Jul 16, 2012

My Experience of Hurricane Katrina & How It Changed My Life...pt. 2

We arrived in Baton Rouge at my aunt's co-workers home around 9pm.  We piled out of our vehicles, having dropped our passengers off, and headed inside to hopefully rest and watch the news to see if we could find out what was going on in the hell bowl we'd just left.  Let me go back a just a bit and explain something about this hurricane.  The day after the hurricane my uncle and I attempted to drive to my home to access the damages.  Needless to say we never made it as there were too many streets flooded to get to it.  On the day we evacuated our caravan tried once more to get to Hollygrove to check my house but as we got to S. Claiborne and Nashville Avenues it became clear this was not meant to be.  We watched as water came shooting up from the man hole covers in the middle of the street as I desperately pleaded with God to give me the mental capacity to figure out a dry route to my home.  Didn't happen.  However it later became clear that I was guided on that route for a reason.  That reason was to witness how our city was flooding.  Yes there were many canal breaches and every neighborhood flooded in a unique way.  However there's one thing I'd like to clear up for those of you who didn't have this experience.  There was no wall of water rolling down the streets during the flood that followed the hurricane.  The water came from right underground via city drains and man holes.  This is why, if you've spoken to anyone who was stranded by the flooding the story is always the same.  We went outside and saw a little flooding.  About an hour later the water was a few feet higher and as we prepared to leave we realized the water was too high to go anywhere.  The flood waters snuck up on us so fast because we couldn't see it coming.  It came from underground.  Many people think "why didn't those people just leave?"  Simply put, they tried to but couldn't.  This city was not devastated by Hurricane Katrina, it was devastated by the flood that followed a day or two later.  This is why so many people got stranded.

After figuring out where the 9 evacuees were going to sleep in the 2 bedroom house, we settled in and turned on CNN.  Desperately awaiting some official word on what was happening to our beloved city, I more than anyone else was glued to the screen.  Everyone else had had a chance to leave the city with some sense of hope as they'd been able to see just what damage had occurred to their homes.  Everyone but me.  I was clueless.  I'd only purchased my home 2 months and 5 days prior to the hurricane and had not been aware just how badly it flooded in that part of Hollygrove.  I was terrified.  I had no idea what to expect.  Not being able to get to my home before I left only added to the anxiety I felt.  Was my home being looted?  Were all the precious keepsakes that my mother treasured being tossed around like old dishrags?  And the worse thought of all...Was my mother's body still safe in the ground or was her casket floating toward Lake Pontchartrain? (A very real fear in New Orleans.)  I had so many questions and none of the news stations were offering any specific answers.  As we watched people being plucked from roofs, we waited, hoped that maybe one of them would visit our neighborhoods.  We prayed for a glimpse of a neighbor who might be able to expound on what was happening in the areas we were familiar with.  All for naught.

We'd been in Baton Rouge about 3 days or so relishing the hospitality our hosts were providing.  Although it was an extremely uncomfortable situation for all parties involved, our hosts seldom gave us the slightest feeling of inconvenience.  It's important to note that at the time I was the director of an non-profit Aids/Cancer outreach program which was funded by the state.  When the hurricane hit, we were awaiting a re-allotment of funds for the new fiscal year and had not received any compensation for 3 months.  Needless to say, I'd blown through the savings I'd had left after purchasing my home and was type broke!  Part of the reason we stayed in Baton Rouge was to await payment.  We were in the process of deciding what we were going to do next and reuniting with family and friends who'd also evacuated to the area.  Although I was asked by many of my closest friends to evacuate with them I chose to stay with my family and ride it out.  Our little unit consisted of myself, my aunt, her husband, who's white-a fact that will be of importance a little later,  and her son.  All adults, all sticking it out together.  So back to the incident, as I said it was about 3 days after we evacuated and on  this particular day my uncle, aunt, myself and our hostess decided to visit a local corner store meat market that was renowned for supplying meat that was hard to find anywhere else. 

When we arrive, my uncle parks and the 3 of us pile out, leaving him in the car.  As we approach the door we see a non assuming brutha opening the door for everyone from the inside and locking it behind everyone who enters.  We also notice he has a gun on his hip.  We don't think too much of it but our hostess mentions that this is not typical protocol when she visits that store.  I pick up the few little nick knacks I can afford as my aunt and her friend shop for meat.  As I'm in line I notice the man in front of me dressed in a suit purchasing a loaf of bread, a package of luncheon meat and a small jar of mayonnaise.  Right away I know he's like us, caught off guard by this devastating disaster, trying to conserve what he had as none of us knew how long we'd be disestablished and most of all...in a daze.  The cashier greets him warmly and offers a short cold reply.  As he pays for his groceries and exits the store she turns to me and says "I can't stand these dayum New Orleans people they're so dayum rude.  Ain't no reason to be so rude and bitchy."  I look at her, she looks at me.  I pay for my things, move to the side as to not hold up the line and say to her "I understand it's a frustrating situation but you have to realize.  Some of these people have lost EVERYTHING they've worked hard for.   Some of these people are accustomed to a certain lifestyle that they work hard for and value but are now sleeping on a cot in a gymnasium with their children wondering if someone will rape or kill them or their family members as the sleep on that cold gymnasium floor.  Some of these people have already had such traumatic experiences back in the Superdome or at the convention center already and are only on the second leg of their journey.  And they have no idea where they're going to end up next."  "Then you have people like me, a New Orleanian who's just numb, on the outside smiling and being pleasant but on the inside wanting to scream at the top of my lungs...We are human beings, put yourself in our shoes for a moment."  I didn't stick around to see her expression or hear what she had to say.  I had to remove myself from the situation as I didn't know how close I was to my very own breaking point and didn't feel I'd be satisfied with wasting an ass whippin' on her.  The "guard" unlocks the door, lets me out and tells me to be safe and have a nice day.  I walk over to my uncle who's sitting in the drivers seat with the window down and tell him about the exchange in the store.  He points out the guy at the door with the gun and asks, "Now what the hell is that one gun and door lock on a glass door gonna do to protect him?"  Just then a tall burly white guy who looked to be in his mid 30's rounds the corner of the store approaching the door with a shotgun with a dayum scope on it.  As he's strutting all the locals who recognize him ( I guess one of the store owners) are cat-calling.  He nears my uncle and I with the widest kool aid smile I've ever seen and says "Ha yall doin'?"  I reply " We're fine thank you, I see you're prepared."  He smiles even wider ( which i didn't think was even possible) and says "Oh yes ma'am, I'm here to keep yall safe from those thugs from New Orleans.  They already robbed a few gas stations and stores about 2 miles down that way, they seem to be branching outward from the evacuation center which means they're probably heading this way."  As he's talking all I could think was "If you need a scope on your shotgun to shoot someone in an urban area, you're the last person who needs a gun, period because you can't hit shit."  So I smile and nod and simply say, "Well thank you for protecting us from ourselves.  Lucky you caught me too, because I almost robbed myself of the $10 I just spent in your store before I got here"  Needless to say, my uncle was livid.  Till this day he abhors Baton Rouge and anything having to do with it because of that one incident.  I couldn't help but think that while this white man in his 60's is ready to blow up the city and everyone in it because he feels stereotyped, I can only imagine how that brother who was in line in front of me felt when he entered the store to buy about $5 worth of food and was greeted by an armed brother, a locked door and a cashier with an attitude.  It was clearly time to evacuate Baton Rouge!!!



  1. Wow I had no idea and hearing others story about the experience gives those of us a better understanding of what was really going on that the media didn't share and show. Glad you all made it safe. Thanks God for your strength and telling your truth. Did you lose all your mothers stuff?

  2. Stay tuned, I'll answer that question...