Saturday, October 8, 2005

How we evacuated from Hurricane Katrina

I'm laying in bed, listening to the rain tapping the window of our house here on Rodman Street.

It's been six weeks to the day since we evacuated from Hurricane Katrina. I was sure we would return in a couple of days-- New Orleans had always been spared in the past. I grabbed an extra shirt, my guitar, and (thank my higher power) the laptop.

My parents and brother evacuated to my our house in Lumberton, just outside of Beaumont, Texas. They urged us to evacuate with them, but we had some Spanish friends who wanted us to go with them. It was a hard decision, but in the end I thought it would be better for my family to go with Elena, Beau, and Luis. As it turns out, it was the right decision: Lumberton was directly in the path of Hurricane Rita, and my parents and brother had to evacuate a second time.

We drove to Lafayette to the house of one of Elena's friends, Antonio. We were all doing pretty well until Katrina went to category five and it looked like New Orleans would take a direct hit.

We had all been in an excellent mood, playing guitar and watching movies. But then someone turned on the Weather channel and we all started getting depressed as we watched the Hurricane inch towards our home. After about an hour of this, we were all ready to jump off of a bridge.

At that point, I made the smartest decision of the evacuation: I switched the TV back to Jack Black's "School of Rock". Immediately everyone snapped out of it. Pads of paper came out, and we started planning. Soon we had decided to evacuate further west, to Houston.

I'll get on my soapbox here: I hate the news. My parents are news junkies. During the Hurricane, they had Fox and the Weather Channel on 24/7. When I called them, everyone in the house was depressed. I, on the other hand, had to shush the people on my end and eventually take the call outside, as the Spaniards were laughing (albeit nervously) so loudly. The news is a good thing. We should all watch the news. Then we should turn the news off and go live our lives. Hearing that you are about to take it in the shorts is bad enough without listening to it over and over from a series of vacuous baritones in gimme caps. If you hear bad news enough, it stops shocking you. You come to expect it. You come to believe that you deserve it.

We didn't buy it. We got in our cars and went to Houston.

Elena is a woman from Extremadura in Spain. She's pretty and smart, and just enough sarcastic that you know she's an española. Her boyfriend, Beau, looks and sounds like a Louisiana good ol' boy, but he's got a degree in Physics and a really big heart. Luis is funny and tries to cheer you up even when he is frightened. He has a great smile and was really great with Daniel.

I miss the people I evacuated with.

We were kind of like the party from the Decameron.

When we got to Houston, it looked like New Orleans was really going to get hit. We went to dinner at Chili's and generally had a good time, but wondered what was going to happen to our city.

The next morning we found out. Devastation. When the levees broke, our world changed. We would have been okay to get back to New Orleans and go on with our lives with the damage from the storm (in fact, our house was not at all damaged), but with the flooding from the levee, New Orleans was suddenly a very dangerous place to be.

That Tuesday, I talked on the phone with my boss. He told me that I was officially on vacation, and that when my vacation days were over, I would not be paid anymore. That was sad, but understandable: Phoenix Health Systems just doesn't have the cash flow to float a month of paychecks for the 60 people in its New Orleans office. And it put me in a weird position: I could not take my family back to New Orleans; not with reports of Cholera and Typhoid. I am still not sure about these reports, but I wasn't going to risk it with a four year old boy. I've seen people with Cholera when I was in Bolivia, and it is horrible.

I also could not leave Sonia and Daniel anywhere by themselves. Sonia's English is good, but she is not confident enough about it. Besides, there was a disaster-- I wanted to be with them.

Sonia and I talked it over. By a very odd coincidence, we had tickets for the weekend to go to Philadelphia from the New Orleans airport. We were going to check it out as a place to live, because after Ivan, we had gotten tired of evacuating from hurricanes. We were going to check towns that had direct flights to Barcelona to see if any were livable. We had gone to Atlanta over the July 4th weekend, and I thought it was nice, but too big, hot, and trafficky. So we had tickets to fly to Philadelphia now.

Now we would not be able to make the trip from New Orleans. We decided to try to change the dates on the tickets and go see if Philadelphia would be a good place to live. I called that Tuesday, and they managed to get us out on Wednesday.

We flew out with our ridiculously few possessions. By afternoon Wednesday, we were in the Marriott in downtown Philadelphia. We were clean, safe, together, had some clothes, and a maid. We watched our neighbors waiting on rooftops, dying, on the television. Again, I switched the TV back to PBS kids and we watched Barney and Caillou.

I started sending out emails, searching for headhunters. The first day was a little disappointing-- Google found a lot of dead headhunter links. But I found one-- then another. I sent an email to the USNA alumni association. They sent my resume to a bunch of headhunters.

That Thursday, I went down to Starbucks to get coffee. I asked for a "Hurricane Discount"-- I felt stupid doing it, because obviously I was not starving to death standing in line at a Starbucks. I wondered why I had asked... then I found out. A woman behind me said, "I heard you say you were from New Orleans. My family and I were talking last night about how we could help out. Can I do anything for you?" Her name was Linda. She offered to let us stay in her house. I told her we were set on that, but that I needed to get my resume in front of people. She said she would do what we could.

On an aside, Sonia and Daniel and I had dinner at Linda's house last night. We've been friends since that day she stuck out her hand. Sonia and her really clicked. She's rallied the folks from her synagogue to collect toys and clothes, furniture, pots and pans... they've really helped us out. Her sons, Abraham and Noah, have played with Daniel tirelessly, even though they are both over ten years older than him. Her husband, Ira, has been a generally good guy, and also plays with Daniel patiently and treats him like the smart little guy he is. Linda really has been a true friend.

(To be continued...)

1 comment:

  1. I am on the edge of my seat... can't wait for the continuation. So far it's wonderful!


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