For those of you that don't know, today is the tenth anniversary of the day that Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast.
I thought that I'd post this blog as sort of a "tribute," seeing as every city on the coast that was hit by the strom is having thier own anniversary celebrations. My own memories about what happened in Mississippi, before and after.
Where to begin?
A little bit of weather info for you guys that don't ever have to worry about such things: in the summer months, storms almost always brew just off the western coast of Africa, then drift over to the United States. Some make thier way to Britain (though its unusual), but most end up going to the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and the US.
At first, it just looked as if it would hit Florida, then spin off into the ocean and up the eastern seaboard. What a lousy prediction! They (the meteorologists) were wrong on that one. It hit Florida alright, as a category one (the lowest tier of hurricane), went through the center of the state, and off into the ocean again, where the weather folks thought it would just drift up the east coast.
However, it strengthened up again, and skirted the Florida coast, looking as if it would now go into the Gulf Coast. It seemed like every day it would get stronger. I remember this, because I had been watching the weather reports. It also got slower moving as it gained strength. For those of you that do not know about this stuff, the more powerful the storm, the slower it will move across the water (and, later, land). And Katrina was moving slow. About 5 or 6 miles-an-hour, if I remember correctly.
Waiting and watching
Now, Katrina was a category 5 (the highest on the list, there is no higher tier), and was heading straight for the Mississippi and Louisiana coast (about in between where the states meet, really) and at this point there is no more hoping it will move in some other direction.
I remember quite vividly, about one or two days before it was going to hit, it had strengthened to 185 mile-per-hour winds, up from 165.
I remember dad had taken a rest from boarding up everything to look in the screen door, and we (myself and mom) had to tell him that the storm had sped up. He blanched. Quite understandable. What are you going to do about something that's got wind that spins almost 200 miles-per-hour?
Well, it didn't last long. The strengthening, I mean. About a day or so. It went back down to 165 (some miracle!), and continued on to the coast.
There are some really stupid people in the world. I'm always amazed when I hear people do some of the dumbest things possible, then think that its all OK. Why am I mentioning this? Well, just the day before impact, there were people on the beach and having a "hurricane party"! There were aid workers out there trying to get them to go home and prepare or evacuate, but they wouldn't leave, saying "Its not going to be bad." Well, everything would exceed everyone's expectations, but in the worst way possible.
August, 29th, 2005. I remember that the power went out at 6:00 in the morning, while I was getting out breakfast. Just was the beginning of a day that seemed to last way too long.
Ever notice, when you're absolutely not having fun, time seems to dilate and expand into something that doesn't seem to have any meaning anymore? Well, that's what its like sitting though a hurricane; time seems to never end.
We at first sat in the living room, just sitting there and looking at each other, while strange whistling sounds carried on outside. Later, I learned that these were tornados spawned by the hurricane. Most hurricanes that are strong enough can spawn tornadoes, so you have a double whammy: the hurricane itself and the storms (rain, as well) with tornadoes it can create. If you're living right on the coast, you also, in addition to the winds racing around you, have to worry about the "storm surge." Storm surge is where, when the storm is powerful enough, it "digs" into the ocean, and there is a wall of water that precedes the hurricane itself.
Katrina had a 40 foot-tall storm surge, the highest in living memory. Many houses on the coast were swept away by this alone. The storm surge was so great, that it went 20 miles inland (not via rivers), still 20 feet high.
I guess the best example I could give is like being in a blender. Lucky for me, I live an hour away from the coast, so I did not have to think about the surge. Just the wind.
I remember about 9:00 in the morning looking out the door to see the great oak at the end of the driveway...gone. It was blown over. This tree was so large, I could not wrap my arms around it, nor could me and mom together. It had shaded half the yard, it was so big. And now it had been ripped from the ground like a carrot. I looked over at dad and told him of this, and he hurried over, paused, and then told us to get in the back bedroom, where there was more space between us and the trees out front.
From there on it seemed like the day laster forever. One minute seemed like a day, and the loud roaring sound from outside never stopped.
But I was lucky, I had a house that wasn't damaged, and I only lost trees, I had plenty of food and water, but for most of the people on the coast lost both thier homes and thier places of work. And, there was the storm surge. There were people swimming in sea water mixed with sewage, due to the sewers overflowing with the seawater. There were brave folks who got out thier fishing boats from the water and were rowing around within the storm blender and rescuing stranded people from floating rooftops, trees, clinging to drifting detritus, and former telephone poles. There were people who, after the storm, were wandering without clothes, because their clothing was blown off by the fierce winds.
Yes, I was lucky.
After the storm had (mostly) blown over (there was still some wind gusts), we went outside to survey what had happened, and, oh boy what a mess. Trees down everywhere, torn fences (the two cows we had at the time were out in the yard, where they weren't supposed to be), and destroyed power lines.
Mom had said that, the next day while I was sleeping, they had started up the generator and turned on the TV to the local news station, WLOX. They were on air, saying, "We are on air. We hear only silence everywhere. Is there anyone out there?" It was like an SOS signal.
For two months, there was no power to be had. We had to use generators. I think I've had enough of "camp type" living from after the hurricane to last me a lifetime. No running water, and washing clothes by hand in a clean wheelbarrow with laundry soap that didn't want to disolve. Weird part was that it was so dry after Katrina that you would have never known that there was actually rain the fell with the storm. And so hot. At least 90 during the day. It was nicer at night, but the sleeping mat I slept on on the concrete floor kept me awake most of the night.
To enforce my "blender" example, when we got outside, there was a sort of "paste" coating the house and some of our other buildings. You know what it was? The wind and tornadoes had ripped all the leaves off of the trees, had gotten mixed with the rainwater, and spread on the house. The house was covered with mashed leaves. It was quite good glue, for that matter, because it was stuck on the house for half a year. There were more important things going on to have to worry about cleaning off leaf paste.
But, in retrospect, I was still lucky, because of what those further down the county had to deal with.
They had everything taken away. No food, no shelter, no clothes except for what they were wearing before the storm struck, and no clean drinking water. The bridges were destroyed, so people couldn't even walk away from some places on the coast.
When some of the aid workers came out of the storm building they were in, they said it was like looking at a bomb blast. There was nothing left of practically everything. There were dead people strewn amongst the rubble. They called on all of the funeral homes, but they were full, so they bought some refrigerator trucks and stored the bodies in them as they were found, though there were still some people that were totally missing, most likely washed out into the ocean.
Boards and parts of buildings were strewn everywhere. Mud caked everything in sight. Alot of people who had been injured in the hurricane could not get help for thier injuries, so had to suffer with infections or other ailments. People starved.
When the National Guard came, and other relief agencies, they had to have enforced food and water lines because there would have been riots. Alot of MREs were handed out. I can't imagine eating one myself, but "For the hungry, even the bitter is sweet." There were ice lines, where aid agencies handed out a bag of ice per famliy/person. There were murders for bags of ice if the aid workers ran out. I remember hearing with horror that a man had killed his sister for her bag of ice because the relief agency had ran out by the time he had gotten to the front of the line. A friend of mine had gotten a bag of ice and drove back with it to share with us. What a relief that was from the heat.
Also, other dumb people came back from being evacuated and expected the government to take care of them, because they had not bothered to bring food and water with them when they evacuated. This enforced the aid workers to tell people that you have to be prepared for these things, and not just let everyone else do the work after you.
Also, and in my opinion, one of the best things Bush did during his presidency was giving unemployment and EBT cards (for food) to those of us that were affected. Definately helped alot of people.
It always makes me sad that when disasters happen, the worst of human behavior comes out in some people, because there was a lot of looting from the bare leftovers of people's destroyed homes. Worse, the National Guard was told not to intervene, so there was mass looting, so much so that the people whose yards were being stolen from had to spraypaint signs warning them off and stand guard.
Before the storm, gambling was allowed on the coast, but the gambling joints were confined to barges that floated in the ocean. The barges were decorated (they didn't look like cargo barges, if that's what you're thinking), and after the hurricane was over, the barges had been brought up onto the land by the storm surge and left on the roads dozens of yards inland. Because of the metal the barges were made of, they couldn't dismantle it and carry them off, so they had to dynamite them and then carry off the debris to land fills, as they were scooping up the rest of the debris of everything.
Many homes that were on the Historical Register were totally gone, not even a stick left. Before, they were shining examples of Southern architecture, but now they were just memories. Some were left standing, though were highly damaged, and still today some of those that are left are standing the way they were ten years ago; the owners either having left and never coming back, or they didn't have the money needed to repair the houses.
In the end of it all, over 1,800 were killed on Mississippi's coast alone, and over 1,000,000 were displaced through the whole coast.
Katrina was named the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States, costing hundreds of billions of dollars and is the new standard for every storm shelter and building regulations.
Even after ten years, there are still scars of the storm; there are exposed slabs where houses used to be, the oak trees that line the beachfront are still mostly scraggly due to the mix of sewage, sea water, and gas and diesel that leaked from underground tanks at gas stations.
There are still rebuilding efforts, trying to rebuild houses that were wiped off the map. There were many court cases with the insurance companies; they did not want to pay the customers what they had payed for all those years.
Crank contractors were also a big problem; they would agree to fix or build something for someone, do a shoddy job (or no job, in some cases), and split. The homeowners, realising he was gone, would try to call and then realise the phone number the contractor gave has been disconnected and the guy just absconded with 5,000 (or sometimes more) dollars.
Now, gambling is allowed on land, and there are casinos popping up left and right. They think its going to help with tourism, but the coast is unique; it is one of the few places in the world where oak trees grow right next to the water, the other is in France. So, they are ruining the charm of this when they think they are going to make another Atlantic City.
Insurance premiums are now much higher, and FEMA and MEMA (Mississippi's variant of the agency) have learned many lessons on what to do before and after a storm, and to have much more in reserve in case something like this happens again.
What always makes me angry that is New Orleans gets most, if not all, of the news slots. Its a "major city," but it only was flooded, it did not get the wind and water that Mississippi did. We got (and still get) almost no coverage about what happened to us here, because we have no "major cities" here. We count as well.
These memories of mine are just the tip of the iceberg, as it were, but I wanted to post something on this anniversary day to commemorate it.