In the immediate post-Katrina period, our Baton Rouge location just off I-10 was like being perched on the edge of an abyss. We watched our battery-powered TV and listened to the radio with increasing disbelief and horror as our sister city (and former hometown) to the south was destroyed in slow-motion, over the course of five or six days. We had relatives who\'d ridden out the storm in Algiers and Gretna, and were unable to communicate with them just to find out if they were o.k., for several days. We finally got through to them by landline phone, in the middle of the night, which was the only time it worked for two weeks, even for us a hundred miles away in a damaged but not devastated area. They had been pretty well-prepared, having survived Betsy in the 60\'s, but after three weeks on their own they needed re-supplying with generator fuel and prescription medicine , with no stores of any kind open, no FEMA, and no Red Cross on the scene yet, at least in their area. They couldn\'t leave their immediate neighborhood because it wasn\'t safe; looters still roamed, in addition to many armed paramilitary and vigilante groups . There was a roadblock at the parish line, and anyone who crossed it even for supplies couldn\'t come back into the parish, so they were stuck. They\'d bartered back and forth with neighbors, but at this point, everyone was low on essentials. We started calling friends in North Louisiana, looking for a way to get the medicine, and we started looking at possible launch and dock sites for our little motorboat on the Mississippi River. The entire area was still shut down with multiple police roadblocks, and it was still considered unsafe from lawlessness. We located two extra-legal sources for the prescription medicine, which I won\'t identify because it\'s now a post-disaster world and everyone loves to point fingers from the safety of their cozy air-conditioned armchairs. We were trying to figure out how to take enough fuel in the boat, and whether we could put another person in the boat, to literally ride shotgun for security, and how much fresh milk, eggs, and vegetables to pakc when our relatives called saying the fellow running the river (operating traffic control of shipping on the Mississippi River) out of a nearby home ham radio setup had managed to find the medicine via Coast Guard connections. They\'d burned up the new gasoline generator, and were down to the old diesel one which they had been able to barter for fuel to resupply. They were hoping for a local drugstore to open the following week, as they really needed fresh milk for the nine-year old. They still had plenty of bullets for the gun, though, and though they hadn\'t had to fire it, could hear gunfire often usually at night. Their son living in Texas had managed to talk and chainsaw his way through roadblocks and downed trees and relatively low water about four days post-K, to help them temporarily patch the roof and drive his elderly,frail mother to safety back in Texas, and they felt the remaining family members were holding up o.k. with the help of neighbors and largely corporate and charitable rescue/relief efforts. We were relieved. All this time, we\'d held our extra bedrooms open, and available should they decide they could stand it no more. Our neighbors across the street had opened their home to relatives---a total of 22, including Catholics, Moslems, Protestants, and atheists. They only got into one argument where police got called out, in that entire month. In the hours following the storm we\'d heard on the radio a call from the state Office of Emergency Preparedness for \"anyone with a pickup truck\" to please call them. We did. They phoned us around 8 or 9 pm, asking if we could help move hospital equipment with our truck. Our 22 yr old son and I drove around downed trees and across dead powerlines in the pitch dark about 15 miles downriver to Gonzales to a private hospital, where at around 10 p.m., a doctor met us in the dark parking lot, with a huge piece of respiratory equipment. He and my son got it into the truck, and we managed to make our way back to the highway, and delivered it to the state hospital (\"Earl K. Long Memorial\") in Baton Rouge. This was about 2 days post-K, when the levees had broken and the city was filling with water. The National Guard was still not on the scene down there in any great way, and really, the only official rescue presence was from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, who\'d organized a joint professional/volunteer flotilla operation, picking people off rooftops and out of attics even while the water continued to rise. I waited in the dark parking lot of Earl K for 45 minutes while my son and hospital personnel moved the machine out of the truck and into the hospital, and in that time I counted the arrival of 16 ambulances, some unloading survivors two at a time. Cars by the dozen were driving up into the lot, some that looked like they hadn\'t been started or run in a while, filled with children, old people, teenagers, pets, trunks ajar with boxes and bags of belongings. A carload of rough-looking tattooed teens drove up in front of our truck, and another car with worried-looking older people drove up beside them, and began siphoning gas from one to the other. They were from Kenner, I overheard. They milled around, smoking, obviously confused, and finally asked me if I knew where Baton Rouge General Hospital was, that they\'d just evacuated ahead of the rising water, and in the confusion the 12 yr old sister had broken her foot, and been heliported to a hospital in Baton Rouge. They assumed it was this one, but found out it wasn\'t, and now were running out of gas in one of the cars, and still had to find her and make it to a shelter in some town called Pineville. Oh, and did I know the way to Pineville? And where a gas station might be open? \"The General\'s across town, here it is on a map of the city, when you get your sister, take this route on this state map to get to Alec and then cross the river to Pineville where you\'ll find the people there a bit different than you\'re used to but very generous, and I can\'t help you on finding a gas station---it\'s hit or miss, but would this $20 bill help?\" The hug and the teary-eyed, heartfelt, croaking thank-you I got from this stranger, this teen-aged family caravan leader will stay with me the rest of my life. You gotta realize, New Orleans is a place unto itself, and many of its denizens rarely left the area. I bet these folk hadn\'t been out of the city, maybe ever, until that time. After we made it home during the wee hours, our entire family worked various ways in the next few weeks to help our less fortunate neighbors, from buying fresh underware and toiletries and taking them to local hotel parking lots filled with evacuees, some who\'d waded through floodwater and then hitchhiked the 100 miles from New Orleans, to bringing first aid items to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on the LSU Campus, the site of the largest MASH unit on US soil since the Civil War. I\'ve never seen so many helicopters in the sky, for a solid two weeks. Daybreak to sunset, nonstop. People living out of their cars in mall and WalMart parking lots, just blocks from our home. Every church fellowship hall and gym filled past capacity with evacuees. The interstate eerily quiet, closed to all but emergency traffic, and emergency vehicles from every state and even Mexico. I counted 24 in a row one day at 5 a.m.,as I rose to get gas and ice, going past me at the nearby gas station, headed toward New Orleans. New Orleanians on foot, hitchhiking down the interstate with rescue vehicles. Frantic calls from a friend, asking would we risk driving into the city to rescue friends of heres, a couple who\'d refused to evacuate in rescue boats because rescuers wouldn\'t let them bring their little dogs. Advising them to pack the dogs in a backpack, stock up on water and food, and set out for Baton Rouge on foot on a circuitous path along the non-flooded strip of land beside the river, cut over to the Interstate, and if they could find a way to phone us, we\'d be willing to pick them up partway, maybe on the raised span through the swamp. Can you imagine? These people are college professors and erudite denizens of the Garden District. Hiking to safety, like characters in some post-apocolyptic movie. Finally, somebody gave the order to rescue people AND pets, and they made it to Baton Rouge with their pets, and then stayed with our friend for the next month until folks were let back into non-flooded areas of the city. I\'ll never forget volunteering an entire week with the VOA, collecting free school uniforms for the tens of thousands of evacuated school children flooding the local public and private schools. Asking my husband, and a few tall men friends if they happened to have any kakhi pants to give away, that really tall high school student evacuees could not find pants to wear to school and were not going because they had nothing to wear. Taking four pairs of pretty new pants from the very tall local YMCA director, and seeing to it they made it to a specific high school where a New Orleans student 6\'5\" had arrived. Buying a new pair of extra-large shorts and extra-large ladies\' underware, toiletries, and a toothbrush, for a woman belonging to a family who\'d shown up at the local Embassy Suites, and had waded through nasty water, hitchhiked, and had nothing, not even the clothes on her back, which she\'d had on for days and had to be thrown away. I put some fingernail polish and lipstick in there, too. Feeling like the moon had disappeared; that\'s what the destruction of New Orleans felt like, and in a way, still feels like. Knowing two of our previous residences took on many feet of floodwater, and one, we discovered by driving around in the old neighborhoods a few months later, probably had held bodies, by the amount of rescuer grafitti on the walls, and the watermark, which was all the way to the roof. The first home we ever bought---I\'ll never forget the sight of that cute pink raised shotgun double, rescuer graffiti across the front, an 8-foot watermark on the side, holes in the attic transom window and in the roof, and a stick with a white rag tied to it protruding from the roof hold. And the watermark, a gray line drawn across everything, just like the Dylan song. The knowledge that law and order, civil society, was so fragile, even in the US.


“[Untitled],” Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, accessed May 26, 2024,