katrina eve 4 year anniversary

So this is a repost of the Katrina blogs that I wrote 4 years ago. It's really really long....

Current mood: listless
so this is for those of you who have not heard our story.....

TFP and I woke up around 7:30 am and checked into the Marriott on Canal St. on Sunday morning. Then we went to the restaurant to "close" it up. Basically we threw some ice in the coolers, and we took some drum cevice. Then we went home and loaded up our important things (except for the cats) and took it all to the Marriott. We took our computer tower, guitars, bass -- the necessities.

Then we went back home to get the cats. Chester was already freaked out that we were running around and cleaning and packing. He probably thought we were moving... So we chased them into the pet taxi and drove down to the Marriott. They have valet parking and bell service, so we parked the next block up to walk the cats into the hotel. We emptied out two duffel bags - a big one for Chester and a small one for Stinksy. We shoved them in the bags and walked very briskly through the lobby to the elevators. They were howling and digging trying to get out, but no one said anything or acted like they noticed. So we get on the elevator with a guy in a tshirt and shorts. Chester is even louder and I'm trying to hold onto the bag, but he's making it tough. The guy has a horrified look on his face and he asks, is that a cat? So I admit, that yes, it is. We get them into the hotel room, and shortly after they find the bed and crawl under.

Meanwhile, we settled in for a long night. We ate lunch, which started with smoked oysters with sour siracha on cracked black pepper water crackers. Then we had cevice mixed with canned octopus and cold sticky rice. It sounds horrible, but it was delicious. We turned on the telly and we soaked in every single newscast about the storm. As the day went on, Mayor Ray Nagin and the newcasters get more and more negative. A mandatory evacuation is passed as we sit in our posh hotel room on the tenth floor of the Marriott. Hospitals and hotels were exempt of course, because it would be impossible. We reassured ourselves that given our situation, this was the best decision. We passed the time, took a little nap, played guitar, watched the news...

so we had dinner -- freshly steamed sticky rice (I brought the rice cooker) with smoked mussels, octopus, soy sauce, rice vinegar and smoked almonds. It may sound strange, but I'm thinking of putting it on a menu if I ever get to make up a menu again.

TFP drank some beers, I started in on the white sangria heavily spiked with apple rum.

We kept checking on the status of things going on outside the window; the waves in the pool, the people on the street, and the cars driving around. We kept marvelling at how many people, tourists and local families were walking around as if a category 4 or 5 was not about to hit in a few hours. And there were cars parked on the street as if that's where they were going to ride out the storm. At about 5 or 6, we got antsy, being cooped up so we went for a walk downstairs. The lobby was busy. People were still checking out and waiting for a taxi to take them to the AIRPORT! We walked outside, and it was windy, yet the breeze was tropical, not the normal muggy air. The sky was already thick and grey, People around us seemed to be walking out of nervousness. Trying to shed the anxiety. All the businesses were closed, except the Tshirt shops. I don't think I saw one that was boarded up and abandoned yet. The strip clubs, restaurants, bars, those all had the old boards from Ivan, Isidore, Georges on them. Some looked as if they'd been out of business for years. One restaurant, I want to say La Louisiane, had festive plywood painted with purple, green and gold stripes. Once we got to the police station, the streets were deserted except for a few unsavory looking fellows, so we turned back. It was getting darker and windier anyway.

As we were heading back to the hotel, this woman was fighting with her kids. Two teenage boys - midwesterners I would guess - wanted to go off on their own. The mom was yelling at them to stay with her, but they wanted to go back to the hotel room. We were walking behind the boys and watched them enter a beat up door on a side street and go up stairs. I always thought those places were where hookers and quarter rats stayed.

We went back and battoned down the hatches. That's when I really started to knock back the sangria. We played war. TFP kicked my ass in the shortest game ever. Then we played the most appropriately morose game of hangman, with phrases like "we are going to die soon". All the while, Ray Nagin got more and more sinister on the TV screen telling citizens to get out while they could. But a couple people were still out - in cars, walking. There were still two cars parked on the corner, and we made jokes about the owners wanting to claim them on insurance. We had been text messaging people throughout the day, and the last text message I sent was to Curlfro. Something about feeling belligerent but not having pearly beads...old Mardi Gras reference that he didn't understand. And then I passed out. TFP fell asleep too. For five hours.

We woke up around five to whistling freight trains approaching, just like everyone said. The windows vibrated the billboards shook, the waves in the pool got really choppy. The newscasters on WDSU signed off to their sister station in Jackson, Mississippi. Margaret, Roop, and Helena were going down the street to the Hyatt on the river. There was a noise outside that sounded like a dumpster rolling down the street. TFP peeked out to look. It was the canvas on the billboard across the street. It had ripped, and the ad for Black Seal rum was waving defiantly. That was when we took the mattress and put it against the window. Shortly after, the power went out. Very shortly after that, there was an angry knock at the door. They made us all leave our room to go to the third floor ballroom. Some windows had already smashed. We were so scared by the commotion, that we didn't have time to pack everything we wanted, just some water, phones, three flashlights. whatever was in the duffel bag that Stinksy had been in earlier. We left the cats under the bed with their water and food under there too.

The lights were flashing in the stairwell, and we were running down the stairs. But my sandals and the lights made it hard for me to go very fast. I felt nauseous. We got to the third floor and were led through a small ballroom to the main one. There were cots set up in the middle of the floor. We were some of the first ones there, so we picked a nice corner away from the center of the room. We got comforters and pillows and made a little nest for ourselves. This drunk woman set up camp right next to us. She lit a cigarette, and that's when I lost it. I had to go throw up. We walked right into a garbage can in the hall that was catching water from the ceiling. A hotel staff member saw me throw up and showed me where the bathroom was. Of course, I didn't grab my toothbrush or toothpaste. So I rinsed out my mouth and washed my face. Then I made out with TFP and we did it on the ballroom floor right in front of all these strangers. It was very romantic. Just kidding. Just seeing if you're really still reading this. I know I'm rambling, but it's really therapeutic to get this out. Hope it isn't too boring.

So I fell asleep for a few hours, and I woke up to loud creaky noises. The ceiling was leaking pretty bad. It was drizzling in the fancy ballroom where they had very elegant expensive wedding receptions. Staff was running around to get every garbage can, lexan and bucket to catch the stuff. Then the ceiling tiles started to fall. Luckily the ceiling was high, so you could hear it fall and get out of the way in time. They started moving cots away from the tiles.

Around seven they served breakfast, eggs, bacon, sausage, chewy hashbrowns , bread, all kinds of pastries, juice and coffee. It was a feast. Through the morning there was creaking and groaning, the shatter of glass. Some time a window right there on the third floor busted. It was nice, because when you walked to the bathroom there was a pleasant breeze. Around 11:00 they informed us that that eye was about to pass over Slidell, and the worst would be over in an hour and a half. They said that they would later let us up to our rooms, but if the power was not restored we would have to spend the night in the ballroom. They served lunch -- sandwich fixins with turkey, roast beef, ham, cheese, chips, prefab salads in tubs. We both avoided the salads. They had Gatorade, but only the first people in line got them. Oh and the cookies -- huge gooey ones, all kinds, they were delicious.

So we had a delicious lunch on board the titanic -- I mean in the Marriott ballroom. I get so confused, big fancy chandeliers, no windows, water leaking in... The GM makes an annoucement. They are going to let the one person registered to each room go up to the room with an escort (not that kind) and grab whatever they need. So in the event that the lights didn't get back on that night, we would have to sleep in the ballroom again. Not very bright of an outlook. We paid how much money a night to sleep on a ballroom floor? So someone asks if they will at least let us go stand outside for a breath of fresh air -- the ballroom is already starting to stink of mildewing carpet and bo. They say probably not because there are still tropical storm force winds outside.

Dellusional as we were, we thought, sure the lights will come back, they have to have all the hospitals down the street up and running, why not the hotels too? So we paced around the ballroom, the hallway, the escalator to the second floor bathroom. With no water pressure we had already filled up the toilets on the third floor, so they let us fill them up on the next floor.

TFP got to go upstairs. The cats stayed under the bed the whole time. He grabbed some beers and the cigarettes that he had left behind, and the weather radio. So we pass the afternoon trying to get reception on the radio, TFP smokes and drinks beers. We hear callers on WWL Radio ask about areas and how they're affected. No one really knows yet. They know St. Bernard and 9th ward are flooded, but that's really all they know...

They made one last announcement in the afternoon. While we waited, the valet who parked our cars told us how he lived in St. Bernard. He also told us how it's flooded because they blew the levee. The announcement is made how we can go outside, but we have to get an armband. If we take it off we can't go back in. That's it. Dinner ends at eight. Can we go back up to our rooms or get our cars? No. There's a curfew in effect so they won't let us check out.

We walk outside, and it's a breath of fresh debris filled air. Lots of sand and some metal objects are still blowing in the wind, but we walk around anyway. We see the Popeyes sign has landed across the street from the Popeyes, almost all the palm trees on Canal st. are laying on their sides uprooted. Crumpled up piles of metal are everywhere. We have to be careful while rubbernecking, because we almost step on protruding metal debris. And there are tons of people walking around, having a good time! Gawking, laughing, joking. The cars across the street from the hotel are crushed under a pile of bricks. Everyone rushes to take pictures, including me. One guy gets on top of the bricks and poses. Three fireman come and pick up a few bricks, but when they see its such a huge job, they throw down the bricks and walk away. The windows in the top floors of most of the hotels are blown out, glass everywhere. Nevertheless I see kids walking around barefoot.


So we slept, went to pee, went to smoke cigarettes, the night passed finally.

Monday morning, we woke up and there was an announcement. Same thing as yesterday. There was still a curfew, still no power, still have to stay in the ballroom, still only one person can go up to the room for a few minutes, still couldn't check out.

We went out for a walk, still a bunch of shit everywhere. Tons of people walking around. A kid in front of us had a big bottle of crown, wonder where he got that from?

Breakfast was some apples, oranges, crossiants, not much more than that. Lunch was a big surprise -- cold cuts, bread, cheese, those same cold salads. Dinner was even better, not much meat left, so a cheese sandwich, cold salads. They seemed to be running out of supplies.

We spent most of Monday down in the lobby. TFP brought down cigarettes, beer and the crank radio from the room. If you live in an area with extreme weather or frequent black outs, get yourself one of these. My sister in law gave us this for Christmas. It is one of the best gifts ever. So we listened to the WWL radio broadcast. People call in and update on what different areas are like. We heard report of dead bodies floating in the 9th ward. People came by and ask us about their part of town. Most places they asked about, we didn't hear anything on. It did sound like uptown was okay, although there were reports of flooding on Napoleon. And Carrolton was like a river. That was bad news for The Mango House? And what about Leon? He was the pantry cook. I wondered if he left his house for saftey. Lakeview was flooded, but we couldn't get a hold of Curlfro, he hadn't returned a text message since Sunday night around 11pm.

People would come, sit on the couch and listen, then walk away. One couple sat down and asked if we'd heard about St. Bernard parish - East of New Orleans. We hadn't heard anything about it. In fact, several callers were asking about that area, but no one called in. The husband, Brian, said that the reason no one has called in is because the place was at least 10 feet under water. So he went into this long tirade about how they force everyone to leave that area because they know they may have to dynamite the levee and flood the area to save downtown New Orleans. He recountd Betsy for us -- how the same thing happened, and his family had to leave the house when the water got waist deep. His brother lifted him through the kitchen window to get him out. Then he complained a lot about his house. This woman that was sitting on the couch next to him asked where his family was. He said his mom was upstairs. So this woman yelled at him about how lucky he was to have his family. He meekly agreed, but he went into this new tirade about his brand new generator that he left in the garage on the floor. Never been used. He had expected to spend the night in the hotel, go home, plug it in and get on with his life. He was sure that it was under water though. He owned a cafe, and he was still hell bent on getting in the next day and opening for business -- even though he thought his house was under water.

So meanwhile, TFP was drinking beer, and people kept eyeing the empty bottles asking him where he got them. When he answered, "we brought them with us" everyone looked so deflated. We didn't have enough to really offer anyone, so we gave a Heineken to the other woman sitting on the couch. She had a hot Heineken, so we gave her a room temperature one. Brian didn't drink beer, so he helped himself to the bar in the lounge. We thought it was odd that it wasn't opened, but I guess it was a bad time to have hotel guests drinking.

So the night passed, and Brian told the same three stories three times, and TFP ran out of beer. That's when we decided to break off and go to sleep. It was a shame because that couch was so big and comfy. So we got our blankets and pillows and made our new nest on the floor of the lobby next to the grand piano. There were people all over that lobby. There was not many people in the ballroom. When I walked into the ballroom, with those low sodium lights, the stench, the sounds of snoring, this was one of the most depressing feelings ever. A lot of people walked out with whatever they had with them in the ballroom and never came back. They were so desparate to leave that they abandoned their stuff in the hotel rooms.

The next morning, we woke up and asked people at the front desk if we would be able to check out that day, they said that water was coming up Canal street so no one could leave. We walked out and looked at the water, and the highest water that we could see was knee deep. So we started to panic. We asked the valet if we would be able to get our cars. He said sure, but we wouldn't necessarily be able to drive out with all the debris and the flooding. So we walked around and debated whether to stay or not. We saw Brian and his family, they were leaving. Other people started to head to the valet stand with bell carts. We walked outside and asked a cop if any way out of the city was open. He told us Crescent City Connection to I-10. Someone else told us the same route. Then someone else asked us, and we told them the same route. Then we looked at eachother and went to the front desk to check out. Thank God they didn't charge us for parking. So we asked for our cars, and the valet asked if we wanted to take only one and leave the other. We almost did, but we had a lot of stuff and need two cars.

So we had to had a staff member escort us up to the room. He hurried us, we got most of our stuff onto the cart, and that's when TFP had to tell him that we had cats in the room.

So the guy said, okay, we'll bring this stuff down then come up and get the cats. We get the cars, and I load the stuff while TFP goes up to get the cats. I'm waiting, and waiting... They come back with some confused kitties, and I ask, did you get the litter box and litter? Nope. So the bellman has to go up again and get our litterbox and litter. Very nice guy, we were such pains in the ass.

So I put the cats in the front seat in their pet taxi and off we go uptown. I drive very slowly because of the debris, and because of the cats. We weave around Prytania, Washington, Magazine, Constance, etc. It is just a maze of downed trees and downed power lines. We go down one way streets the wrong way. There are a few people out, cleaning up branches in their driveway, wandering around, marvelling at the devastation. Chester throws up twice, probably from the bumpy weaving ride. He is quiet until the last five minutes, then he breaks out in desparate meows. Stinksy is just bundled behind Chester. We finally get to our house, and it's standing. There are neighbors who didn't leave. Someone pops his head out of the third floor of the building next to us. He comes down. His name is Kristopher, he just moved in three weeks prior to the hurricane. He stayed by himself up there, spending most of the storm in the closet. We ask him if he has supplies. He has a pack of oatmeal cookies and four bottles of water. So we give him a case of water, three beers and a bunch of udon noodles. We let the cats in, and they hide under the bed. We unload the BMW and park it at the fine arts school. We take our guitars and computer tower into the house and put them on the desk.

Kristopher says he's going to stay until its over and get out and move back home to Erie, PA. So he offers to watch the cats until we get back. The neighbors across the street get back from the Walmart with supplies. The security guard let people in. Their tenants next door to them are also home. And the artist down the street is sitting out front eating beans and rice. We are sad to go. It seems like a cozy familiar community compared to the rest of the city. Our place is fine besides a few holes in the roof of the dining room and kitchen. But, TFP's sister is getting married on Saturday and we have to go. We can't let Katrina ruin her wedding. And what else do we have to do. We packed our Echo and headed back down. This time we took Tchoupitoulas. It was clear. We pass by the Walmart and see people pulled up, carrying kids bikes, toys, TVs, stereos. How are they going to enjoy this stuff?

We get to Baton Rouge, and of course there's no hotel rooms. There are people camped out in the lobby couches. We try to reschedule our flight from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, and they give us a flight on Friday. It's Tuesday and we have nowhere to stay. We try to call Ann and Greg, but no one is getting our messages. We drive around aimlessly. We eat dinner at the Fox and Hound, watch TV for hours. Finally, we have to leave, we find a hotel parking lot and park in the back, recline our seats and try to sleep. We wake up, listen to the radio, drive to another hotel, a Marriott that looks like the one we just left. I use the lobby bathroom, and it's dirty. Paper towels overflowing out of the trash can, no soap in the dispensers. It's a mess. So we get a few hours sleep, while the mosquitos bite our legs. We wake up around 8 and go to the airport to see if we can get on standby, and we do no problem. We're on a plane to Michigan in two hours.

Two days later we are shopping for the rehearsal dinner cook out. We're buying four hundred dollars worth of groceries, a hundred forty dollars worth of ribeye. It's surreal all this excess. Friday we cook all day, and then we go to the rehearsal. Then we're serving this unending bounty of food for 50 people. They are amazed at how much food there is and how great it is. They must think we are insane, but at least we have something to do for one day. We may not cook for people for a long, long, time.

The next day, we grab our stuff from TFP's sister's house and we check into the Royal Park Hotel where the wedding is. FANCY. I mean, new and detailed and thank God we're not paying for the room even though they got great deals on the rooms. TFP's sister's suite is nicer than most people's apartments. Her kitchen is bigger than ours at home. We take showers, put on the fluffy hotel robes, TFP orders Cristalino, we're putting our feet up, toasting to our cats, watching CNN.

Then TFP puts on his tuxedo, I put on my custom made floor length chocolate dress and heeled sandals, and we go to a wedding. We dance the night away, not because we've forgotten what we may have lost, but because we have an obligation to have fun. And we do have fun, in a strange surreal way.

I haven't broken down yet. I've barely shed a few tears here and there. It will come though, I'm sure it will....

I forgot one important part of the story....

when we were driving out of the city, we realized that we left our duffel bag in the ballroom at the Marriott. There was important stuff in there, so we went to get it on the way out. We pulled up, and I ran inside, I was gone for about ten minutes. It was scary going up the escalator with no flashlight. Everyone shines their flashlight at your face and asks if you're ok. So I come back through the lobby, and I see a particularly desparate looking woman watching me. She was listening to the radio a little the night before. So I hop in the car, and TFP is listening to the radio, with the engine turned off to save gas. So goes to turn it on, and the engine shuts off. Battery dead. At that same moment, all the NOPD are practically marching up the street. They yell at us that we need to get out of the car now, or we will be arrested. TFP says that the engine died and they say, get out now! So TFP goes to another policeman across the street and pleads with him to get someone to jump his car. The man asks if we have cables, we pull them out, he summons a cop car, pops the hood and we have power! Meanwhile, the desperate woman comes up to me while the battery is still dead. She asks if we have room for two to wherever we are going. I look at the back seat, it's packed. I'm worried about cops pulling us out of the car, She says they don't have anything and they can leave now. I look at TFP and he gives me the look, so I say we have to pick up our cats. I felt low. I was happy the car started but bad that we didn't take them. I don't think they were in immediate danger, but I still felt bad. But we didn't even know what we were doing. We couldn't be responsible for them too...


caninecologne said…
hi fh,
wow, what an experience. unbelievable...and surreal. the picture you painted was so vivid. thanks for sharing it...i'm glad you and your husband made it out safely and you have your health. i can't even imagine having to be uprooted and move somewhere else after such a traumatic life changing experience.

word ver:
The Food Ho said…
Thanks CC for the kind words. I really miss my New Orleans life, yet at the same time there are lots of great things about my life now that would not have been without Katrina. So you take the good you take the bad you take them both and there you have....