Today is August 29, 2009...four years to the date that Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi. Many of you know that Jonathan and I were living in New Orleans during the time that Katrina hit, but not many know our story regarding this life-changing event. I thought I would reminisce and record what happened during the days and months surrounding Hurricane Katrina as a way of remembering all that the Lord did in our lives in the midst of it.
On the night of Friday, August 26, 2005, Jonathan and I--married just over a year--were at our Covenant Group meeting. I remember after our meeting, we broke out the snacks for some fun and fellowship, and one of the guys turned on the TV to check the weather. We knew a hurricane named Katrina was headed toward the Gulf, but the weather forecasts were predicting that it would hit somewhere along the Alabama/Florida coastline. However, when the TV was turned on, all of our eyes quickly turned as we saw "the cone" had moved. "The cone" or the red area that predicts the area of impact upon land was now saying that Katrina was headed for Louisiana.
Now, let me explain something to those who aren't from the Deep South. Hurricanes come and go every year. They have been a part of my livfe from my farthest back memory. They show up in the Gulf, the news predicts it will hit our area, we debate back and forth about whether or not we should evacuate, sometimes we do, sometimes we don't. It rains, the wind causes some damage, occasionally a tornado hits, some roofs come off, but all in all, the hurricanes aren't catastrophic. Most of the times that we evacuate end up being like a vacation. Just a few days off from work, from school, and from responsibilities. Stowed up in a hotel somewhere in another city, just hanging out and enjoying the time away.
There has also always been a discussion that New Orleans is just an accident waiting to happen. If "the one" hits New Orleans just right, we're "a gonner." New Orleans is, after all, well below sea level and is completely surrounded by water. But, it just always seemed like there was a lot of hype about New Orleans being ruined by a perfect storm that just never seemed to hit.
Little did our friends and we know that night at Covenant Group that as we sat huddled around the television, we were in the same company for the last time in well over a year. Little did we know that by the next day, more than half of us would be in other states seeking refuge from the worst hurricane to hit our hometown in our lifetimes. Little did Jonathan and I know how quickly and majorly our lives were about to change.
We went home that night and slept in our bed for the last time in our house on Avenue A. I don't think I had any idea that I would never sleep under that roof again. I had no idea that I would never cook a meal in my kitchen again, relax on the sofa snuggled up by my boy as we watched a movie together, walk in our neighborhood so close to Lake Pontchartrain. We were blindsided.
On the morning of Saturday, August 27th, Jonathan woke up early to go road biking with a few friends from Dental School. I woke up, wrapped myself up in a blanket, and watched the news on our sofa. I remember Jonathan coming in from his bike ride, and I told him that Katrina was still coming our way and that the mayor was discussing the possibility of a mandatory evacuation sometime by the end of the day. Katrina was set to make landfall by sometime Sunday evening. We knew from experience that a mandatory evacuation equaled chaos. Imagine hundreds of thousands of vehicles, loaded to maximum capacity with lots of people, earthly possessions, beloved pets. Imagine hours of bumper to bumper traffic. Imagine running out of gas on the side of the interstate or having your engine overheat from trying to keep the A/C running to keep somewhat cool while sitting at a standstill for what seems like eternity. When a trip to Houston would typically take you six hours, a mandatory evacuation can easily make the same trip a 12 to 24 hour endeavor. Chaos. Nightmare. Something to avoid at all costs, if possible.
Like I said, we had experienced this before with the previous year's hurricanes that forced us to evacuate, and Jonathan and I were just not up to the chaos this year. We decided right then and there, around 10:00 am on that Saturday morning, that we were heading of town and fast. We weren't going to wait for the orders from the government. We would pack up and head to Jackson, MS, where Jonathan's parents lived. It was a three hour drive....not bad at all. If the hurricane ended up turning or hitting somewhere else, we were only out a few hours drive. Plus, we could spend some time with his family over the weekend, if nothing else.
We immediately got up and got to work! Thinking back now, God was caring for us constantly throughout the whole thing. What a miracle it was that we left town when we did. His sovereign hand was all over the details. Typically, when a hurricane hits, homeowners board up their windows to prevent the strong winds and flying debris from damaging the property and letting the rain waters flood the insides. We had in years past taken the time to board up our windows with plywood. We didn't do that this particular Saturday. I guess that shows you how seriously we thought this storm would hit. Honestly, we truly figured we would be back sometime on Monday after the rough weather had passed so we could resume our work and school schedules on Tuesday. We took our patio furniture inside and tied down a few things in the yard (just in case). I didn't want to take time to do the week's laundry, so I just threw all of our dirty clothes into the basket and decided I'd just have to do it in Jackson. What a provision THAT turned out to be! If the laundry HAD been done, Jonathan and I would have only packed enough clothes for two to three days. I grabbed my wedding photos, Jonathan grabbed our important documents, and we packed our DVDs and other miscellaneous things. We set a few other important things upstairs away from potential hazard, but for the most part, we didn't do too much to hurricane-proof our home.
Funnily enough, I remember that I grabbed a bunch of towels and placed them under a windowsill that was prone to leak. We had just recently remodeled our entire downstairs, and I didn't want the rain water leaking in and spoiling our new hardwood floors. Miraculously, Jonathan picked up the video camera and just happened to record a walk through of our entire house. This was something his dad has been telling him to do for insurance purposes in case something happened or someone broke in and stole stuff, and since Jonathan hadn't gotten around to it, he decided to do it right then. This was the LORD! We now had a documentation of everything in our home that later served us greatly.
In the midst of packing things up, I got a call from a teacher that I worked with telling me that our school had officially decided to close on Monday and Tuesday. I didn't need to worry about being back in town and at work until Wednesday at the earliest. We chatted back and forth for a few minutes and discussed each other's plans for evacuating. That was the last conversation I have ever had with that woman. She and her husband moved away permanently after the storm, and I doubt I'll ever see her again.
Because we were so lovey dovey in love, Jonathan and I couldn't bear to think about making the three hour trek in two separate cars. We decided that since we didn't think there would be much potential for damage that we would leave my car in our driveway and ride together up to Jackson in his car.
After a few phone calls to my parents and some other friends, we got in the car and got on our way. By the time we were on the road, the traffic had begun to pick up. People were obviously having the same idea we were....get on the road before things get hairy. My parents had decided to pack up as well and were going to join us in Jackson as soon as they got things in order. They were going to pack up my grandmother and her things and bring her with them as they evacuated, which is by no means an easy feat. We were off and got to Jackson in about 4-5 hours. We were oblivious to what was going to happen to our home and our city in just a matter of hours. I had no idea that my last glance at our home as we backed out of the driveway would be so important. Katrina was on her way.
To be continued....