Our front door was swollen shut, so we had to basically bust it down to get inside the house. My breath was taken away by the sight of our house on the inside. As we walked in the foyer and into the kitchen to survey the damage, I was completely surprised by how everything looked. Our townhouse was five feet off the ground, and we had approximately five feet of standing water inside of the house. That's a total of atleast ten feet of water that covered the area of Lakeview as a result of the nearby levee breach. All of the furniture had been floating, and as a result, was out of place. The refrigerator shifted out of its nook and was blocking the entry to the kitchen. Our sofa, dining room chairs and table, and other furniture had been completely rearranged. The sheetrock, so swollen with water, literally fell off of the walls. You could see the studs everywhere. No furniture on the main floor was salvageable. However, we had a second story where our bedroom, closet, laundry room, and guest room were. We had not lost nearly as much as most other people had. We had all of our clothing, our bedroom furniture, our washer and dryer, computer, and important document. Not to mention, lots of wedding gifts that were stored in a closet and attic upstairs.
One thing that we had been concerned about losing on the main floor was not a piece of furniture, but a very priceless picture. Jonathan's sister, Amy, had a picture of Jonathan and I framed for our wedding rehearsal dinner. Everyone at the rehearsal signed the mat surrounding the photo and wrote us a small note. That picture was priceless to us, and we were so distraught at the thought of losing it. However, we were in for such a surprise. The picture was hung on the wall in our den. Apparently, the floodwaters had only come to the very bottom edge of the frame and just missed destroying the photo and mat. Also, the sheetrock held up in that part of the room, so the frame wasn't dropped into the water. We were so blessed to walk into the mass destruction only to see our beloved picture still hanging there safely. We didn't trust that we'd be able to walk out of there with it and make it safely to the car, so we hid the picture upstairs to be retrieved at a later visit.
We surveyed the damage, grabbed a few small things that could be stuffed into a backpack, and made our journey back to the car. We decided to take a different route out of the neighborhood than we did in. This turned out to be an easier endeavor because we made it to a major thoroughfare where the National Guard and other officials had cleared away the debris.
Here are some pictures of what we saw:
Here are some pictures of our house a few weeks after our first visit in. We had some major assistance from some friends to help us completely gut and throw everything on the first floor out. I was teaching at the time and was spared from the heart-wrenching endeavor. However, my mother-in-law, who is a very hard worker, said that this was the most difficult work she has ever done. There was so much emotionally involved.
One of the first questions people ask us is whether or not we had flood insurance. Unfortunately, we did not. When we bought the house, we did our research and were told that the area never floods. Also, our house sat five feet off the ground, so pending some major disaster--like Katrina--we thought it unlikely that our house would ever have flood damage. Boy, did we wish that wasn't the case. Because the area was so destroyed and because our life had been relocated to Baton Rouge, we knew we would never live in that house again. We had to get rid of the property somehow, but we didn't want to spend the money to remodel the home in an area with such an uncertain future. The entire levee system was (and still is) under scrutiny, and the building standards for homes in New Orleans have been changed. To fix the house so that it was livable would have cost a small fortune. In the end, we were blessed to be able to sell our property to the state. There was a program called Louisiana Road Home that we took advantage of and unlike many folks, we closed the deal before the program ran out of money. The Lord provided for our needs and helped us to get out of such a difficult situation.
We ended up living in Baton Rouge for two years. Jonathan and I lived in the motor home for the first seven months, and once our future there until graduation seemed certain, we finally moved into an apartment. My parents returned to their home in Metairie just less than a year after Katrina. They had considerably mild damage, but they did require major renovations to the first floor of their home. We were blessed by some amazing friendships while living in Baton Rouge. Jonathan and I got to be very close with some fellow Christians in his dental school class. They too had experienced some horrendous losses, and we were all going through the same things. Relocation. Job losses. Home losses. Uncertainty. We held closely to that fellowship and will always be friends because of the bonds of such difficulties.
Jonathan and I still had a heart for our church in New Orleans--Lakeview Christian Center. Nearly every weekend we would make the hour long drive into town for the Sunday church service. Once my parents returned to their home, we would make it a weekend ritual to stay with them, attend our Friday night Covenant Group if it was meeting, and go to church. We'd return to our lives in Baton Rouge on Sunday evening to work through the week and then return on the following Friday afternoon. This was really difficult on us in many ways. We had a heart to serve and be involved in as much as possible at the church, but because we lived an hour away, this made it difficult to do so. Practically, we couldn't be there for things going on in the middle of the week like Alpha. We couldn't bring a meal to friends who were going through a difficult time or who had just welcomed a baby. We started to feel really disconnected. We had such a desire for friendships, accountability, and involvement, but it seemed like living far away was preventing those things from flourishing.
Looking back, Jonathan and I feel like even this was God's grace in our lives. Jonathan was finishing up dental school and had decided to apply to a General Practice residency program. Prior to Katrina, he had contemplated doing this same residency at LSU, which means we could have stayed in New Orleans. However, the dental school was severely effected by the storm and lost some funding for some of its residencies. The Lord opened the door for us to come to Knoxville where Jonathan would be a resident at UT. Plus, we knew of a wonderful church there, Cornerstone Church of Knoxville. In hindsight, we feel like our relocation to Baton Rouge was the Lord preparing us for our move to Knoxville. We feel like God was cutting the strings to make it easier for us to leave our lives that were so deeply rooted in Louisiana. God provided abundantly for all of our needs to get to Knoxville: church family, house, friends, doctors, etc. We truly felt His sovereign hand guiding our steps. Not to mention, He blessed us with our first child who was born just three months after we moved here: Nora Kathryn.
Although Hurricane Katrina changed our lives tremendously and forced us into the most difficult season of our lives so far, I would not go back to the way things were before. Tomorrow, I will finish this long series of posts by reminiscing why I am thankful that Katrina happened.