Sunday, September 4, 2005.
I'm not sure where to begin…
Jack (Andrea's father) came in Friday night, and I brought him up to speed on our plans to get back into the city. I had put the team together, and spent Saturday driving around with Virginia (my daughter, not my mother-in-law) getting some things together. I bought tarps and rope at Home Depot, some supplies for Harahan PD at Wal-Mart, and then I found a local gun store (Fountain) that literally had everything I asked for. I was rather impressed… I went to army surplus and got the clothes I needed to dress the part - some BDUs, a web belt, &c. The only thing I couldn't find was a gas can, but Billy was supposed to handle that part.
In the middle of the afternoon, Mark came by and dropped off a pack of Cokes and gave me a big help out. Thanks, Mark!
I found an aerial view of my house on www.noaa.gov and the house looks pretty good. My house is two houses right of the house with the blue roof below. My house is the one with the pyramid roof way back on the lot. The carport looks good, but the back part of my roof looks funny. I'm also not sure what the gray stuff in my yard is, and I'm afraid it's roof tiles. My fence doesn't look too good in the back either. There is little damage to any of the other houses visible in my neighborhood. My friend Bob's house is the one in the lower left corner. From the air it looks quite good. Reports on the ground confirmed that already. I'm really worried about my roof at this point...
I went over all my preparations, loaded the truck, and put myself to bed. We got up at 5:00 AM, which rather hurt my feelings. I got dressed up and we got out of Houston pretty quick. We picked up Billy in Lafayette, put 34 gallons of gas on my roof in 4 cans, and eased on in to Denham Springs (Jack & Ashlee's house) and met up with Steve and Eddie (my brother-in-law). We loaded up, tanked up, and went in on I-10. It was a long day on the road...
As we went down I-10 and crossed the Bonnie Carrie Spillway bridge, we observed that the rail line that runs along that route was heavily damaged. The rail was underwashed in many places. This is a critical rail line coming into New Orleans, and crews were already working to repair the damage. That will be a lot of work, because there are many miles of track that will have to be reset, shored up, and straightened. We saw several fishing camps that were mostly destroyed, lifted from their pilings and thrown into the water. There were many trees down, broken, and otherwise torn up. It's not just a human tragedy, it's a tragedy for the trees as well - none of which seemed to be able to evacuate…
All inbound traffic for those returning to Jefferson Parish was directed down I-310 to Airline highway, which was a parking lot. Regular residents weren't being allowed in until Monday, but we were going in on Sunday. Fortunately, I had permission from the Chief of Police and the Mayor of Harahan to enter into Harahan to deliver the supplies I was carrying. Jack is also doctor, and doctors were being allowed to go through the emergency checkpoint on I-10 straight into Metairie. I had chosen my 'disguise' for that carefully - BDUs and a shirt that said SECURITY in large white letters. We were allowed through the checkpoint readily.
We entered Metairie and were expecting widespread 'devastation' as reported on the news. We did see a lot of damage, but nothing that could be described as 'devastation'. I think that probably is more applicable to New Orleans itself and points east. Almost all buildings are still standing, but are were damaged in some way. As is normal in storms like this, some damage was worse than others. Most of the damage was roof damage. Some building facings on hotels and apartment buildings were torn away completely, revealing their interiors to the public eye in a way that was sad in some ways and strangely obscene. It was like the buildings were undressed - naked to the world.
Kenner looked pretty good, and there were a lot of crews out clearing roads and putting the power grid back online. It looks like they're going to fix Kenner first - the Western most city - and bring that back online to support the rest of the area. That makes sense to me.
We drove up Williams Boulevard and went east on West Esplanade to get Jack to his house. We did manage to get him there, but we had to try a few times to find a route in. There were many powerlines down, poles laying across the road, and trees laying about everywhere like block towers toppled by an angry child. Jack's house is in the vicinity of Avron and Transcontinental. The wind coming off the lake had done quite a lot of damage in the area, and the water had gotten high. Jack had about an inch of water in his house at some point (and about 6" in the garage) - just enough to soak the carpets, ruin the floors, and damage the floor moldings. Some wind blown water had also come in through the upstairs windows. The good news is that none of the windows broke - which isn't something that could be said for most of his neighbors. His roof also took little damage, and his house really fared better than many in the area.
We put 6 gallons of fuel in his car, bringing him to ¾ of a tank - plenty enough to get back to Denham Springs, which was the check out point. Since he hadn't taken any real building damage besides the water - and there wasn't anything to do about that - we decided that we would keep moving. We had come prepared to tape plastic over his windows and do whatever necessary to secure his home, but I felt that the house wasn't in need of any emergency repairs, and that the area was quite secure. All he really needed to do was to get his belongings and get out. We left Eddie (well armed) with him for security and assistance, tied the cans back on top, and kept rolling.
It was about 4:00, and I needed to get Steve, Billy, and I into Harahan before the 6:00 curfew. I wanted to drop my supplies to Harahan PD and get home before dark for sure. We had heard Mayor Johnson of Harahan talking on the radio, and he indicated that the citizens of Harahan had armed themselves and intended to protect themselves and their property. Being a citizen of Harahan myself, I understood the mentality and I didn't want to be seen as someone cruising a neighborhood at night looking for trouble. I drove us up Transcontinental to Airline highway. As we got further away from the lake, we observed slightly better conditions. Not quite so much damage, but still many trees and buildings damaged. We crossed Airline at Clearview, and there was little traffic - mostly emergency vehicles and law enforcement. I didn't see much military or guard.
I stopped at my parent's house and checked the door, which was locked. My uncle had already unloaded their refrigerator, so there was not really any need for me to go in. I didn't have a key in any case. There was a tree down across the road and we had to walk in. My parent's house looked quite good. Little if any roof damage was evident - but I didn't go in the back yard, which was also locked. Some of the trees I grew up with aren't going to recover… We also had to drop some supplies to D---- who had stayed. We did that and kept rolling.
We went down Earhart Blvd and entered Harahan from the 'back' and eased on down to the police station where I met with Henry Kuhn and gave him the supplies I was carrying. When I asked him his situation, he indicated that they were doing quite well, and that they had been running arms and ammunition to NOPD because they had been running low. I offered him everything I had with me and everything I had stockpiled in my house, but he refused it saying they were doing well enough. They were low on .40 caliber ammunition, and I didn't have any. I have always said that .45 and 9mm was the way to go in such situations because such ammo is plentiful - unlike the 'special' stuff. Sometimes it sucks to be right.
I was unable to meet with Mayor Johnson, but I tried calling him many times. I never got through, and cell service was intermittent at best. As we proceeded down Jefferson Highway, it was evident that no grass had grown under the feet of Harahan's public servants. The roads were clear and things seemed quite normal except for all the downed trees and light wind damage. Harahan fared quite well it seems. I turned down Colonial Club and then got onto my own street with no problem. All the roads in Harahan were completely clear except for a few downed power poles.
When I got to my house, it was a little disheartening to see that the large oak tree in my front yard will never be the same. Several giant limbs had broken off and fallen into the yard. None of them had fallen on the house, though, and that was good.
Here is what my house looked like before the storm:
And this is what it looks like now:
The front roof looked good, but I could see that the peak of my roof was missing the cap tiles and the north dormer roof was damaged.
The view from my front porch looking towards the street:
I walked into my neighbor's yard to examine the north face of the roof, and the north roof over the kitchen was torn away.
My carport was intact, but damaged from flying tiles. I walked into the back yard to see a haz-mat situation. Many asbestos roof tiles that were once keeping rain out of my house were lying in my back yard trying to kill my grass.
I went into the back yard, being careful not to step on a nail and had a look. The tree in my back yard will never be the same. This storm was bad for people, but for the trees it has been a holocaust. I might have to take it down. Virginia's brand new swing set is crushed. Nothing hit the house, though.
My fence isn't doing too well. I *really* liked that fence too...
The east roof is heavily damaged, the bare slats exposed in some areas.
I walked into my garage - the large double doors had blown open. It was kind of strange inside. The roof had taken damage, and some water had come in. Everything from floor to ceiling had been wet from the wind blown rain entering the double doors. It was completely dry, though. I guess the door blowing open was good because it let all the moisture out after the rain stopped. I lost a few tools and some cardboard I had been storing. I'll have to go through everything when I get back to determine the real extent of my loss there.
I entered the front door of the house, and some water had blown in under the door and ruined a few boxes, but nothing in the boxes can be hurt by water. My anniversary present (a photo poster I really liked) was destroyed by being glued to the floor by the water. The floor had been pretty wet and was swollen. I'll probably have to redo that floor.
I walked into the back part of the house and into the kitchen where a sour odor was readily detected. The ceiling tiles were wet and some had fallen.
The ceiling in the dining room was water stained and partially fallen.
I went upstairs to find that the carpet was wet as well as some belongings in the guest bedroom. The water had seeped along the ceiling and run down the wall. Since it had been a week since the storm, everything was already dry.
Sapphire (our 23 year old cat) was lying curled up on the rug in the bathroom in front of the toilet where she always lays these days. I bent down to pet her and discovered that she was dead. We later buried her in the back yard under the oak tree. The fish tank was gone too, and we emptied that and dumped the rocks and such in a trash can. The job of emptying my refrigerator wasn't so bad because everything had refrozen because I had power back. I cleaned everything out and we had cold Coke to drink. We took the acoustical ceiling tiles out of the kitchen that had been wet and generally started making the house livable. There is a sour odor in my kitchen, but all said I did better than most people.
The roof was a real problem, and I got out the ladder to see what I could do about it. I have never been on my roof before, and I couldn't manage it this time either. It's a 12/12 pitch, which means 45 degrees. Billy got up on the roof, but couldn't do anything. He kept sliding down. Rather than risk a serious injury where there was no help and no hospital, I told him to come down. We rolled out some tar by standing on the ladder and tried to stick a tarp up there, but the tar wasn't sticky enough and it didn't work. I was at a loss to do anything about rain coming into my house, and I tried to come up with some kind of cunning plan. I didn't have enough rope to climb the roof, and I didn't know where my climbing rig was anyway. I finally found a can of Great Stuff Spray Foam, and I went into the attic and sealed all the gaps in the slats where the roof was missing. I figure that the roof is steep enough to let the rain run off as long as it didn't fall into the cracks. I don't really know if it will work or not, but it was all I could do with the time, daylight, and materials I had on hand. We also put some buckets and cans in the attic where the vent caps and power vent had torn off, hoping that they would catch enough rain to prevent wet ceilings again. I don't know if that will work for long either, but it was better than nothing.
Steve decided to cook us a hot meal, and found a box of chicken jambalaya in the pantry. Since we didn't have any chicken, he made it with a pack of tuna fish, and it was really quite good.
All of this activity was hot and difficult. I was fortunate to have power and water, and Billy and I had a hot shower. I packed some extra things into the car and rigged to roll early in the morning, and then slept in my own bed for the first time in a week.
Monday, September 5, 2005.
When the alarm clock went off at 5:00 AM, it really hurt my feelings.
I got up and went to Bob's house three doors down and cleared out his 'fridge. His house didn't take any damage, and he had power and water just like me.
We loaded up and went to see Billy's house. He was first up on the route plan I had made. Most traffic lights were out, and we treated every broken light as a 4 way stop. There were also police and guardsmen directing traffic at some of the larger intersections. We got into Billy's neighborhood easily enough, but there were a lot of trees down, and the power lines had been torn from his house. One of the large oak trees had dropped most of itself onto his garage.
His roof was intact, but missing a lot of shingles and underlayment.
The ceiling in the bedroom took some water from the roof being damaged.
His bedroom was fairly wet from this, his bed being ruined.
He had some supplies, and a couple of his neighbors were there as well. He had some help and was secure, so we proceeded to Steve's apartment - which I had expected to be under water. It wasn't, and in fact he hadn't taken any water at all. He did have quite a bit of blown water, and the carpets were wet. We cleared out his refrigerator and freezer, and then packed up some of his things and loaded them in the car. Clearing out his fridge was a real experience...
We proceeded to Beehive, where Steve works - and I used to work, and the sign was gone, the back windows blown out, and it had taken some water. I was there a few years ago when the place flooded and we got everything off the floor in time to save it. No such luck this time. Very sad.
We didn't stay long at Beehive. Nothing to do there, really, so we went to Steve's mother's house. Her neighborhood was pretty torn up, but her house was...perfect. Not a shingle lifted.
The little plastic shed in her back yard had blown out, but it was fixable. We cleared out her fridge, packed some clothes for her, and loaded up. We went back to my house and took some extra photographs, and then went back for Billy. He was still up on his roof trying to lay tar paper to save his house. We helped him with that. Of course, I didn't miss the opportunity to take a picture of his butt first...
We did pretty well on the patch job.
Of course, his back yard will never be the same. His two beautiful oak trees will have to come down. The one on the right used to be straight...
We loaded a number of his belongings into his car, and took a break. He was done and had a high level of security around his house, so we decided that Steve and I would go ahead and get out and Billy would follow us when he was finished packing.
Steve and I went up Causeway Blvd, and he bet me dinner that they wouldn't let us back onto the interstate to get out. I-10 has been reserved for emergency vehicles only. We sailed right on and exited the city without incident and drove back to Denham Springs.
On the drive I had a lot of time to think about the things I had seen. The houses are all fixable, and to my mind the real tragedy is the trees. I can fix my house, but I can't fix my trees. There are a lot of lessons learned in this, and it seems to me that Andrea and I did everything right. There were a lot of people who didn't take much of their stuff, expecting to return to their homes in a day or two. When that didn't happen, they were all caught short without their documents, family photos, or even enough changes of clothes. Of course, then there were the ones who stayed, and they were caught REALLY short.
I need to get back in and try to secure my roof. If I can do that and keep the house dry, it will be livable in the short term. If we can go home and live there, cleanup and getting back to normal will go a lot quicker.
I'm typing this from Jack and Ashlee's house. We're watching the news. Dakota (age 4) is still awake watching all the water in the houses with us. Ashlee works for the Red Cross in Baton Rouge. She's the Operations Manager, and her chapter currently sheltering 12,000 refugees from New Orleans. She's showing Dakota all the water and trying to explain why he hasn't seen much of his mommy lately. "People don't have a place to live, and that's what mommy is doing. Helping everyone have a place to live."
Dakota looks at all the water and says, "We need to go to the mall and get boats. The road is too soggy. The cars get all full of water."