Storm Day…Hurricane Katrina Report Part II

NOAA Satellite Image of Hurricane Katrina making landfall on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
NOAA Image of Hurricane Katrina

Although Hurricane Katrina was almost three weeks ago, it is not old news for those of us living here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This is the first time I have had enough online time to actually post a diary since the storm passed through. Here is my diary account of hurricane Katrina as seen from Gautier, Mississippi, August 28/29, 2005.

I now consider the phrase “the storm will be 100 miles away, what can happen all the way over here?” to be in the same league as “Hey Bubba, watch this!” As posted in my last diary, my wife and I decided to stay in Gautier, but with friends living on higher ground one mile south of our home.

We picked everything up off the floor, covered over all the furniture with sheet plastic, grabbed some essentials and went over to our friends on Sunday afternoon, August 28. That evening had a festive feel. We watched TV, snacked, drank a few beers each (restrained to keep a “clear head” for the storm) and I went to sleep about 10:00PM.

I woke up at 5:00 Monday morning and paddled out into the living room still in my pajamas. Most of the other people there had dozed on the couch and chairs all night in front of the TV.

We still had power and cable TV, and watched the weather people showing the storm just off the coast. We realized the track had moved a little closer to the east, but also seemed to have weakened, so we were still not too concerned. Outside, the water of the bayou next to the house had risen about 12 feet (already higher than from any previous storm), but the waters were still safely away from the house. The wind was howling and trees already leaning way over.

We lost power at about 6:00 AM. We had a battery-powered TV so we could still follow the news, and saw the TV projections of the storm beginning to make landfall.

Occasionally We went outside under the porch and watched the bayou waters. They would rise, and then settle a bit. The wind picked up strength and large objects began to fly around. We thought the storm surge waters had crested.

At 7:30 the flood waters began to rise like a slow moving wave coming in. About now, we heard the weather people report that the storm’s eastern eye wall would pass over Gautier with a 20 foot storm surge, and I began to think we might be in trouble.

At 8:30 the water reached the bottom of the garage (half a floor lower elevation) and began to trickle inside. We began to pick things off the floor of the house.

At 9:00 the water reached the tires of our five cars parked on the front lawn. Several of us ran out and moved the cars to higher ground in the neighbor’s driveway.

By 10:00 the flood waters reached the top of the front steps. Inside the garage, a car parked there was already floating and I could smell gas fumes entering the house through the inside door. We started stuffing towels and blankets around the bottoms of the doors in an attempt to keep out the water. By now, we all knew we were in big trouble and would be flooded. Outside, our cars parked in the neighbor’s driveway were submerged up to the floorboards and we knew there was no way out.

Water started entering the house by 10:30 (I think, my timeline gets a bit hazy after this). We tried to keep out the water, and succeeded in keeping the water inside the house 6 inches lower than outside. But the water kept rising. The weather people (we still had a working TV) reported that the eye wall would pass over Gautier in about another hour so the storm would continue to intensify.

Flood waters creep up the stairs during Hurricane Katrina's Landfall
Water slowly rising up the stairs into the house during Hurricane Katrina

When the water inside the house got over my ankles, a few of the women in our group began to “lose it.” One woman turned to me and asked “Are we going to die?” and I just gave my most confident sounding “NO!” answer. My wife began to cry. All I could do was give her a hug and say “I’m sorry we didn’t leave.”

Gas fumes from the garaged car began to get stronger. We didn’t want to open the windows (and kick out plywood coverings) as the storm winds were intense. We were still keeping the water inside six inches lower than outside, but the water was already over the bottom of the lower windows.

In an effort to get some ventilation inside the house, the house owner propped me up on a window ledge and I busted out a top window using a heavy meat pounder. That got some ventilation inside, along with wind and rain waters.

The homeowners had six cats, one dog of their own and a “guest” dog all inside the house. At this point five of the cats were on top of the highest furniture anxiously watching the rising waters. The sixth cat panicked, jumped into the water and started to swim away – I don’t know where it thought it was planning on going. I chased the stupid thing down, pulled it out of the water (getting scratched for my efforts) and tossed it to its owner. The two dogs were just sitting on the best couch in the house, watching things float by.

The oldest woman in our group called time out for a group prayer. We stood holding hands in the living room as she prayed for us being too arrogant to have left town when we had the chance.

The gas fumes from the garaged car were getting stronger even with the broken window providing ventilation, so the home owner opened windows on the side of the house in the lee of the winds and kicked out the plywood covers. The winds were so intense by now that pine trees were leaning over almost too where their tops touched the ground. I thought it was incredible that more trees were not being uprooted or broken off.

When the waters reached my thighs, two young boys and two of the smaller women in our group (including my wife) were already dangerously deep. We had used an air mattress the night before as a guest bed in a back bedroom and it was still inflated.

I pulled it into the living room (a 12 foot ceiling), threw a sheet of plywood from one of the opened windows on it and helped get the two boys, their mother, and my wife on it. One boy started to cry and his mother and my wife tried to calm him.

At this point, the home owner waded over to me and said “We need to get my boat ready.” He had an 18 foot boat strapped onto a trailer on the side of his house next to the garage door. His plan was to swim out the window we had already opened, get his boat off the trailer and bring it back ready to evacuate.

Still in my pajamas and wearing a pair of sneakers we went through the windows and swam around the side of the house. I now believe this was the strongest point of the storm, about 12:00 noon.

The winds were so strong there were white caps in the flood water over his front lawn. We got to his boat where it had been pushed against his house by the wind, still hooked to the trailer.

He got the boat’s stern disconnected, I got the bow. We climbed on and realized we had to cut off the boat cover – the straps were too tight due to winds. Neither of us had thought to bring a knife, there wasn’t one on board, so the homeowner swam back to the house and quickly returned with one. The few minutes I was alone on that boat felt like eternity.

We cut off the cover, motored the boat around to the open windows and tied it off to the porch columns, ready to start bringing people onboard. At this point, the homeowner’s wife leaned out the window and called out that the waters appeared to have stopped rising.

This would have been about 12:30PM. We watched for a bit, and saw that in fact the waters had stopped rising, three feet deep inside the house.

A partially flooded house at the peak of Hurricane Katrina Landfall
Partially flooded house at the peak of Hurricane Katrina’s Landfall.

An hour later we motored the boat back over to the side of the house, and got it back reconnected to the trailer. During this process I lost my eye glasses “over the Side” in flood waters about 8 feet deep, leaving me mostly blind.

I was able to help get the boat hooked back to the trailer, and we spent an hour dragging floating debris away from the house. We pulled out a very large (half full) propane bottle, a large three door commercial freezer, two small boats not belonging to the homeowners, and a large number of pallets, chunks of fencing, tree limbs and boards.

The winds were dying down but there were still strong gusts. I had to be careful to keep my face turned away from the winds as a strong gust could shoot water spray in my face that felt as if I was shot with BBs. As the waters receeded we saw fish jumping around us.

As the winds died down, the homeowner decided to pull the remaining plywood panels off the windows to get more ventilation inside the house and clear the gas fumes. As we pulled one panel off, standing in waist-deep flood waters, we discovered the window ledge space between the plywood and window was full of insects. Apparently they crawled up in there to escape the flood waters. The home owner pointed to my right shoulder, I looked and saw a huge ugly brown spider sitting there. I screamed and dunked myself to wash the thing away. I presume it later drowned.

We took on a party atmosphere as the water continued to recede. The homeowner and I found two beers in the still cold refridgerator and shared them, after toasting each other to “The Worse Monday Ever.” My camera equipment had just barely stayed dry, so I took some photos of the other members of our group, and photos of the house showing the waterline and storm damages.

As Hurricane Flood Waters receded, Winnie was still standing!

By 4:30PM the road in front of the house was uncovered. We were able to get to our cars and tried to start them. Of the six cars we had at the house (including the one floating in the garage) only one would start – a full sized pickup that had had the highest ground clearance. The rest, including my venerable old Isuzu pickup, had been ruined by the flood waters.

At 5:30 PM, although the winds were still strong, we drove back to my home in the one working truck. I needed to get my spare glasses and had an overwhelming urge to see what had happened to my home.

We discovered my home had also been flooded three feet deep. The interior was complete chaos, furniture overturned and soaked, papers and mementos lying everywhere. There was a layer of foul smelling mud wherever water had been.

I found my spare glasses, put them on and realized that being able to see clearly only made the house look worse. I went back outside; saw roofing shingles missing and debris everywhere. It appeared that every house in my neighborhood (as well as all the houses in neighborhood where we had stayed during the storm) had been flooded.

I sat down on the driveway with my wife, looked at our wrecked home, and started to cry.

As I have more computer time I will continue to post Katrina aftermath diaries. From what I have been able to see of the outside news, people outside the coast are seeing only a small sliver of what the reality is here.

I am just one of the fortunate ones who survived, still have a standing house, and a job. The reality here is that many, many people do not have a home or job or food or even basic clothing and transportation. They need our help.

And my small part of the coast is relatively well off compared to Biloxi, Gulfport and towns further west.

Editors Note: This article was originally posted on the Daily Kos website as Katrina Aftermath Report from the Front Lines… . It was the first post I wrote following the storm, three weeks after as that was the first time I had Internet access (it was on my first day back to work). The article made the Daily Kos “Recommended” list for a full day, the longest time any of my diaries stayed up. It was also listed in the Daily Kos archives as original Katrina content.

I am re-posting the diary with some minor edits and additional narrative, as I think it stands on it’s own as written for an archival story.

Related Posts

Katrina – Assessing Damages : A Photo Essay of assessing what was left after Hurricane katrina.
The Year of Hurricane Katrina : My article on surviving the storm, and the year’s long effort to get back to where we once were.
New Oleans Rebukes the President : How New Orleans felt about President Bush after Hurricane Katrina.

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