My Personal Narrative of Recovering From Katrina
My story is dedicated to the tens of thousands of people who were impacted so much worse, and lost so much more, than Winnie and I.
In this narrative I have attempted to describe the personal impact hurricane Katrina had on me and my immediate friends and family. I start with the weeks leading up to the storm, describe the day it hit, and then the long year after attempting to rebuild my home and my life.
Some photos are included in this story, for more please go to our Katrina Photo Gallery. This hurricane was a major Life-Altering Event for everyone who experienced it. This article and the small collection of photos are published in the hopes that people not directly involved will appreciate the significance of this event.
Chapter 1 – Prelude
My town of Gautier, in Jackson County, Mississippi, is on the eastern side of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The eastern edge of Katrina’s eye wall passed over our town about 12:00 noon that very long Monday of August 29, 2005.
At the time of the storm, my wife Winnie had only been in the US six weeks. A native of Southeast China, we had married 20 months prior and waited all that time for her visa to come through. On July 15, 2005, she finally arrived at Los Angeles International Airport where I and my brother’s family were waiting for her. After several days visiting in Los Angeles, we arrived here in Gautier to the house I had lived in and continuously “improved” since November 1993.
I think even then I had a premonition that something bad was coming down the track. Hurricane Dennis swept through just one week prior to Winnie’s planned arrival, making landfall around Mobile, Alabama, July 10. I remember calling my brother in LA when I knew the predicted landfall was close by and telling him he might have to meet Winnie without me there. I distinctly remember telling him that the aftermath of the storm could make it impossible for me to fly out for several weeks after the storm’s landfall. I had never before felt so strongly about the impact of an impending storm.
Hurricane Dennis turned out to be just a practice run for Katrina seven weeks later. My cousin and her two kids came over and we ended up with a two-day house party. We didn’t even lose power during the storm.
After Winnie arrived in Mississippi things were hectic. I had my full-time job and a small home-based vending route business I had started several months before. There was paperwork that needed to be done to get Winnie settled, my favorite places to show her, and friends and family to meet her.
Two weeks before Katrina hit, we had a minor accident with my almost-new SUV. It was not serious as those things go, but my SUV had to go into the body shop for several weeks’ repair. I had a second vehicle, a 16 year-old pickup, but it was not in good shape and not something I could trust to go very far away from the house.
First Warnings of Trouble
I had been watching the path of hurricane Katrina as it progressed, but on the Thursday evening, August 25, all computer models showed it hitting the Pensacola region, the same general area as Dennis just a few weeks earlier. So, no worries here. No worries in fact that I never even checked the weather or news again until Saturday morning as Friday was a busy day for us.
When I did check the weather on Saturday morning, August 27, I was stunned. The computer models showed the path going directly – over – my – house and the storm had grown to a Category 5. I talked with my neighbors and friends during the day, and finally decided we would stay and ride it out.
There were two main factors in my decision.
– My SUV was still in the body shop and my old, venerable, pickup could not be trusted to get us too far from home. The pickup had actually broke down on me the year prior while I was evacuating for Hurricane Ivan, stranding me in a Red Cross shelter in a strange town 130 miles from home, right in the path of that hurricane. I was not willing to risk that experience again.
– I really did not believe the experts claiming the world as we knew it was about to end with Katrina’s landfall. I felt they had played that game too many times in the previous few years, with the most recent being Hurricane Dennis. It was a case of crying “wolf” so many times that evacuating had become a lame joke.
Saturday afternoon we received an invitation from friends in Gautier to stay with them, and that was my clinching decision factor. Their house was next to a bayou, as our house was, but on slightly higher ground, and there would be several other families staying there which gave me a “safety in numbers” feeling.
Hunkering Down for a Storm
Sunday morning, August 28, I made my standard hurricane preps. I boarded up the windows, picked small items off the floor and put them on tables and benches, covered everything with sheet plastic and staged storm supplies. Winnie was not really sure what was happening, but “got into the spirit” by pulling all our clothes up on high shelves and picking up a lot of things I hadn’t considered.
Most of our belongings that were not ruined by flood waters were saved because of her foresight.
By Sunday afternoon I was feeling a bit shook by the reports and storm predictions, but hid my feelings so as to not alarm anyone. Literally everything in the area was being closed. Even most of the churches here had canceled Sunday services. We evacuated to our friends house that afternoon but a few hours later we had to come back home to get some items Winnie insisted on having with her, including all her immigration papers. By now, I had a strong premonition something bad was going to happen, and distinctly remember giving a mental “good bye” to my home of 12 years as we left.
My cousin evacuated to Pensacola, Florida, after scolding me for staying. Sunday evening I called my mother in New York and brother in Los Angeles and told them we were safe and staying with friends in Gautier. In the house we were staying there was a total of 7 adults and two children; the homeowner William and his wife Allison, his mom Beth (my next-door neighbor), a friend of the wife Lin, his sister-in-law Millie and her two children (her husband was away at sea), Winnie and myself. There were also two dogs and six cats wandering around.
My friend was acting as nonchalant about the potential of the storm as I was, attempting to keep the women and children calm. I remember his wife being really spooked about the possibility of flooding, and my half-smartass comment intended to calm her; “Hey, you folks have a nice bass boat parked outside. If the water gets too high we can all just climb on and play Noah’s Ark.”
That comment still haunts me today.