t working. At least we could lie down on a bed. “Mr. W, I am forever I your debt”, I told him, “and wish you could be here when they find out so you can see how much you helped. I hope you can find your daughter.” Before he could say anything my mother in law drove up and Mr. W got to witness our emotional reunion. Our old neighbors saw mom crying and soon word spread about the “people on the corner” who rode the waves. “Pass it on.” were Mr. W’s parting words. I will find him soon and buy him dinner. He was a true angel to my family.
We found a working cell in my mother in laws subdivision and soon my family knew we were alive. The destruction was staggering. I knew when I was on the debris pile my life had forever changed, though I didn’t know exactly how it had. Everyday since that day has been a new chapter as we struggle to understand what has happened and we piece together our lives.
A wise man once told me that change was the same as opportunity. We are determined to turn our experience with Katrina into something positive.