Chapter 3 – The First Day After
I did cry for a bit, all the day’s events finally catching up and overwhelming me, with Winnie hugging me. Then I pulled myself together and reminded myself that we were still alive and could rebuild.
My next door neighbor (Beth) had come with us and checked her home while we were checking ours. Her home was at a slightly higher elevation and had only been flooded about two feet deep. She wanted to salvage some things right away, so Winnie and I sat in our driveway and waited as we both got over the shock of what had happened during the day. While we waited, we looked around and could see that EVERY house in view appeared to have been flooded.
Looking around the neighborhood, my strongest impression was feeling completely disoriented at the appearance. In a typical hurricane aftermath, there are tree branches and light trash blown everywhere.
Now, there was flood debris knee-deep piled up against the front of our house and the side of our neighbor’s house, looking like the high-tide mark on a beach. But the rest of the neighborhood appeared to be “swept clean,” more clean even than before the storm, as if nothing had ever happened. But I could also see downed trees, chunks of roofs missing and vinyl siding wind blasted away, clear evidence of a hurricane’s aftermath.
Once I pulled myself together I ran to the houses of my immediate neighbors to check on them, not sure if anyone had attempted to ride out the storm at home. But no one was around, even though there were plenty of vehicles left behind. Most vehicles I could see looked pretty waterlogged, and I guessed they were Katrina casualties.
We did discover that Beth’s second vehicle, a full-sized Chevy truck that she left at her house during the storm, still worked. When she was finished working in her house, we attempted to go to Millie’s house a few miles north of Gautier. We were unable to reach it due to downed power lines and trees blocking the roads so we turned around and returned.
While we were gone Allison managed to make a cell phone call to her Dad in Grand Bay, Alabama, about 30 miles east of us. Her dad reported his house was undamaged but had no power and trees were downed all around him. When he learned of our condition he told her he would “come get us.” My personal opinion at this point was that we would be spending the night there in a very wet house and I started thinking of ways to sleep reasonably comfortable.
But, two hours later her dad arrived in a convoy of three vehicles! We all piled in, taking some still dry clothes, my camera gear and Winnie’s immigration papers. The convoy had used Interstate 10 and the northern (westbound) span of the I-10 Bridge across the Pascagoula River getting to us, and didn’t have any problems.
But, going back east we used the southern (eastbound) span of the I-10 Bridge. It was about 8:30 PM now and pitch dark. No streetlights were working, and across the river the shipyards and refinery were all dark – something I had never before seen. We crossed the west Pascagoula River Bridge and half way across we “saw it” just as we passed it.
“It” was a large floating crane that had struck the southern I-10 span and knocked the highway span four feet (the width of half a lane) off alignment, with a small gap and height difference between the sections. We hit the misaligned span at normal highway speed, felt the bump, and my heart jumped up to about throat-level. But the span didn’t collapse and we kept right on moving.
I turned and watched other vehicles also crossing that damaged bridge span behind us. As we continued across the southern bridge span I saw two other reasonably large boats, a pusher tug and a commercial shrimp boat, all jammed against the bridge. I judged that the river was still about 5 to 8 feet higher than its normal levels.
We spent Monday night camped out on the dry couches and floors of our guest’s home in Grand Bay; all 7 adults, two children, and two dogs (we left the cats in Gautier) plus the family who owned the house. We got to take cold water showers the next morning and had a hot breakfast, then convoyed back to Gautier late the next morning. Now, we saw that the southern (eastbound) span of the I-10 Bridge was closed.
On the way back to Gautier Millie took a detour to check her house. The roads had already been cleared enough to get through and she discovered a miracle – her house was just high enough to not have been flooded and had no significant wind damage. She quickly invited us to make her house our “base of operations.”
We took a quick stock of our situation. Power and telephones were out and we guessed it would be at least one week before anything was restored. We had one dry house and two cars for four families. Our hosts during the storm had a portable generator that we moved to our base house which would provide enough power for lights, fans, a working satellite TV, and the play station for the two children. It had been submerged during the flood, but we dried it out and got it working.
Gasoline for the two running cars and generator was not an immediate worry – we had five dead cars with full tanks we knew we could siphon plus additional gas in several jerry cans and two boats.
We had a gas camp stove for cooking and plenty of cooking gas. With food and supplies we could salvage from our homes we knew we had a good week’s worth of decent meals.
Honest-to-God, I felt rich.
We decided we would spend the next several days cleaning up our homes and return each night to our base house for meals, cold showers and sleep. Winnie and I made it back to our house late Tuesday afternoon and started cleaning up.