Just have to share

I wasn’t planning on posting my feelings/thoughts about the situation down South in the aftermath of Katrina ( most of all anger, frustration and helplessness), but I have to share this email I just received from a colleague. He and his wife are friends with a guy who has just been through an amazing ordeal–

Warning: it might make you a bit emotional.

Hi ya’ll,

Sorry I’m writing a group email but this is the first time I’ve had access since the storm and I am dead-tired , but safe. Please pardon my less than stellar writing style for the same reasons.   I rode it out and it was quite something. I made a calculated gamble that the storm wouldn’t blow my house down, and it didn’t, but roof tiles came off and the bathroom window was ripped away.

I thought all was well and went to retrieve my car at headquarters (For those of you that do not know, I am now a full-fledged GIS professional working for Orleans Parish 9-1-1). I brought the car back home and parked it on higher ground up the street. Problem was, next morning my car was partially submerged. I waded thru chest-deep water to get to it and found it in about a foot of water. I was able to fire it up and back it up onto the bridge over Bayou St John. But this little sliver [his neighborhood] was now an island and my escape routes cut off.

I had prepared substantially for the possibility of staying by freezing multiple gallons of water, filling other containers, getting canned food, batteries, candles. I also had a bbq pit and fuel for that. My next door neighbor, an Englishman, and across the street neighbors, an elderly woman and her young nephew were all on the upper floors of our respective buildings. We weren’t going anywhere for a while but figured the water would go down in a couple of days. Didn’t work out that way…

I ate very well and shared food with the next door guy via a rope sytem since we were both trying to avoid going into that foul four feet of water. By having my car nearby I was able to make forays to it, start it up and charge my cell phone. However communication was for days impossible. I also had food and water to share with people wading by below who had nothing.

I lost electricity the morning of the storm but had water and gas thru Tuesday. Wed. morning I had neither. With the water not going down appreciably and via listening to the radio and hearing how bad things were getting around town, I decided it would soon be time to leave. It still is hard for me to conceive that this was only a span of a few days ’cause, lemme tell ya, time slowed to an imperceptible crawl.

Thursday night I decided it was time to go. I had several options. There was a sliver of ground two blocks away that was, from the sound of it, a helicopter rescue point. When I finally saw it in action on Thurs, there were 200 people wating to get picked up. That didn’t look good. By Thurs i was able to make some cell phone contact with my brother Daniel and friend Lee in Fla. Thru that network I received a message from my 9-1-1 boss saying I could come down to city hall where our emergency HQ was set up. Daniel and Lee quickly dissuaded me from what would have been a literally suicidal choice given the violence in that part of town. In my part of town, by the way, there was no such mayhem and everyone we encountered was kind and helpful to varying degrees.

So, I decided I would make a try for the helicopter spot. I had my roommate’s cat with me for company but knew I could not take him on the chopper. I had already spent days thinking of every possible way I could take him with me. I even built a raft and was planning to walk him thru deep water two miles or more to a place I heard was connected to dry streets.It turned out this way was too deep so I was told by a passerby in canoe. Also kitty kept getting out of his flimsy mesh cat carrier on test runs on the porch.

This thing was so confining that when i finally secured him in it there was no way to get food and water in without him leaping out. And, when he was in there he was so frantic he almost killed himself trying to get out. So, with great sadness, I set him up with all my remaining water, some four gallons in various containers, a huge bag of food, full clean litter box and a means to be both inside the protected stairwell and out on the balcony where he could leap into a nearby tree and climb down if necessary.

I packed a rucksuck with the bare necessities and set out at dawn on Friday for the landing zone. Before getting there I was able to get to my car, charge up the phone and make contact with people whose numbers my neighbors had given me. I shouted the news back down the block to them and bid farewell. To my dismay, the landing zone was empty except for 2 suspicious characters scavenging thru the debris. Fearful of being robbed, I turned to see three guys of less suspicious nature bringing a flatboat. 2 were pulling a third elderly man in the boat. I asked them if we could proceed together and, upon arriving at the spot, looked up to see a helicopter coming in for a landing. We only waited 1 minute! The two guys put the old man on the copter but didn’t get on themselves, much to my surprise. We lifted off and cirlced low over the city picking up others from various sections of elevated highway in the vicinity. What I saw looking down was shocking. I took a couple of pictures and will send them if the come out.

We then proceed to the airport. Upon landing, i decided I would take this eldely man uder my wing and we became travelling companions for the next grueling part of the journey. We had to stand for 8 hours in line at the airport with hundreds of others but finally were loaded onto a large military transport and flown to San Antonio. We had no choice of destination.

Serendipitously, my savior Lee Burgess with whom I had been in sporadic phone contact, had said that if I could get to Houston or SanAntonio he would have a plane ticket waiting to fly me down to Miami. After many grueling hours of more waiting at various points in San Antonio we were finally deposited at a shelter with a growing number of hapless others who came in thru the wee hours.

This morning Lee got me a flight and I took the old man, an artist and 86 yr oldWWII vet named John Sowley to theairport with me, got him in contact with a friend of his in Tampa and got him on a plane that left just minutes after our arrival. I am now in Lakeworth just north of Miami where Lee has graciously offerd to put me up for as long as necessary. He may be able to set me up with some part-time carpentry too.

As for the future I don’t know. I still have my 9-1-1 job but the future of that is uncertain given the circumstances. I’m not worrying about it now and will cross bridges as they come.

Friends, i have to stop now as I have been going on only a couple of hours of sleep a night for the last week. I’ll write again in a few days time. Hope you enjoyed the yarn…

Love, John

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