Time Out for Remembrance: Hurricane Katrina

This time of year brings a time of remembrance and special prayer for me. There are three tragic events that have happened around this time in our lives. I will be sharing three “Time Out for Remembrance” posts. Then I’ll get back to the love language series.

We just passed the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. My husband, oldest daughter, (who was then 10 months old), and I lived in Mississippi when the hurricane hit the Gulf of Mexico. I remember it very well. We lived in a small 2-bedroom house in a private lake community that was out well away from the city where my husband worked. MS is filled with tall pine trees, and the community we lived in was very wooded – our property was up against a forest of pines. We were about 3 hours (not sure of mileage) north of the Gulf, so we weren’t right on the coast, but us native Pennsylvanians still experienced a large hurricane!

We were in New Orleans to see a Saints football game the day before Katrina hit! My husband had gotten a VIP pass for us, where we got to eat in a special area before the game started, and the package included a free second night hotel stay. It was a Friday night game. Saturday, we took time to walk around N.O. and see the sights and culture. It was a beautiful warm sunny day. You wouldn’t know a hurricane was coming, except for a few places, like the aquarium, that was boarding up its windows. I totally shudder to think what we would have experienced if we had indeed used that free night in the hotel. We aren’t usually ones to pass up free things ~ especially things like a night in a hotel. However, just because I was scheduled to be helping in the church nursery that Sunday, plus with the hurricane possibly coming, I convinced my husband to head home Saturday evening. As we left N.O., the traffic wasn’t horrible, but it seemed like more people than usual were heading north out of N.O. for a Saturday night. As we looked over at the south-bound lanes, we only saw a sparse vehicle here and there, and lots of police vehicles going into the city. It was kind-of eerie, actually.

We got home and went to bed. In the morning, we went to church. The sky was cloudy and there was a brisk breeze. Everyone at church kept asking everyone else if they were ready – if they had supplies on hand, like water, flashlights, batteries, etc. If it weren’t for the people at the church seeming to be taking it more seriously and putting out a call to make sure people were ready, I probably wouldn’t have considered heading back to the store to make sure we had everything they recommended.

The hurricane officially made landfall I think sometime Sunday night. Monday morning was still overcast, rain had begun, and the wind was picking up. My husband went to work as usual and I was waiting to see how things were on Monday morning to decide whether to go to the store! Around 9a, I called my husband to see what was going on and how things were out there. (He worked at a newspaper so they would know… and we didn’t have cable/satellite/internet services at home… not even rabbit ears – just a DVD player to watch movies and otherwise I listened to Christian radio and read books all day, when our daughter was napping, which was often because of the anti-seizure medication she was on at the time). He said they were planning to close the office early, around 2p, when the hurricane was supposed to be about hitting our area, but otherwise, things were fine. I decided to go ahead and go to the store just to make sure we had water, a flashlight, and extra diapers and formula on hand. I went up to Wal-Mart, which was up on a hill. When I opened my car door, it whipped open so hard I almost thought it was going to fly off the hinges. I hugged my daughter close to shield her from the wind – by then it was big gusts, my hair was flying straight back and I had to lean into the wind a bit to make progress toward the store. Inside, they had hurricane supplies right up front and people were there buying last minute items. As we were walking through the store, a crew of firemen in their thick coats came walking through. They were from OHIO!!! I can’t recall where in OH, but I was like whoa! That’s when the real gravity of the situation hit me – how serious this was and wondering exactly what had happened south of us that firemen from that far north were coming to help. I kept trying to overhear people talking about the hurricane to see if I could hear what was happening, and all I could gather was that it was serious.

I drove home, feeling my little PT Cruiser get pushed by the wind a few times and noticing lots of leaves and sticks flying around. The rain was picking up, too. By the time my husband got home, he was glad he was driving a 4-wheel drive SUV! He said there were limbs and branches down all over, wet leaves on the roads, and there was a large part of a tree across the road as he had come around a bend and he had to slam on his breaks so he didn’t hit it. He got out of the car and physically moved it off the road, with strength he didn’t know he had. At some point in the late afternoon or early evening, our electricity went out. We hunkered down and listened to the wind whipping, rain splatting, and thunder & lightning.

As we were hanging out, riding out the storm, our daughter was playing in the living room. (We didn’t have a basement to be in.) She was at the age where she was pulling herself up to stand and starting to cruise around holding onto things. Our living room had one large wall of floor to ceiling windows, (well, they started just a few inches off the floor, with a little ledge). Alexis was standing at the windows, holding onto the ledge, and somehow she tripped and fell. She hit her chin, but there was blood pouring out of her mouth. I worried about her teeth. But upon inspection, it wasn’t her teeth. It wasn’t her lips, either. Then we saw – she had bit through the tip of her tongue!!! I thank God that the bleeding didn’t last too long and she seemed to be okay and still able to eat. But I was worried because there was a significant split in her tongue and I didn’t know if she should be getting stitches or seen by a doctor. Our electric was out and our cell phones weren’t working, so I couldn’t even call anyone, much less take her to the doctor or hospital.

We went to bed as usual that night, but didn’t get a lot of sleep. The storm was still raging. Sometime in the night, the wind and rain slowed down. We thought that aside from losing our electricity, we were safe. But as we laid in bed with the windows open since the A/C couldn’t run, we suddenly started to hear popping. Trees started snapping. I will never forget that sound as long as I live. Loud wood splintering sounds and sometimes a thud. The trees had been bent and whipped around to the point when the wind died down, they could no longer stand. I had thought when the wind died down, we would be in the clear. I never thought that after the wind the trees would snap. We weren’t lucky enough to escape with no damage. Four tall pines right along our fence line fell over onto our roof. They bent the fence, but luckily didn’t puncture the roof – just some minor shingle damage. Needless to say, it was very scary – the trees landed on the roof right above where we were laying in bed. We heard the snaps and knew trees close to us were going down. We just held our breath waiting to see where they would land and whether anything was going to come through the roof. We got our daughter out of bed and went downstairs with our pillows & blankets and camped on the living room floor for the rest of the night.

My husband went to work the next day, as they were shipping in a huge generator to power the newspaper press to get the news out. One of his coworkers brought in a bunch of meat that would go bad with no power to keep it frozen, so they opened the back bay and fired up a grill and had a giant cook out. I was still worried about Alexis’ tongue, and although I couldn’t call my husband to see what things were like out there, I decided if he had gone to work, I could probably get Alexis to the hospital. We stopped by the paper to get something to eat and tell my husband that we were going to the hospital. The roads were passable, thank goodness! The ground was littered with leaves and sticks and debris, but nothing was blocking the roads we were on. The ER was filled, it was hot because the A/C wasn’t being used by the hospital’s generator, and we had to wait a long time to be seen. I heard many people’s stories of injuries and needing medical treatment during the storm. It ended up being an exercise in futility, as I learned that most mouth/tongue injuries don’t require stitches and are the fastest healing injuries of anywhere else in the body. Her tongue would be okay on its own.

We were without power for four days and using water from our bathtub to flush the toilet and cooking on the grill. Our cell phones were out for a couple of days at least. It was difficult not being able to communicate with friends and family up north, who were worried about us. I think my mom was finally able to get through on the newspaper phone lines to talk to my husband. It was hot and yucky and like we were on a forced camping trip. But we were safe. We were extremely fortunate in the scope of what was happening just to our south. Immediately, I began feeling deep compassion for those people who were hit harder. There is something about going through the same hardship as someone else that binds people together in a profound and unspoken way. I wanted to be able to help and do something, but we weren’t in a position to do anything at that time. So I did all I could do – I prayed for those precious people.

Shortly after Katrina, we moved back to PA and we found out I was expecting our middle daughter – we had conceived her sometime just days before Katrina hit. I had been in the midst of so much worry and stress going through the hurricane, Alexis’ tongue injury, and moving, and yet it’s ironic how that pregnancy was the only one that was totally without complication!

I still follow the clean-up and rebuilding that is even now continuing in the south. I still pray for those people periodically who weathered the same storm. It was part of my life – so it’s in the fabric of my being. Even when other people in other parts of the United States or world might not remember, might get sick of hearing about it, or might be too busy dealing with the disasters in their own lives, (as I also have a tendency to do when things don’t directly impact me), there are those of us who survived Katrina scattered about and who still care.

Incidentally, we now live in Ohio ~ I will always remember those Ohio firemen in a Mississippi Wal-Mart who were coming down to help. Thank you for your service!

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