The Year of Hurricane Katrina

Chapter 2 – Storm Day

That Sunday evening had a festive feel. We watched TV, snacked, drank a few beers each (restrained to keep a “clear head” for the storm) and Winnie and I went to sleep about 10:00 PM.

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 I went outside under the porch with other people and watched the bayou waters. The waters 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.

Indications of A Problem

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 reported that the eye wall would pass over Gautier in about another hour so the storm would continue to intensify.

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. Winnie 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, William 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.

At this point five of the six 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 Allison. The two dogs were just sitting on the best couch in the house, watching things float by.

Beth 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 William 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 to where their tops touched the ground. I thought it was incredible that more trees were not being uprooted or broken off.

Trying to Not Drown

When the waters reached my thighs, the two young boys and three of the smaller women in our group (including Winnie) were at least waist 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 Millie, and Winnie on it. One boy started to cry and Mille and my wife tried to calm him.

At this point, William waded over to me and said “We need to get my boat ready.” The 18 foot bass boat I had been joking about “using as an ark” the night before was strapped on its trailer around the side of the house. His plan was to swim out the window we had already opened, get his boat off the trailer and bring it to the front porch and evacuate everyone from the house.

Still in my pajamas and now 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 William 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, Allison 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.

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 then we spent an hour dragging floating debris away from the house. We pulled out a large half-full commercial propane bottle, a large three door commercial freezer, two small boats not belonging to the homeowners, 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 receded we saw fish jumping around us.

The Storm Recedes

By about 3:30PM William decided it was safe enough to pull the remaining plywood panels off the windows to help clear the gas fumes inside the house. As we pulled one panel off, standing in waist-deep flood waters, we discovered the window ledge between the plywood and window was full of insects. Apparently they crawled up in there to escape the flood waters. The home owner yelled and pointed to my right shoulder, I looked and saw a HUGE brown spider on me. I screamed and dunked myself to wash the thing away.

Inside the house again, we developed a party atmosphere as the water continued to recede. The women found some still-dry food to snack on, the first time that day anyone had eaten. William and I found the two last beers in the still cold refrigerator 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.

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 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. As we drove out of the sub-division we realized that nearly every home there had been flooded.

We arrived and discovered our home had been flooded three feet deep. Flood debris was piled up against the front door knee-deep and the front windows broken behind the plywood covers. The interior was complete chaos, furniture overturned and soaked, papers and mementos lying everywhere. There was a layer of foul smelling mud everywhere.

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.

I sat down on the driveway with Winnie, looked at our ruined home, and started to cry.

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  1. […] those posts can be found in my “Katrina Diaries” category. I also wrote an extended story “The Year of Hurricane Katrina” around the one year anniversary that rolled a lot of those posts together and tried to make […]

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  2. […] Winnie and I have a considerable amount of experience in home improvement. My expertise goes back to my teen years and I’ve been involved with projects (some of which involved contractors) on each of the five homes I’ve owned. Winnie used to help her uncles pour concrete and lay tile roofs back in China, and has worked with me on all our home improvement projects starting right after hurricane Katrina. […]

    October 31, 2015

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