2005 Hurricane Season "Stories from the Front"
The response to the 2005 hurricane season will prove to be one of the largest responses to a natural disaster in United States history. Many ASFPM members, partners and friends were involved in the all phases of this operation. The following are their stories - tales of devastation and agony and of hope and promise. Click on any of the names below to go directly to their story.
Michael Klitzke - FEMA DAE
Here's an ongoing saga of Mike Klitzke's "blog" from FEMA deployment, from most recent down (first message from 9/11 departure date is at bottom).
Sent: Sunday, November 27, 2005 6:07 PM
Subject: Post Thanksgiving from Louisiana
Hello again from New Orleans.
Sorry for the delay in reports, but one gets excited about getting home after 67 straight days of work, and keeping this log up to date just didn't happen in the rush to wrap things up before heading home on Nov. 17. The 18th found me home, albiet it a different whiteness on the ground than here. Down here all the damage areas where they've started to remove drywall is all covered with white drywall dust, it reminds me of what I found when I returned to Madison, something called snow. A shock from coming from 85 degree weather to single digits.
Before I got out of here I had the opportunity to drive through Orleans East, St. Bernard Parish, and Plaquemines Parish. One thing that struck me on that drive was the variety of the damage and destruction that Katrina caused.
My first experience back in Bogalusa in early September was in an area primarily hit by hurricane winds, causing 50-60 ft. oak and pine trees to blow over, many on homes and businesses, blocking roads and destroying the telephone and electric system. Little flooding, but lots of wind damage.
My work here in Jefferson Parish, with the exception of Grand Isle and Lakeview, has involved what I would describe as still water flooding and wind damage. Things I've seen many times in my disaster experience. Many areas suffered only flooding from the pumps not running, many with only flood damage, with some experiencing roof damage as well.
The exceptions in Jefferson are the Lakeview area where flooding was from the 17th street levee breach, and Grand Isle, a barrier island at the far south end of the parish that suffered extensive destruction from the storm surge. The destruction in Lakeview is similar to that in the lower 9th Ward, and Orleans East. Significant depth of flooding, sometimes over the rooftops for untold weeks, was a result of the levee failures. Something not often experienced in the midwest.
One thing that my son, who is a TV news producer in Nashville, told me is that the reporters who came down early on said is that while you can see the pictures, you can't experience the smell. My trip through Orleans East was a sobering experience, driving down blocks and blocks of houses that suffered various forms of damage, some from the hurricane, but mostly from the extremely deep and dirty flood waters. Cars, boats, toys, normal houses, normal neighborhoods, frozen in a coat of filth. Watching clean up workers in full bio hazard suits is a truly sobering experience.
On my trip over to St. Bernard and Plaquemines parish I found the storm surge destruction, and I do mean destruction. The farther south I got in both parishes, the worse it got. From some wind damaged structures, slowly evolved to collapsed buildings, followed by a set of concrete steps leading to where a house use to be, only to be topped by a flat slab, no evidence in sight of what use to rest on it, other than it was once someone's home. Houses were relocated across the streets, and at one point I saw a motor boat, upside down on top of the posts that use to be a boat house, 15 feet in the air. During my travels there were actually buildings that were elevated, relatively new, that had survived relatively in tact, a little siding or roofing damage, but otherwise relatively normal. While I wouldn't think staying there during a hurricane event, buildings can be built in a manner where you will have something to come back to after the hurricane, or at least a better chance than the older buildings, if built high and strong enough. While they were the exception, it was a stark reminder that for blocks and blocks on either side of these structures there used to be houses, and now nothing more than steps, posts, or slabs. And in the channel alongside the roadways were boat after boat, washed up on the shore, or sunk in the middle of the channel. At one point the only non-residents they were letting go down to the fishing areas were cars pulling boats with valid fishing licenses. That's how strong the sport fishing industry is down here, even after the hurricanes.
Going into St. Bernard Parish I had to show ID and if I had been in there working, would have gotten my car washed off by a fire hose upon leaving.
Down on Grand Isle, a barrier island down in the Gulf, with many camps (camps I found out are actually second homes, not principal homes, but are much like the midwestern summer cottages) and fishing boats was another area hit hard by the surge. Many of the buildings are elevated 10-12 feet off the ground, yet were still swept off their foundations, while others that were more well constructed survived very well. Nearly all of the old stick built homes or manufactured homes located at ground level, while having survived other hurricanes, were now no more than a pile of rubble, if not empty slabs. The ironic thing down there is that the storm surge actually came from the back side of the island, not the gulf side. This was evident from the destruction and debris on the south side of the island, with buildings on the north being hit the hardest. Buildings that were properly elevated, but where people had illegally enclosed the lower areas were also shown the why the codes require elevation and not enclosures below the protection elevation, since most of those lower levels were no more.
One benefit I did derive from one of my trips to Grand Isle was the meeting with a local shrimp fisherman who had just come in from a night's fishing. I stopped at the one local grocery store that was open, bought a styrofoam cooler, and proceeded to buy 5 pounds of shrimp, right from the Gulf, for a whole $2.00 per pound!!! I took them back to the gymnasium where they provided several good meals for us all.
Before I left, I had the opportunity to be the main target at a public meeting held in Kenner, an area severely hit by the "pumps off flooding". Any buildings damaged over 50% of the market value must be brought into conformance with the local code, and the City keeps pushing it off on FEMA as the bad guys. What else is new. Due to manpower shortages, FEMA has actually contracted with two New Orleans architectural firms to do the field inspections for the community, turn those results over to the community to help them make determinations as to which buildings may be more than 50% damaged. I had the opportunity to stand in front of 250 not happy customers for over 2 hours and tell them the real story, a brief history of the flood insurance program that enabled them to buy affordable flood insurance in the first place, and the communities responsibilities now to enforce their ordinances, followed by a loud and sometimes unruly question and answer session. It was an interesting experience, not one I would look forward to on a regular basis, but the report for the newspaper actually covered it accurately and did what I think was a good job. I'm sure there will be more of those, but hopefully not soon.
I've just returned from a wonderful Thanksgiving home with my wife, family, and friends. This one truly had extra meaning for me after being gone from home for 67 days, and after all that I've seen here over the last few months. There are many things I gave thanks for this year. One was my time home with my wife, the fact that we have a home, and it's all in one piece. Although we experienced our minor basement rug and paneling flood in September, when all is kept in perspective, that's nothing. As I said to those in church on Sunday, thanks to all of you who keep in touch and provide the prayer support while I'm away. It is truly felt and appreciated. Being able to see all of my family at my niece's wedding reception on Saturday before heading back on Sunday morning was something of great Thanks Giving.
While home I did manage to get out a few times to the woods deer hunting. The time with family was much stronger than the urge to hunt, but I did manage opening morning and a couple of afternoon hunts. While I lost my father last July, and this is the first Thanksgiving and deer hunting season without him, he was with me in my memories while sitting in the woods. Even though I didn't harvest a deer, I had the opportunity to experience a quiet snowfall in the woods, watch 50 wild turkeys feeding all around, saw numerous deer, and got to watch two bucks spar. Sights, sounds and memories are really what its all about. Enjoying Creation and nature in its true state.
I'm back in New Orleans now, ready to hit the job again tomorrow, catching up on what has happened while I've been gone and seeing what challenges are out there next.
Sent: Friday, November 11, 2005 9:43 AM
Subject: More from Louisiana
Happy Veterans Day,
Things are going well down here, especially the weather. There are rumors it might rain here someday, but since Rita has gone through its been dry. Thats been good for the people with roof damage or with blue roofs (blue tarps) so no more damage is caused by the rain.
My inspectional program in Jefferson Parish is wrapping up, and I've been directing some of the ones in LaFourche Parish and Terrebonne Parish. Most of the inspections have been done and now the data transfer to the communities has begun. We started with the first 3500 results to Jefferson Parish with nearly 800 included that had been substantially damaged (over 50% damage of the market value of the building). There are about 4400 total in Jefferson Parish so there will probably be over 1000 properties with more than 50% damage. We've done a few thousand other inspections and figure it will be about the same percentage.
My high point will be heading home next week. I'll be getting home Friday, so don't schedule any snowstorms or stuff like that to greet me. I'm getting use to this 80 degree temps, but could use a bit less humidity. I'm obviously really looking forward to getting home, and may even find out before I leave whether I'll be coming back or not. I had a call about my availability since there was a declaration in Indiana for the tornado, but my desire would be to come back down here and continue my work with the people I've been dealing with in the parish and towns down here. As always in this line of work you never know where you'll be tomorrow, so just have to see.
Sent: Thursday, October 27, 2005 6:12 PM
Subject: October 27th from Louisiana
Good afternoon everyone.
Things have been going well here, especially as related to the weather. People down here are feeling cold, while its gorgeous fall weather. Guess their blood is just too thin.
Last Sunday I took a trip to Plaqumines Parish with a woman who does Success Stories for FEMA. Her job is to find buildings that survived, well, get details on the construction, etc, add some human interest stuff, then write it all up. We went to an area where the devistation was pretty severe and found a house on the edge of the swamps that survived just like nothing had happened. We got to talk with two of the property owners who were very cordial and in fact, invited us to stay for a crab boil. Apparently everyone down there throws out crab traps off the shore and fishes. With the hurricane they said that the crabs move up into the channels and they were catching them like mad. I even got to pull in my first crab trip with about a dozen big blue crabs in it. Unfortunately we didn't have any way to cook them, and since we had a long way to travel back couldn't take either owner up on the offer to stay for the boil. I was there when the one woman's husband came in from fishing. The 3 guys had caught 75 speckled trout, 2 big redfish and 3 flounders. He said that it was terrific fishing since no one had been fishing since the hurricane and the fish were all over the place. He said if I come down again after Thanksgiving to definitely bring a fishing rod since the redfish start coming into the channels as the weather cools. They are looking for warmer water and are caught right from shore.
Work is progressing well. As of close of business yesterday we've done 5273 substantial damage inspections. After the consultant does the inspection the data is entered into the database, checked by a FEMA person in Baton Rouge and then given to the community. I think this phase of the operation for me is going to wrap up early next week, since we've done all the damage assessments that the parish has requested.
Wednesday I made my first trip to Grand Isle. This is an island that is technically in Jefferson Parish, but in order to get there you have to go through Lafourche Parish to the west. The island is 7.5 miles long averaging 3/4 miles wide and is located between the Gulf and the huge marshlands to the north. I don't think there is much of the island that is more than about 10 feet above sealevel, with that being a small portion of the island along the south edge, just behind the row of houses, with the rest of the island sloping to the north to the wetlands. The storm surge not only came from the south and the Gulf, but also took its toll on the way out. This area was severely hit with many buildings completely gone, many nothing more than heaps of rubble, and some elevated ones surviving like nothing had happened. Boats were strewn all over the island, under walkways, up on parking lots, in the swamps, on the roads, all over the place. The local building official has already completed a drive through of all the island, identifying buildings that were destroyed, which ones had survived relatively untouched, and which ones were in need of inspections. One of the inspectors in one of the groups lives in a town to the north and will be going down to start the inspections tomorrow.
On my way down to Grand Island I stopped and visited an old friend from the Association, Wendell Curole. Wendell is the general manager of the Lower Lafourche Levee District. I've known Wendell for quite some time and have always enjoyed his local knowledge and history. This meeting was no different. In their board room they have a large table with an aerial photo of the entire levee district under glass. That way during meetings instead of telling everyone where someone is talking about, they just find it on the aerial. Wendell is proud of the fact that during both hurricanes, Katrina and Rita, that he was the only levee district in the state of Louisiana that did not have any levees fail with any resulting flooding. Thats quite an accomplishment to survive both of them.
One of the things I did learn from Wendell was how the properties became divided as they are. They are divided into long narrow lots (actually some french term, but I can't remember it) that run from the bayou to the swamp. Down here its different than up north. Up north you go away from the river to get to the high ground, while down here you go TO the river to get to the high ground, since thats where the sediments from the river have built up the high ground. When the original divisions occurred, many times the father and mother lived on the high ground next to the river, the children living behind the main house on area that was still high enough for some agriculture, with the area farther back being woodlands for some timber harvest, with the farthest back area where it was swamp providing fishing and trapping.
Wendell also told me that 16% of the entire nations oil imports come through Lafourche parish. There is a large storage area that contains underground salt domes that are used to store the imported oil pumped in from lines that run from oil docking stations located far out into the Gulf. There is also a large area that is a salt water lake. It is supersalty water that is used to pump into the domes when the oil is pumped out to keep the dome filled, but not with fresh water that would dissolve the salt and erode the dome, but super salty water that keeps the void filled until it can be refilled with oil. When looking at the aerial photo of the area there are also long, straight canals through the swamps. These are apparently the result of old oil field exploration and pipelines. My counterpart in Lafourche parish actually had houses indicated on the map that could only be accessed by boat.
Thats the latest from this part of the world. I'm looking forward to moving on to something else, hopefully here, but who knows. We with FEMA always remain FEMA flexible, not just here today, gone tomorrow, but sometimes here today, gone today.
I hope everyone has a great Halloween and All Saints Day!!!
Sent: Saturday, October 15, 2005 9:39 PM
Subject: October 15 from Louisiana
Hello from Downtown New Orleans,
My principal assignment here now is as Recovery Team Mitigation Liaison. No one knows exactly what that means, but we're learning as it goes along. The principal mission is to liaison with the Parish leaders and communities to be a point of contact (POC in FEMA terms) with those people so they get one contact person or group. The project that I'll be dealing with primarily in this parish is residential damage estimates. One of the provisions of participation in the National Flood Insurance Program for a community is to do damage assessments following a disaster and any buildings damaged more than 50% of their value must be brought into compliance with the local flood development regulations. In this area it means building to the flood elevation which ironically in some places is below sea level.
Due to the magnitude of the disaster, FEMA has hired contractors to do the actual field inspections for the communities since they don't have the staff. We then turn over the results to the Parish or community so they can make the substantial damage determinations.
It all started with the securing of a contract, which took forever to get done by the people in Baton Rouge who I work with, but they finally have two local firms to do the work. Last Wednesday I conducted training for about 60 inspectors who would be doing the actual inspections. As part of the training we like to look at an actual damaged house, so the day before I drove around hoping to find such a property. A lady named Willie Mae Antoine was walking down the street, and after talking to her said she'd let 60 inspectors walk though her damaged house for training. When you're blessed, you're blessed. The house was perfect for the training, although had suffered severe damage, not only from flooding but from the roof damage as a result of the wind. Not a ceiling was left, and nearly all of the contents were destroyed, along with a majority of the walls and other fixtures. We're taking up a collection to provide Willie Mae with a gift certificate to her favorite restaurant, plus whatever else is collected from the inspectors as a say of saying Thank You and helping her.
Inspection crews started Friday and continued today. I spent the day driving around areas that had suffered damage looking for the next area to send the inspectors into. Its an awesome sight driving down a street that is littered with people's possessions that are piled higher than the car you're driving down the street in. This isn't in isolated areas, but for blocks and blocks, in fact, miles and miles.
I found about 700 properties for the inspector to schedule inspections in on Monday, or whenever they finish the 800+ they're already got scheduled, and that's only the beginning. I'll need a few thousand more before the end of the week to keep the crews busy. Tomorrow will be more of the same, determining eligible areas for the contractor's to get into as soon as they finish the last one.
One interesting thing last week was that P-43 (President Bush) made a visit to our compound to meet with the parish president and council. We were all subject to inspection and search, the full secret service routine, but I had a meeting in Baton Rouge and got out before P-43 got there, otherwise I would have been trapped until he was gone and would have missed my meeting. Prior to the meeting I did get to meet and chat with both Admiral Allen, and General Honore. The General presented us all with a military type coin that will be a great momento of this deployment.
That's about it for now. I just got done watching a Discovery Channel program on "When the Levees Failed" and saw plenty of the same spots I've been visiting but now they don't have water in them anymore, thankfully. The damage is extensive, awesome in fact.
A local person who is working for FEMA as a liaison found out yesterday that his daughter who had relocated to Texas was in an auto accident where a drunk driver came across the center line and crashed into her car. The last we hear she was OK. Her name is Julie so please keep her in your prayers. We all are here.
Everyone enjoy the cool weather up there. Today was only 85, but not too humid.
Until next report.
Sent: Thursday, October 06, 2005 5:54 PM
Subject: October 6 from Jefferson Parish
Good afternoon everyone.
Things are getting better here for me in Louisiana. The other night I actually scored a room in a downtown New Orleans hotel. You can't drink the water, there wasn't any TV, but it had air and a bed. Yesterday they got TV, and I heard on the radio today that the water was OK, but it's going to be bottled water for me as long as I'm down here. Not that I don't believe it, but won't risk it.
I've been working more with the local officials here, occasionally going to a meeting in Baton Rouge. The other night when returning about 9 p.m. from Baton Rouge I hit the New Orleans city limits and a huge traffic stop. I was on I-10, the main interstate, and just sat there for the longest time, just creeping along. As I got up a ways I realized it was a road block where they were enforcing the curfew of New Orleans. Since it was my first night to get a bed, I was hoping I could get in, and fortunately my little pink wrist band and FEMA identification was good enough, and off to the first real bed in weeks. Life is much better with air and a real bed.
Hopefully they will get the contract straightened out so I can get going on my primary job here, working as a project manager for the inspection team. They will be going out and doing substantial damage inspections for the Parish or city, giving the inspection results so they can make a determination whether the building is more than 50% damaged. If it suffers more than 50% damaged it has to be brought up to the local floodplain management standards, i.e. elevated, or demolished. Normally its up to the local officials to do the inspections, but with the size of the disaster, they're overwhelmed and FEMA will step in. One area alone has over 3000 inspections. Its an area where a building that was elevated in conformance with floodplain management regulations only suffered 2 feet of water depth, those that were built at the ground level had 5. That was because of the levee break, not the rainfall storm flooding.
It's supposed to get a bit cooler down here, so maybe I will get to see fall, who knows. Keep praying for everyone down here. While things are getting slightly better all around its going to take a long time for this place to get back to "normal". I saw the pictures of the man's house that I'm working with who lost everything. Two feet of mud and debris in the house, marsh grass covered his roof!!! Its hard to believe in losing everything, but this man is doing an outstanding job serving his parish. He's only one story, really hitting home for me, but there are just scores of them down here.
Gonna go to the mess hall now and eat another salisbury steak.
Sent: Monday, 26 Sep 2005 20:41:56 -0400
Good evening from Jefferson Parish.
This morning I traveled from Baton Rouge to Jefferson Parish. Jefferson Parish is a long parish that extends from Lake Ponchartrain to the Gulf of Mexico, immediately west and south of Orleans Parish which is really New Orleans. This parish had significant flooding as a result of the levee break that was highly publicized on TV and is the one they showed dropping the large sandbags on by helicopter. Today I walked on that site and saw the levee repair and the utter devastation of the properties and area to the east of the levee. That was actually in Orleans parish, but when it filled, extended back into Jefferson Parish. While that was the majority of the flooding from Katrina, there was extensive flooding at the south end of the Parish as a result of Rita. Tomorrow I'll be going down with the corps of engineers to look at those levees. When we travel we are accompanied by two US Marshals for security. Not that I'm worried about security, but the lights and sirens sure do get us through the traffic a lot quicker. We came back via I-10 that was partially closed, and we drove by the Superdome and the eerie emptiness of the entire part of the city that was flooded several feet deep. It looks like a lot of it is dried out now, but I guess there are some areas that are still flooded.
My assignment originally was to be a coordinator between the FEMA contractor who will be doing the damage inspections for the Parish. Then yesterday I was assigned to the Recovery Team as the mitigation lead. I guess I'm still going to do the coordination, but just have another undetermined duty as well. I don't know exactly what that means yet, and I don't think anyone else does either, since this is the new format and techniques being used. Its a great opportunity, and is a floodplain manager's dream. Not only do I get to work with the Parish floodplain administrator, I am working with a man who was named Floodplain Manager of the Year by ASFPM at their national conference that was held in Madison last summer. This is also the man who lost his mother in the nursing home as a result of the flooding. It will truly be an honor to work with him, plus professionally rewarding to help him and the people of the parish.
Our sleeping accommodations are in a gymnasium until later in the week when they complete the tent city here with 8 person air conditioned tents. Most of the people here have been sleeping in the gymnasium for weeks, and are looking forward to the new accommodations. There are showers, bathrooms, and even a washer and dryer in the place. Tonight I will get the gymnasium, waiting for the tent city to get done. Urban camping at its best.
I talked to Kara yesterday while I was in Baton Rouge. It was great to talk to her and I told her of the great support I get and feel from St. Luke's. It is truly appreciated.
" Still in Bogalusa"
Just thought I'd take a few minutes to update ya'll on what's happening to me down here in LA. I've been working as an intake person for the recovery center here in Bogalusa. I'm one of three people who talk to the applicants and see what their needs are. Some are in desperate situations, no place to stay and no money, so those are tough since we can't help them as much as we would all like to, while others are just here for the money, whether they deserve it or not. While the hours have been long, and my derriere is flat from sitting in a chair for 10 hours a day, the work is really rewarding and satisfying.
I got a birthday gift today from FEMA with a possible reassignment to work floodplain management stuff in Jefferson Parish. It sounds like a project manager type position overseeing a contractor doing damage assessments, and working with the local floodplain manager with respect to rebuilding in compliance with sound floodplain management guidelines. While what I've been doing here has been rewarding, it will be good to use my knowledge and skills to better advantage.
All of the above is subject to exactly what Rita does in the next few days. We're sorta east of where it might go, but it's anybody's guess where she will actually go. We haven't been evacuated, only the centers south of I-10 at this time, but depending on what happens, who knows. We had a few brief downpours today as a few of the very outer bands came though. I can hardly wait to get heavy rains in this flat roofed building we've been staying in. The recovery center is in an old medical clinic type building and has a flat roof and gets pretty loud when the rain gets hard.
It's been long, hard, rewarding and satisfying, but will be good to get to use my skills to better advantage. I'll let you know where I end up, depending on where Rita goes.
Thanks for all the prayers, thoughts and birthday wishes today. The support from St. Luke's is truly felt and appreciated.
" Hello from Bogalusa, Louisiana"
I think its now Saturday morning and I'm in Bogalusa, Louisiana working a Disaster Recovery Center.(DRC) I got deployed Sunday, September 11 and flew to Orlando for shots, shirts, training and redeployment. I didn't know where, but would soon learn that it was to Baton Rouge. Monday morning I flew to Baton Rouge and on Tuesday we helped set up a DRC in Baton Rouge, immediately across the street from a shelter with 10,000 people in it. That was the first reality taste I got of this disaster. When we were walking the several blocks from where we had to park to the DRC site, there were people milling around, lying on the sidewalks, cars, everywhere, and that is where they were living. Its not unusual in a large urban setting to see groups milling around, but this is the only place they had to go. I saw numerous people walking with plastic bags, holding everything they own.
We set up the center on Tuesday, but I wasn't going to be there long enough to see it open, since I was redeployed to Bogalusa, Louisiana to help set up and man the DRC there. While in Baton Rouge I was truly one of the blessed ones who found a shared room at a Job Corps Academy, about 40 minutes south of Baton Rouge. That lasted for the two nights I was there, then it was off to WalMart to get a sleeping bag, air mattress, pillow, etc. for some urban camping. They told us that where we were going was a devastated area, power and telephones were starting to be restored, some roads still closed, and the place we would be operating the center is an old health care building that FEMA leased from the local church that bought it at auction when it became vacant and abandoned. They said it had bathroom facilities, but that's all they knew.
We headed over to Bogalusa late afternoon/evening on Tuesday, leaving Interstate 55 heading east toward Bogalusa. Bogalusa is at the northeast corner of the toe of Louisiana, very close to Mississippi. We filled up with gas at I-55 and ate at the one restaurant that was open, drive thru only. Driving across Louisiana Hwy 16 to Hwy 10 to Bogalusa was eerie, with damage becoming more and more evident the farther east we headed. While it was dark, our caravan of 6 vehicles were the only ones on the road. We found out after getting to Bogalusa that was because there was a curfew in place. We were surprised we didn't get stopped, but then again, they probably figured who we were and let us proceed.
When we arrived at Bogalusa it was about 10:00 and we set up in the building where the DRC was going to be and determined that it would be our lodging. We're calling it the Bogalusa Hilton since there actually is one shower, bathrooms, areas for sleeping, and is air conditioned. We're praying that the old air conditioning system does not fail.
After getting a nights sleep, on Wednesday we set up the center, unloading the truck with chairs, tables, etc., but still no phones or computers. We were scheduled to open on Thursday morning, and that is what we were going to do, computers or phones or not. And that's what we did. 9:00 a.m. on Thursday morning we opened the doors to a very long line of people who had been waiting, some since 6 a.m. We processed what we had to by paper, while logistics came in to start setting up phones and computers, hoping to have them today sometime.
The first day we saw 146 applicants. Most from the immediate area, but as intake person I got to talk to each one, get a thumbnail sketch of their situation, then route them to the people in the center who may be able to off them assistance. Many had not yet registered for assistance due to no phones or computers. There were applicants from as far away as St. Tammaney Parish, south of New Orleans, Jefferson Parish, and Orleans Parish who had no been home, and didn't know if the had a home. Not only did they not know that but they didn't know where they might be sleeping that night. Those were the most immediate needs people who they helped find food and shelter. They finally got phone lines hooked up last night late, so I'm on my AOL dial up writing this. We've got about an hour til we open this morning, and there is already a long line of people waiting. The security people and National Guard troops are providing security outside and also providing those waiting in lines with water and bringing in any elderly from the heat.
I apologize for this being rather scattered, but it's all been a blur for the last few days. While it is hard for me to be here and Diane in West Virginia, heading for Williamsburg today, I have been able to get sporadic cell service and we have been in touch, but this is where I belong. While it is hard to see people in this condition, it is rewarding to be able to provide what little help I can. They put me as the first person people see when they enter the center, I check their situation and route them in. Not only am I the face of FEMA, who sometimes gets a bum rap, and probably deservedly so in some respects, the people I'm blessed to be working with here are all dedicated professionals with the same goal in mind, helping people. We've got full time FEMA people, Disaster Assistance Employees like myself, other federal agency people from customs and other departments, and peace corps volunteers.
I had better go now to get ready for the day, but thought that since I did have a connection would give you a brief update. I don't know how long I'll be here at this center, or even on this disaster, but I'll try to keep you posted. I got Kara's number from Fr. Gary, but didn't get time while in Baton Rouge to make a connection, but do know that before I leave I will be going through Baton Rouge, if nothing else than to turn in my equipment, will try to get hold of her then.
" Deployment to Louisiana"
Just a brief update on my travels this last week. I'm at a hotel in Orlando tonight, using the wireless in the lobby to write this.
Having not heard anything from FEMA by Friday, Diane and I drove to Charleston WV for her to conduct the National Floodproofing Conference. Saturday afternoon I was deployed to Orlando, which is a large FEMA facility remaining from all the hurricanes, still operational, that they are using to funnel everyone going to the gulf coast through for shots, training, and redeployments. I left Charleston early Sunday morning (6:00 a.m.) and arrived in Orlando. After spending the day in Orlando getting shot up with the required vaccinations I lacked, I was redeployed to Baton Rouge, leaving tomorrow morning at 8:20 a.m., arriving around noon. Flights were not available directly into Baton Rouge, so am going to Lafayette and driving over. From what I know right now I'll possibly be working as a manager of a recovery center, even though its not my area of expertise, they're short managers, so that's the assignment I'm getting, I think. I'll find out more details when I get there. Apparently I'm lucky since there are now limited rental cars available, of which I have one on reserve, but there aren't hotels. At least they have the facilities we are going to stay at stocked already with cots, sleeping bags. The people going in before had to take their own sleeping bags, cots, etc., so they had something to sleep on. I guess they're air conditioned, and have limited showers, but don't know what eating facilities are open. My Herbalife will do me well, since I will have something to carry me through if necessary. They won't let us go to any hotels, if there are any available, until all the evacuees are out of them, since it doesn't look good for us to be taking over space needed by those who have lost everything. It could be much worse I guess, having to sleep in tents in no air, in the late summer, so considering myself blessed.
I don't know what kind of communication capabilities I'll have when I get there, so just having to wait and see. I don't know how the cell phone service is, but am sure I won't have internet for a while, but who knows.
Please keep everyone in your prayers, and add those of us who are going in to do what we can to help. Hopefully I can get some information from Fr. Gary as far as where Kara is and hopefully connect up with her sometime if nothing more than to get together to say hello.
I'll try to keep you appraised when I can.
Mark Matulik, Dewberry
From: Mark Matulik
Sent: 9/22/2005 9:00:30 AM
Subject: Katrina Remembered
I just returned from a nine-day assignment for Dewberry as part of a nine-member team gathering field data for an Inland Wind Study following Hurricane Katrina. The area we covered included southeastern Louisiana, western Alabama and all of the State of Mississippi. My thoughts and memories of this terribly tragic disaster follow.
My two-person team's effort to uncover evidence of wind damage stretched from northern Mississippi to the coast. Beginning in northern MS, examples included 1) roof damage from hurricane force winds as far north as Macon, and 2) houses completely destroyed from falling trees in Meridian. It's interesting to note that Macon is 233 miles from the coast while Meridian is 174 miles. Many of the trees were that were snapped and uprooted in the northern part of the state were 2-3 feet in diameter.
As we traveled south to Laurel and Hattiesburg, tree damage increased as well as property damage. Initial loss estimates at the University of Southern Mississippi are $200 million.
However, nothing in my experience could have prepared me for the total devastation in some areas on the coast from Waveland to Pascagoula. Remember, our own home and area has been through Ivan in September 2004 and Dennis in July 2005. So after seeing the destruction there, I thought I was prepared. I was not !! For those of you who experienced Ivan personally - multiply the extent of the devastation at the coast by 10.
The hardest hit area we visited was Waveland followed closely by Pass Christian. In Waveland, virtually every structure from the water's edge to six (6) blocks inland was totally and unequivocally destroyed. A recently built elementary school made of concrete with a metal roof somehow survived three blocks inland. The granite memorial for the American Legion Hall (7'x2'x1') was unscathed. Firefighters, rescue teams and several national guard units have placed their flags next to the memorial in tribute.
In Pass Christian, we toured a particularly hard hit subdivision in the western part of town near Henderson Point. Part of our job was to collect data on elevation projects undertaken by the community. (Most had their lowest floor elevations at 10 feet MSL or higher). Of the nine addresses visited, only three were left standing - but even they sustained damage. Interesting enough, the only demo-rebuild project in the area survived intact but did have water damage even though it was elevated approximately 12 feet. Flood depths in some parts of the subdivision were twenty-four (24) feet. The depth was verified by a Harrison County sheriff's deputy who returned to the area immediately after the water drained away to rescue one of four residents who rode out the storm. The resident, affectionately referred to as "Mr. Tom" by the deputy, is an 80-something gentleman who evacuated his wife but came back to protect his property. His home is elevated approximately 8-9 feet with a one-story structure above the pilings. Mr. Tom treaded water for quite a while in the upper part of this house during the storm. Only his head and shoulders were above the water line while his head was at the roof peak. (The water level was just below the vent near the peak of the roof.) My estimate puts the water at about 18 feet at this location. Suffice it to say, most MS residents probably can't afford to build a home that could survive the storm surge or wind speeds of a storm like Katrina (if one could be built).
The other story told by Deputy Federico was about one of the residents who refused to evacuate and was continually calling the EOC as the waters rose in her house. She realized too late that she had made a mistake. The deputy was still visibly shaken when retelling the story about how helpless he felt when the telephone line went dead just before the height of the storm. The lady and her husband did not make it.
One of the last areas we visited was U.S. Hwy 90 (Beach Boulevard) in Biloxi. It was an area once graced by antebellum homes over 150 years old. Sadly, very few survived the storm surge and wind.
Working in the area has been the most sobering experience of my professional life. The human and property losses are huge, in fact, they are hard to comprehend. Nonetheless, the most uplifting part of the experience was the tremendous spirit and the kindness of the people of Mississippi - no matter how hard hit they were. Many of you who are ASFPM members remember our annual conference in Biloxi in 2004. I certainly remember how well I was treated as a guest. This time around, I was a guest once again but under much different circumstances. However, I was not treated any less warmly by citizens - many of whom have had their lives changed forever. God bless them!
As I write this message, Hurricane Rita is threatening a part of Texas where we have many relatives and friends. My prayers are with them as I hope yours are. I may also be headed back to Mississippi shortly. So much for the retired life.
Janet Buckwalter - Red Cross
Here are two reports filed on Hurricane Katrina. The first is first hand from our friend Janet Buckwalter and the second was written by her husband, John. For me, this gives new and deeper meaning to the word Volunteer. Thank you, Janet. Thank you volunteers.
The low rumble went on for hours and the occasional lull made my whole body relax, like the calm after having my teeth cleaned when the technician finally slides the tools out of my mouth. Throughout the morning the winds grew bolder, chased by sloppy raindrops spattering on the windows.
About 300 of us would be sharing the Red Cross shelter for the next 24 hours. The night had been a restless one, with about 20 of us snoozing on our cots in an elementary school science classroom. The snoring contest was a toss up between two contenders that gave it all they had, and finally at 3:00am I'd had all the tossing I could deal with. It didn't help that I couldn't find a comfortable spot to lie on. I found that by rotating a quarter of a turn every 5 minutes nothing ever hurt too bad. Somehow in my adventures around the country one ear plug was missing in action, but this was remedied by switching ears at every other rotation. By 3:00am I felt like a human rotisserie and gave up the fight.
A few other nightwalkers were in the hallway and we decided to party. First we raided the food stash and walked away with oatmeal raisin cookies, Cheetoes and water. In the cafeteria we found other sleepless comrades and we entertained ourselves with food and stories until the Z monster began tugging on our eyelids. After 30 minutes of snoozing Hurricane Katrina blew the first puffs of her fury.
With a breakfast of peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches, we waited. Kids played in the hallway while the older folks caught up on family news. After all this was a small community north of Biloxi, Mississippi, where life was still simple.
As the winds grew stronger we were herded away from the windows and took up residence in the hallways. It didn't take long for the power to be zapped and the emergency lights to flicker on. We told jokes and made small talk until parts of the ceiling tiles began to fall. As the afternoon crawled by various parts of the building were evacuated because of roof leaks and the ceiling falling down.
Trees were bent over and ceiling tiles lifted from their frames during the gusts. Benches and gutters took flight, followed by sections of the roof. Nerves were frayed when the eye finally came over us, bringing an hour of calm. We ate sandwiches and then took our positions in the hallway for the backside of Miss Katrina.
By then the emergency lights were depleted and we sat in darkness until the final blows were spent. We came out of our shelter and celebrated the fact that we were alive.
A young woman cowered in a corner, tears brimming in her eyes. "I want my mom" she said over and over. I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her close. I knew how to be a mom. As she wept my tears mingled with hers. I wanted my mom too.
We were under curfew, meaning no one could be on the roads. This meant another night in the shelter. Since the water pumps were powered by electricity we soon were out of water. No showers and no way to flush toilets
and 300 people. This wasn't going to be pretty.
After another fitful night of sleep I crept out of my cot at 5:00am. The morning sky was like millions of tiny diamonds with a milky way swoosh. The storm had washed the air and it was gorgeous. The air was perfectly still and smelled like Christmas, with smooshed pine trees everywhere. Katrina was already a fading memory.
Our convey of Red Cross workers dodged powerlines and branches for the 15 mile drive back to Biloxi. It was time to start the recovery process for these people that had been trounced by Katrina.
(as penned by John)
Janet Buckwalter my wife is in Biloxi, Mississippi helping with hurricane relief. She is a logistics volunteer with the Red Cross. She has been there since the day before Katrina hit. She weathered the storm with 200 people in a battered and leaking school about 15 miles north of Biloxi.
This morning she reports that she is back in Biloxi in charge of Red Cross logistics for 3 counties. The Red Cross has about 5,000 people in about 34 shelters, with more shelters opening daily. She currently is co-located with other relief and emergency response agencies in an industrial park. They are coordinating efforts together as best they can.
These first few days after the disaster are chaotic. EMS workers frantically searched for insulin to help a diabetic patient last night, but the supply infrastructure was broken so badly that they could not find it in time. The patient died. Search & rescue and relief teams are stressed. Workers cry with each other after dealing with hurting people or recovering bodies. Some local workers go home after work only to deal with their own damaged or destroyed homes.
Food for the last several days has been primarily peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Janet was thrilled this morning to find a crunchy breakfast bar to eat and to have a warm bottle of water to drink. Food is starting to come in. 36,000 MREs arrived last night which will help considerably for a couple days. A reasonable supply of bottled water is available.
Electricity is still out in many areas. Air conditioners are down.
Evidently the city water system is not currently operating in her area. Showers are not available right now.
Fuel is in very short supply. Janet has ¼ tank of gas today and has not yet found a way to get more. This makes her logistics efforts very difficult.
Lodging is in extremely short supply due to damaged or destroyed buildings. Most of the Red Cross workers slept on the floor with no cots or blankets last night. She helped an elderly lady get down on the floor to sleep last night with a wadded-up windbreaker for a pillow for her. Janet said one of her top priorities for today is to find a suitable shelter for the Red Cross workers to keep them going. Janet was fortunate to get a motel room with no AC and no water.
Janet has several tractor-trailers of Red Cross food, but no locks on the doors and no security personnel to watch them in a dark parking lot at night. Looting in the city has been a problem.
Janet is starting to receive more supplies, so she is in pretty good shape for helping her evacuees. A shipment of water came in. The EMS workers were promised 500 gallons of gas, and they offered to share a couple gallons with the Red Cross for Janet's vehicle. A Baptist kitchen was up and operational with hot food that was edible though it was not enticing. Yesterday afternoon she still had not found a suitable shelter for her 100 Red Cross staff members. FEDEX offered her a building with a good roof, but the walls were blown out.
Her hotel room still has no power or water. It was too hot inside to sleep last night, so she opened the windows. But then the mosquitoes got her. So she went out to her rental car to try to sleep. She was really thirsty. Earlier she had brought a six-pack of "Baptist Beer" (canned water from Anheuser Busch) and a heater meal back to the motel room, but the hotel workers were hungry and had no water to drink, so Janet gave them hers.
To shower, first she uses one 12oz can of Baptist Beer to wash her hair. She collects the runoff from washing her hair into the hotel room ice bucket. Then she washes all over with that. Then, a second can of Baptist Beer to rinse off.
Most of the workers haven't had a shower since before the hurricane. The toilets are full. A load of frozen chickens spilled in the street near headquarters a few days ago. The combined smells are horrendous. Some Red Cross service sites are out of toilet paper. Janet uses the shower in her hotel room for a urinal and plastic bags for you-know-what. She has ordered truckloads of porta-Johns, but she wonders when they arrive how she will find a cleaning service to pump and clean them.
There is a group of Mennonites who drive 2 hours each way every day to do whatever they can. They arrive early and leave late. They will do anything needed of them. They clean up everything. They bring food to share. The men unload semi trailers of supplies by hand, standing in a line and tossing the supplies bucket-brigade style from one to the next. They don't have a loading dock or forklift yet. They wear typical Mennonite clothing-long pants and long sleeved shirts. The women wear long dresses. They all work happily out in the heat. Their joy is contagious. Janet says they show real religion. After doing everything they could find to do, they asked Janet what else they could do. Janet asked for a hug. So a bunch of them stood in a line and each one gave Janet a hug.
Janet asked for our prayers. She didn't know what to say to the man who had lost his family in the storm and said he didn't want to live anymore. Some Red Cross workers lost their homes and all. They work to help others in the day and sleep in their cars at night. Some are cranky. Victims and workers need encouragement and safety. They need security for the supplies so they can get them to get to the people who need them.
No bandaids yet. Janet used a bit of toilet paper and some duct tape for a worker with a blister on his foot.
The emergency workers in the 911 building kindly gave up some space with power and AC for the Red Cross headquarters. Because of that, some of the emergency workers have to sleep in their cars.
For Janet's 100 Red Cross workers, they now have 10 cots. The rest still sleep on the floor. They have no pillows. For sheets they use a few disposable hospital chux. Most workers try to make the best of it, but some tempers flare. Janet tries to be cheerful and strong and get all the supplies that she can. Then she goes back to the hot motel room at night and has a good cry.
The good news is that the National Guard has an old building about 8 miles away that the kind Mennonites are cleaning it up to house Red Cross workers. There will be power and AC there when it's ready. But they will need enough gas to drive the workers there every night. People have been stealing gas out of Red Cross cars at night. Thrifty Rental Cars donated plenty of cars for Red Cross use. But there is little gas to move them yet. Janet got some gas for her rental car yesterday. She could drive back home to Alabama with that. She is dirty and tired.
Supplies are trickling in. They have enough heater meals and cans of water for now.
She is still the only logistics person working at the Red Cross headquarters in Gulfport. She said it is the hardest thing she's ever done, but I can do this.
Janet washed her clothes in a bucket. Not enough rinse water, so they kind of itched, but they were cleaner.
She slept great last night after smearing lots of bug repellant on before bed.
Some Red Cross workers have been getting sick from the poor conditions. Then someone must drive them to the airport to send them home.
Faith Hill is coming tomorrow and donating a couple truckloads of stuff, so that required considerable time to arrange. Shes all ready for that tomorrow.
She ate oatmeal cookies and applesauce for breakfast, lunch and dinner today, and they tasted great.
She hired security for 24 hour coverage to protect the gas in the cars, generators and supplies.
Janet painted a picture for me with her description of the things she saw on her way to work this morning. Driving down the freeway she dodged debris that had fallen off the cleanup trucks. Lots of vehicles sat abandoned on the sides of the roads. Supply convoys pushed on, escorted by police cars protecting them from looters.
Pulling up to headquarters, she was happy to see that several more trucks of supplies had come in during the night. The parking lot was nearly full with the addition of newly arrived pickup trucks. Supply trucks lined up in the street.
Unfortunately, she was greeted by a broken water main spewing water over their supply staging area. Some pallets of supplies were in a couple inches of water.
Janet psyched herself up for a new day. She has been trying to hang in there,doing her work ordering and trying to manage supplies until more trained help arrived. But yesterday she was told that there isn't any trained help coming soon. She is it for now.
So, she is making plans this morning to train some of the volunteers she already has. She can train them for some of the essential logistics tasks. One will be charge of fuel. Another will register and track vehicles. One will find and organize a warehouse and loading dock operation. Others will handle maintenance, snacks and morale for the headquarters and staff shelter.
Janet is a happy camper on her way to work this morning. Last night was not looking forward to getting kicked out of her hot, powerless & waterless motel room after she was told that State Farm insurance had rented the entire hotel for their staff. But when she got to the hotel, the manager told her she could stay! And the double bonus was that the power, AC and water were on! She was so happy to have her first shower in a week.
A wonderful bearded local pastor on a motorcycle saw the crowded conditions in the Red Cross headquarters. He offered his 8,000 square foot fellowship hall for Red Cross headquarters and lodging for the staff. So they are moving.
Janet said she must get more fuel today for the Red Cross feeding vans. They put ads on radio and TV asking for fuel for the Red Cross.
The Red Cross shelters in the Gulfport & Biloxi areas now house about 6,000 evacuees. One shelter has running water. They have no portable toilets yet. Red Cross asked the governor to help locate portable toilets. They had to close down 2 shelters yesterday due to dysentery.
The death toll in that area is 144 but still rising as workers search from house to house, and more bodies wash up on shore.
Janet got to meet Faith Hill and shake her hand on her tour through the area yesterday.
This morning Janet is feeling discouraged but determined to keep on and press on to do all she can do to help with the disaster relief.
250 staff members live in Janet's staff shelter. 96 have cots now. Last night the staff was very tired, frustrated and hungry. Tempers flared.
The evacuees have food, water and shelter, but not much else.
The Red Cross was supposed to move from their cramped quarters into the church of the nice, bearded, motorcycle-riding pastor. The governor asked and got full cooperation from the power company to try to get power restored to the area where the church is located. Workers with 10 trucks worked to restore power, but were not able to do so. Hopefully today they will be able to move in.
The Red Cross does not yet have a warehouse in which to unload and distribute the large volume of supplies and donated goodies. Some people complain that the Red Cross is not helping enough. Morale seems poor in the evacuee shelters. But the need is overwhelming. The day before yesterday a shelter had to be closed due to an outbreak of dysentery.
Janet has ordered dumpsters, but not received them yet. Piles and piles of bagged trash are stacked outside the headquarters. Trash bags are torn. Trash flies in the wind.
Eight international Red Cross volunteers arrived yesterday. Spain, England, Finland.
Twenty-five Americorps young workers all have a rash, evidently from their sleeping shelter.
Twenty-five nurses suddenly arrived. They gave up their vacation times to volunteer. It will take some time to get cars for them for transportation out to the clients who need them. While Janet was gone on an errand, 10 Red Cross cars disappeared without workers noting where they took them. No way to find them any time soon.
Paper, pens and pencils are in such short supply.
Yesterday mental health workers found people who had lost their homes walking around where there homes used to be, looking for trinkets, almost in a daze.
By the end of the day yesterday, Janet's sore throat was worse. She had diarrhea. She cried all 7 miles back to the motel, and cried for another half-hour once she got there. One of the motel workers took one look at her and gave her a hug. That helped. She went to her room after an exhausting day and fortunately slept the night through.
This morning is a new day. She has "five days worth of work to do today, and everything is important." But she will prioritize the tasks and try to organize inexperienced volunteers to help.
She needed supplies bad. So Janet found a Sams club open. The Red Cross has an account with Sams. She tried to use the authorization code, but it wasn't right for some reason. She discussed it with the store manager, but he wouldn't budge. So Janet began making phone calls. Red Cross workers that she called didn't seem to be able to help. So she borrowed the fax at Sams and tried some more contacts. The disaster operations center was embroiled in apparently more pressing issues. Janet got the run-around. In desparation, she told one worker, "Don't you know that we are pooping in bags down here?" That seemed to get a little more response, so she used that line with all the rest of the people she phoned and faxed. Janet found a new person to talk to. The woman told Janet, "Oh, you're the lady that poops in a bag." Finally Janet phoned a Red Cross officer in Washington, DC and handed the phone to the Sams manager. He wrote down an authorization code, and now Janet and 2 other workers have authorization to buy supplies for the Red Cross at Sams. She had been at Sams exactly 5 hours to accomplish that.
ssJanet called me as she was happily driving away from Sams with $800 worth of supplies and snacks for her workers--fresh fruit, paper, pencils, snacks, cereal, bowls, spoons and toilet paper.
Mike Liffmann - LSU
From: Mike Liffmann
August 31, 2005 10:51:38 AM CDT
Subject: Random thoughts on the Wednesday after the Monday
Friends-- I've heard from most of our southeast LA colleagues and several of you have inquired as to their/our condition. I don't think it's all set in yet. Very surreal. This was the big one, but to think that it only struck a glancing blow at us! The devastation in Plaquemines, St. Bernard, Metairie, Kenner, a majority of NO, Slidell, etc is stunning. Ycloskey, Hopedale, Venice, Slidell, Lake Catherine and many other small communities where we live and work are no longer standing. Hopefully most evacuated! To our friends in MS that got the direct hit in Biloxi, and AL that took another one on the chin, hope all are safe and sound. Burrage and Rick--hope you guys and the rest of the SG family are ok and you are reminder that Katrina can/will happen again. This one was the one we read about, knew would happen---"not if, but when"-- but it never really registered beyond the presentations and speeches. The scary models that our LSU colleagues Ivor Van Heerden and Joe Sudayha had drawn up for years and Robert Twilley and others had tried to articulate were scary, worst case scenarios. We believed them, of course, but it was very difficult to fathom the devastation, it's effects on our loved ones and communities, and even worse to try to begin to comprehend the squalor and economic jolt that is sure to follow. Stuff like this doesn't happen around here. Tsunamis. Indonesia. Not LA, MS and AL. We thought. But it does, and as I pointed out when I started writing this note about an hour ago, it's just impossible to conceive what 140+ knot winds and torrential rains coupled with 20-30' surges can do. And then we have man-made levees to protect us now that the marsh and barrier islands are gone. They're not high enough for the surges and sturdy enough for break-away barges. Tough to comprehend. But it's real!
One thing is for sure. It'll forever change the way we live and conduct business in this state. No more business as usual. It's scary thinking that the comfortable status quo has been altered to a yet unknown track. It feels intellectually challenging, but the thinking cap is not fitting very well this morning. It'll take a few days. I know that we'll have to do some serious thinking and strategizing. A lot of recovery for sure, but at the university we're charged with leading and we'll have to help the state pull out of this mess. Bear with me. I'm just emoting and thanks for reading. Back to what I set out to tell you about our buddies. Mark Schexnayder is in Abbeville
and quite concerned about his home in Old Metairie. Justifiably so. Haven't talked to Jerald who probably headed out to his home in the boondocks of Washington Parish only to get whacked by wind there. Jerald's home on the West Bank is very vulnerable as well. Sad news from Rusty. Whereas his home in uptown N.O. is likely ok --that's
before last night's breach that's sending 9-feet of water into NO-- his Daddy passed away on Saturday. Consequently they haven't been able to bury him in Folsom. My sincerest condolences and I hope you and yours brothers can bring closure to this very sad ocassion. Rusty evacuated to Jackson, MS. I have not heard from Brian
" I'm-outta-here" LeBlanc. His property in Covington might have been affected by the storm, but this smart man always grabs his family well ahead of the storm. So, I'm sure he's in Iowa or some other safe place! I heard from David Bourgeois who evacuated to Camp Grant Walker and was making his way back to Thibodaux yesterday. They were spared! John Davis lives in Hammond and he and family evacuated for Houston. He's talking about leaving them there and coming back to check on the home place.
In Baton Rouge....no biggie! We had sustained tropical storm-like winds that knocked over trees and power lines. Just the inconvenience of 24-36 hours without electricity while we picked up woody debris off our lawns. Jim Wilkins still does not have power, but Justin Farrell has been very comfortable since yesterday. He and wife Jen invite ALL of you to stay with them. Nice gesture. The Liffmanns of Baton Rouge are hosting refugee son Steven, daughter-in-law Jennifer and baby Olivia. Glad they're with us. Their home in Algiers--directly across from the French Quarter-- and 13'6" MSL was built last year to universal code. Reports are no water, minor wind damage. Here's hoping the looters stay away and that the kids can be comfortable living with Mom and Dad! We're glad to have them. Eric and his wife live in town. They got power back before we did and Lauren is in north LA. Nice and
Thanks to all of you for calling, inquiring, and sending best wishes. We'll get over this. It'll just take some time to assimilate the " data", mourn and grieve, collect our wits and devise a plan of action. Your thoughts and prayers are appreciated. One more thing...Anyone wanting to forward this note, have at it! If you have an update on someone's situation, got some ideas, need help, etc. please hit the "reply all". Everyone wants to know. Everyone wants to pitch in! Later!
Rod Emmer - Rodney E. Emmer & Associates
Surviving Hurricane Katrina
Rod E. Emmer, Baton Rouge, LA
September 4, 2005
In order to discuss Hurricane Katrina I must provide a brief introduction to one New Orleans family's preparation for hurricanes. Relatives, friends, and associates through the early 1960s practiced a similar process. With this as background you will better understand why I describe selected actions by my family to survive Hurricane Katrina.
FAMILY LEARNED PREPARATION
I grew-up in New Orleans and remember my first hurricane in September 1947. Many have occurred but Audry (1957), Hilda (1964), Betsy (1965), and Andrew (1992) stand out. Everyone I knew was familiar with and accepted the hurricane threat of wind and water to New Orleans, south Louisiana, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In today's parlance, "Hurricanes Happen".
Weather reports from Florida, Cuba, and the Caribbean islands alerted the rim of the Gulf of Mexico of a pending storm. We had only three or four days warning of immanent impact based on information from ships and later planes. But this short notice always seemed sufficient for preparation. In anticipation of a storm my family implemented its own "emergency response plan". These "traditions" were passed to my brother and me. Building on what my brother and I do, the next generation has developed their "emergency response plan".
In general sequence, my mom and dad:
- selected food (potted meats, crackers, jelly, canned goods, bread, soft drinks, cookies, etc.) that did not need cooking or preservation in an icebox;
- stored provisions for about a week or until the bakeries and groceries opened, power was restored, the water was safe, etc.;
- collected additional manual can openers (The electric can opener arrived on the kitchen counter much later.);
- replenished the medicine cabinet with band aids, iodine or methiolate (sp?), aspirin, prescriptions, toiletries, etc.;
- checked our one or two flashlights (an expensive semi-novelty in the late 1940s to early 1960s) and purchased extra batteries and bulbs;
- placed candles, the primary source of emergency light, and matches around the house;
- set the sterno stove and fuel in the kitchen;
- assembled the basic tools and hardware (nails, rope, bow or buck saw, hammer, etc.) for clear-up and repairs; and
- washed and dried clothes, towels, and dishes while we had electricity.
We fully expected to lose power for up to a week, perhaps more. If electricity was restored earlier, then we were lucky. It was not until the late 1950s that we had a battery operated portable radio.
On the day before the hurricane, as the dark gray storm clouds rolled over the City and winds increased, my dad closed the shutters (all houses had green shutters with movable slats) to protect the windowpanes from flying objects and the force of the wind and gusts. He used clothesline to tie the shutters closed. With help, he retrieved the pre-cut and numbered plywood sheets from storage. They were soon nailed over the correspondingly numbered doors and windows that had no shutters. Bath towels were stuffed in the spaces under the doors to keep out wind-driven rain. My mom had the mop, bucket, and extra towels ready to capture seepage. Someone always cleared the porch and yard of chairs and anything that could be tossed by the wind. He parked the car near the house or in the garage to protect it from airborne debris. Mom filled the bathtub to have water for washing hands, dishes, and clothes. She filled glass bottles or pots with tap water for drinking or purchased extra gallon jugs of "Ozone" water. Finally, if time permitted, my dad purchased ice and placed some in the freezer compartment and bags/blocks in the portable, aluminum (not plastic or foam) ice chest.
WHAT WAS IMPORTANT
First and foremost was the health and safety of family and friends. Second was the integrity of the house. Third, family heirlooms and keepsakes were treasured and were protected and saved.
HURRICANE KATRINA, August 2005
In anticipation of the Hurricane Katrina I stored essential supplies. Having read the publications on recommended survival staples I adjusted my purchases to satisfy personal preferences. Forming the base of my hurricane food pyramid and from most important to least essential are: chips, cookies, candies, twinkies, peanuts/cashews, crackers, and bread. The second step on the hurricane food pyramid includes: potted meats, sardines, grits, oatmeal, spam, and canned beans. At the top of my hurricane food pyramid is whatever else is in the pantry. I venture most people in hurricane prone areas use a similar hurricane flood pyramid.
Beverage priorities from most to least important are beer, soft drinks, wine, gadorade, and bottles of refreshing Baton Rouge tap water (Why should I pay dollars/gallon when the BR deep-well water tastes better and costs pennies?) I purchased all sizes of batteries (the 5 inch B&W TV takes 8 D-cell batteries while a small penlight uses two AA batteries), checked the numerous inexpensive flashlights and sterno plus fuel cans. A propane and a rechargeable Coleman lanterns have replaced the candles. Propane will also fuel a small Coleman burner. On the day before the hurricane I wash clothes and dishes and secured or remove outside objects that could become airborne. The minivan was parked as close to the house as possible. I have no shutter to secure, but the windows are double paned with fake mutton bars for insulation. Doors were locked and bolted. I have no plywood panels to nail over the openings.
THE FAMILY IS FINE
My brother, sister-in-law, and an elderly cousin (with cat) drove to Baton Rouge on Saturday, the day before Katrina made landfall in coastal Louisiana. No one anticipated staying more than a couple of days, essentially an extended visit. Consequently they brought few extra clothes and other basic necessities such as prescriptions, toiletries, bottled water for the trip, or heirlooms and valuables. With stores now open and washing machine and dryer working, who needs more than a couple of changes?
Two nephews, one with wife plus their two-year old son, and two Chihuahuas safely arrived on Wednesday. They stayed in their new house in Diamondhead, MS at the head of the Bay of St. Louis. The lots are heavily wooded with pines and high with an elevation about 45 ft MSL.
A long-ago college friend and wife will be staying Sunday night on the last empty floor in the house. They evacuated their Kenner to Houston and have lived in a pet-friendly hotel (3 dogs plus cat). On Labor Day they will try to return to their home, ready to protect it from the elements with plywood and begin needed cleanup. No power, no water, and no sewage yet, but its home.
My front yard looks like a car lot, a suburban, a GMC Envoy, a Chrysler Town and Country, a Toyota crew cab, rented panel truck, and a Toyota Camry. None suffered damage and all have full tanks of gas. In 2005 the Louisiana Legislature passed a "No Gauge" law that takes effect during a declared emergency. Gas prices remain the same as pre-hurricane Saturday, about $2.44 to $2.64/gal of self serve Regular. Food, water, ice, generators, and other commodities have maintained pre-hurricane prices. People believe rumors about gas shortages and "top off" when they only need 4-5 gallons and then fill plastic gas cans for generators and to keep in the car/truck. As a consequence lines form at gas stations.
My house was undamaged although two 6-8 inch branches from a Cow oak and numerous smaller branches from water oaks and an elm fell in the front, back, or side yards. My injuries, if any, will result from using a bow saw on the larger limbs and dragging all the debris to the piles along the street. Muscles seldom used in recent years were relocated and screamed for attention and to remind me I am not 25 anymore. The City/Parish or contractor trucks will pick up the uncountable piles branches and trees lining the primary and secondary City streets and avenues. An initial collection will remove most of the organic material during September. In subsequent months the remainder of the branches, leaves, and wood will be mulched and probably given away for free.
The electric power at my house went out on Sunday morning about 6:30 AM. My subdivision was originally platted in the 1930s on the very distant outskirts, the country, of a then much smaller Baton Rouge. The trees are now well into their 70s plus and consequently prone to fall and lose limbs during winds and drought. Several trees blew down either crashing through houses, falling in yards, or across streets and power lines. No power means no stove, no lights, TV, radio, washing machines, or AC. Louisiana in August can be warm and haven't we all become accustomed to nights with the AC humming in the background?
Funny how you build on what you learned as a kid experiencing hurricanes in Louisiana? We were informed of the hurricane when it crossed Florida and followed it in TV to impact. Better than it was when I was young. I packed the freezer compartment with bag ice and plastic bottles of frozen water in anticipation of the loss of power. Fortunately, I have natural gas for the water heater so we could all enjoy hot showers in the glow of flashlights. We avoided the once common practice of candle light for battery-operated flashlights.
The hard working crews from Entergy restored power on Tuesday at about 6:30 pm. Only 36 hours without power is certainly acceptable. More rural areas will be out for up to a month. Coincidently, we went to a nearby restaurant for supper on Tuesday, I think more to enjoy the AC than the food. We sat as long as we could in the cool atmosphere before return to the house. And then there was 'Power to the People".
We kept informed on the hurricane and devastation on a tiny TV I purchase after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. A five inch, B&W battery TV is not comparable to a cable connected 36 in color set, but it is better than living in the dark (so to speak). Meals, prepared on a sterno stove, featured Bush's baked beans, hot sausages, grits, eggs, spam, pork sausage - the basics.
As you may have experienced at your home when the power was lost, it was extremely dark outside. It reminded me of early days camping. I suggested to everyone after our gourmet meal of sterno warmed beans and bread that we go outside, hold hands and sing "Kumbaya". No one accepted my invitation. I don't understand why.
Hurricane response has certainly improved over the years. Electricity in the cities now is quickly returned. Refrigerators and freezers protect food for 24 to 48 hours without power. Fast food restaurants and convenience stores always find a way to have early morning coffee plus take out biscuits, eggs, sausage, hot cakes, and wraps. My stock piling of canned foods, crackers, and associated supplies have hardly been touched and I am not complaining.
We keep informed by watching the 24-hour TV coverage of the incredible damage and human suffering along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in Orleans Parish. Unfortunately not much is shown in the other parishes affected by Hurricane Katrina where suffering was just as bad. I guess the pictures weren't as dramatic in parishes with well-organized and implemented emergency plans.
The nephew's house in Diamondhead was hit by a pine tree, resulting in minimal damage. It did not flood but several homes down the street did while one collapsed and another had walls blown out. They said the storm surge at the head of the Bay of St Louis had to have been over 30 ft to reach their subdivision (no survey to substantiate that at this time). The yacht club, marina, restaurant, and homes built on the shoreline were destroyed. For the most part only slabs, concrete steps, or pilings remain of homes built along and extending three-quarters to one mile inland across the coastal lowlands from Bayou Caddy to Ocean Springs, MS. So much for elevation being the salvation to inundation. The recommended coastal construction practices may work for lesser storms, but not for the Category 4 plus such as Katrina pushing a 25 ft plus storm surge. FEMA teams will eventually document the devastation and the validity and implementation of construction practices.
To the best of our knowledge my bother's house in Metairie did not flood or suffer wind damage, only a tree blown down. However, no one can confirm this or if levee breaks caused flooding in Jefferson Parish, their New Orleans suburb. No one can return to Metairie or Jefferson Parish until Monday (Labor Day) morning. My brother will avoid the world's longest traffic jam as the surge of evacuees try to go home. On Tuesday they will assess the potential traffic jam and decide when to return to assess the damage to their property and retrieve personal items (pictures, etc. heirlooms). And then because of no power, no water, no sewage, they must leave again until all services are restored. This may take another month.
The nephew's house in New Orleans may have some water inside even though it is in an older section of town and on piers. He cannot get into NO for about another month. Breaches in the levees must be closed, the streets drained, trees removed, and the power, water, and sanitary systems returned to service.
Floodwaters in Orleans, St. Bernard, or Plaquemines parishes did not discriminate on income or social status, inundating upper end subdivisions and low-income houses to the rooftops. Businesses are closed; the economy has literally stopped. Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, and Plaquesmines parishes are under a mandatory evacuation as gas, sewage, and unknown chemicals and dead critters pollute floodwaters. The metro area and the Mississippi Gulf coast have had better Labor Day weekends.
I am happy to report my family is healthy and safe. I will keep you informed as things evolve. South Louisiana and coastal Mississippi will rebuild just as others did after the fires in the Berkley Hills, the San Francisco and Los Angles frequent earthquakes, the Upper Mississippi River flood, Florida hurricanes, and the Great Plains blizzards.
After all, this is south Louisiana and "Hurricanes Happen."
I truly appreciate your expressions of concern and prayers for all of us.
PS. Flooplain Managers care. The board of the Louisiana Floodplain Management Association voted to give $1,000 to the Louisiana State Troopers Association to help those officers who lost their homes and possessions. They are on duty nonetheless. We decided to honor one of the smaller, seldom recognized, but no less important, organizations. The big national organizations have fundraisers, but we wanted to help one of our own who are all too often forgotten.