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29 08 2010

As most of you know, this is the 3rd part to a series I am writing about Hurricane Katrina in commemoration of the 5 year anniversary this weekend.  I ask you to please join me on this journey by starting at the first blog, “X Marks the spot” here: https://suzrocks.wordpress.com/2010/08/26/x-marks-the-spot/ followed by “The Great Outdoors” here: https://suzrocks.wordpress.com/2010/08/27/the-great-outdoors/

It was impossible to get close to my cottage.  The surrounding houses were scattered about like broken toys, matchsticks, piles of lumber and people’s personal belongings … boats, vehicles, and many massive trees.  It’s hard to describe, but just imagine a city … a neighborhood … picture it in your mind. Picture it as if it were a model that you were able to manipulate.  Now imagine putting it inside a tank of water and swirling the water very quickly and then lifting the model out of the tank to see what’s left… this is the best way I can explain it.  This is what every neighborhood in several cities for miles around looked like … apocalyptic. –Suz 8/25/10

Katrina Relief Worker Leigh Russell tells her story of first arriving on the coast in November of 2005 after joining her church’s mission to help the people here:
I left corporate America for life as a minister’s wife and home school mom and have since been on five mission trips, three overseas and two in the United States. The Hurricane Katrina relief trip was the hardest emotionally.
Driving through Pass Christian, a small Gulf-side community just east of Saint Louis Bay, we could see into residents’ homes because entire walls were torn away. Razor wire was a frequent reminder that the area had just recently been reopened. Some of the buildings still standing were little more than picnic shelters, with the remains of roofs held up by nothing but the wall studs. Sometimes only a slab remained to indicate where a home once stood. There might be a foundation or front steps leading to nothing — doors, walls and the rest of the homes were blown away in the storm. Sometimes we would see families picking through the rubble, searching for belongings or anything that could be salvaged from the mess.

Pass Christian, MS

Similar to the result of an atomic blast. The Penthouse Condominiums in Pass Christian, Mississippi, along with most other properties in the area were completely obliterated by Katrina. 100% of all business properties within the coastal community of Pass Christian had been destroyed. In a published damage assessment of Bay St. Louis and Long Beach, Mississippi, Digital Globe stated that the majority of single family homes were destroyed (foundations/pad remain).

Our journey seemed relentless.  My heart longed to check on my family, but I could barely journey within a 3 mile radius let alone venture out toward their location 8-10 miles away.  We encountered more people with more stories.  Stories of riding out this unfathomable nightmare from a tree top, hanging on for dear life.  Stories of struggling to save pets and swimming for survival including a man who had to swim for about 6 hours with his cat under his arm.  So many stories of survival.  Some stories of inspiration and others of desperation.  We followed a woman who had walked many miles to check on her home, she was heading in the same direction as us.  As we approached, her home was gone.  She was shrieking and panicking.  She was trying to understand if she was actually in the right location or if she’d gotten lost.  We were getting closer to Christian’s house and expecting the worse.  She had left her cats there under the assumption it might be bad but not this bad.  She had yet to forgive herself for this decision.  We were praying for the best.
From the outside, her house looked normal.  We had hope, but when we opened the door it appeared as if the inside of her home were a blender that had been stuffed with a mixture all of her belongings and thick, black mud.  It was surreal.  Furnishings resting on high shelves, clothes hanging from a ceiling fan that’s blades were curling downward and dripping water.  We could see a clear line about 6 inches below the ceiling.  The cats began to meow.  They must’ve floated on different items, compacted in that small open space and rode out the storm.  It was unbelievable.  Christian was hysterical.  Tears streamed down our faces.  The cats were skiddish and wild. –Suz 8/27/10

We’d encountered many survivors, stranded just like us in the aftermath of what really felt like a nuclear war or something I just can’t find the words to describe.  The list included an elderly couple who’d lived behind me for years when I was in the cottage.  They had planned to stay in their vehicle until they could find a solution.  Like me, they couldn’t get to their property in that old neighborhood.
We insisted they join us in our safe home where we had supplies and plenty of room.  We also had a man join us who had to swim for his life for 8 hours.  He was new to the area and had moved out here for a job.  He lived on the beach and did not realize what kind of danger he was in when he chose to stay behind.  He was very shaken and weak.  My new home became a safe haven for a few of us who were stuck in this broken town with no way in or out, nowhere to go, and little supplies but still we were better off than most.  This was the beginning of what felt as if we were placed on a survival mission of sorts.
As the days passed, we all had special duties which mostly included obtaining supplies like ice and food from various locations.  The beginnings of the survival techniques included stealing from damaged stores.  But, for everyone, it was the only option.  Stores were guarded by policeman who allowed the scavenging for survival.  After a couple of days, some crews were able to get out to our area and offer ice and Meals Ready to Eat (known as MRE’s, the same time of meals military teams eat when out on missions…etc…).  It was a long journey, by foot, to reach designated areas.  Our team was equipped with hijacked shopping carts and this was the norm of everyone.  We would take turns getting these items throughout the day and in the evening taking turns preparing the meals and sharing in responsibilities. It was work, but it was part of a life changing experience.  Before meals, we would say grace and give thanks for being alive and able to have such comforts among so many who did not.  –Suz 8/28/10

An areal photograph of Waveland, MS

Taken from “Take a left at the pile of debris that used to be…” by Suz July, 2006
Once this coastal town had a remarkable culture rich with art, music, fine people and a New Orleans flair. Today the face of the city is blank, dry and desolate spattered with rubble and debris. Inland, businesses are slowly sprouting but they are owned by strangers and filled with strangers.
Having no remnants of our history, and replacing history with casinos, hotels, condos and such is painful progress. Don’t get me wrong, progress at all at this point is better than stagnating in rubble and desolation. It’s just hard to stomach a complete facelift on everything.
The local scene confuses me. The bars are flashy and big and sparkling new. They are filled with the heavy odor of cheap cologne, and there are 10 men to every one woman. Part of the coolness of being out and about was the competition. Ladies check out the women just as much as the men. The competition is an art.  The local women were all southern beauties to behold.  That graceful dance is missing in the scene these days.

Katrina changed my life in many ways… the way I felt, the way I looked at things.  I awakened me to who I really am.  A survivor.  A person with emotional and physical strength far beyond I ever imagined was inside of me.  The most defining moment, for me, was the day after Katrina.  I woke up early with a plan to seek out my parents.  I knew it would take at least a day to get to their home, my childhood home, but it was the only thing that mattered to me.  I packed a bag with water and granola bars and Christian and I were psyching ourselves up for the long road ahead.  As we gathered our bicycles and stepped out to the street, it was as if an aura surrounded the Toyota Fourunner as it crept down the road toward us.  I watched in awe as my mother and father parked in front of us and jumped out.  Tears streamed down my mother’s face and my own.  My father, equipped with a chain saw, cut their way to us for miles.  They traveled in their SUV that had been flooded in the tidal surge.  It was a miracle that the vehicle was able to make the journey.  We embraced.  For that glorious moment, it felt as if nothing else in the world mattered.  Later, they made it home safely and the SUV was never able to drive again. –Suz 8/28/10

“Many of you have already seen the videos and news stories from the national media. I can tell you that aerial photography, as graphic as it is, in no way shows the true story from the ground. I struggle to find the words. The faces of friends, and family, the hollow fearful eyes as Mississippi Gulf Coast residents, long experienced with hurricanes, know that this is a life changing event,” Keith Burton/Gulf Coast News (article date September 5, 2005) .  “The national news media has given you the big picture on how the Federal and State governments are responding and the news has been bad on that front with widespread criticism. But people just don’t appreciate the scale of what has happened, and how hard it is just to begin to help.”

Thank you again for joining me in this series.  Please return for the next installment, where I will describe my journey post
Katrina as well as the journey of my home.

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10 responses

29 08 2010
Carolyn

Girl……Ok, I need a kleenex…..K…Love Ya! The SUV was on a miracle mission….Your Parents needed to know…and so did you….Angel’s were controlling that SUV….♥♥♥

29 08 2010
suzrocks

Isn’t that so amazing? I had the same thoughts… that angels brought us together. Thanks for reading, Carolyn. XOXO

29 08 2010
uncle jailbird

enjoying the series. its been said, “that which does not kill us only makes us stronger.”

29 08 2010
suzrocks

Thanks Uncle J & as much as that saying can frustrate me at times, it is very very true.

29 08 2010
Howie Charles

Your words have brought the devastation home in a way that pictures cannot. Your personal account is also comes into my heart. I know that there were other people that have this story and others whose story is even worse. Making sure that this is brought to the attention of the world, and WordPress can do that, is no small matter. Your writing is brilliant, your descriptive skills go way beyond what any reporter has been able to do. Once again. Thank you for this series and for reminding us of the fact that we have ignored the pain of so many of our fellow people. Peace, howie

29 08 2010
suzrocks

My story is so mild that sometimes I don’t even want to share it. I mean, I had it good… it may sound bad, but by comparison I had it really good. Just today I was reading my friend’s entries about her father who drowned in Katrina. The hardest part of Katrina for me was just wondering if my parents were ok. I can’t imagine actually having lost a loved one. And so many people know that very grief all too well. And even still, some who didn’t die in the storm died afterward for health reasons, or even suicide. It truly was too much for many. MY story is mild, but I wanted to give readers a perspective on things to the best of my ability. Thanks for continuing to read with me, Howie.

30 08 2010
Rory

Suz
This segment really touched me. I can’t imagine even sleeping after the storm hit. Then to go look for your parents and you childhood home. How tormented you must have been. Im so glad you and your family survived and I really have a deeper sense of appreciation for you.

31 08 2010
suzrocks

It was hard to condense this. I have to be honest… it was impossible to sleep. Hellicoptors all night long and visions of war invaded my sleep. The heat was unbearable and at best I tossed and turned. Tormented to stay the least, my friend. The night after the storm… the agony of not knowing the status of my loved ones was most brutal. No greater moment in my life than seeing my parents the next day!

4 09 2010
BushinoJi

Had me crying girl. Especially when you descried how your folks showed up. You have a bright light inside of you Suz. Never let it go out babe. If I don’t get to see/meet you personally when I come down that way…I will chastise myself for the rest of my life.

5 09 2010
suzrocks

I will chastise you too!!! Seeing my parents at that moment was probably the most triumphant moment of my life!!! XOXO

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