It has been four years since Katrina did her best to destroy New Orleans and the surrounding area. I was not there at the time, in fact Louisiana was one of the very places in North America that I had not spent time in. My wife however was born in the area, and grew up and spent many years in the city of Slidell. I’ll give a quick Geography lesson, if you look at a map and trace north from New Orleans you find a good sized body of water, that is Lake Ponchartrain, on the north side of the lake is Slidell.
New Orleans took a huge beating from Katrina, and so did Slidell. The storm surge from Lake Ponchertrain was every bit as punishing as that from the Gulf. It was days of anguish and worry for Jan, the phone lines were down, and news was not forthcoming. The major news agencies seemed only to care about New Orleans, there was nothing about what had happened further north.
Finally a CNN reporter filed a short segment about Slidell, it was not just damaged, it was the scene of pure hellish destruction. From two thousand miles away we searched relentlessly, I stumbled across some photographs that NOAA had released. The ‘Twin Span’ a five mile bridge had huge pieces missing from it. As if some huge hand had ripped it apart like it was made of balsa wood.
Over the next few weeks we found out that all of Jan’s family were OK, just somewhat scattered, her son was in Florida, her sister was in Texas, her mom and dad had hunkered down in Mississippi and rode the storm out.
I have to admit that my knowledge of hurricanes was based on what I have seen on TV, as a decade long resident of Southern California I know lots about earthquakes, from spending time in Alberta I know all about -40 degree weather and snow, but hurricanes I am a virgin.
My wife and I relocated to Mississippi just over a year ago, to a small town of some 20,000 souls some 10 miles north of the Louisiana border. Far inland from the Gulf, yet even here the signs of Katrina are everywhere. Abandoned houses are plentiful, tree stumps where large trees once majestically stood, and a defiant population abounds.
It did not take me but a few days to realize just how polarized the town is. The barrier is not race, color or creed, it is BK (Before Katrina) and AK (After Katrina). In simple terms the people that have lived here their whole lives and those that fled north and stayed following the event.
As a AK I quickly gravitated to the rest of the AK group, most notably a local coffee shop a few blocks from our home. In something like a scene out of the sit com Cheers the group of disgruntled AK’ers gathered every afternoon at 2pm sharp for a lively hour of whining and whinging about the town, its council, and its outmoded ideas.
Quite often I would turn the conversation to Katrina, the stories they told horrified me. Tales of vast destruction, but somehow they were hard to comprehend. Just like the awful pictures we saw on CNN unless you are there to witness them first hand they are meaningless. I sat and listened, and tried to absorb the horror.
I have been quietly thinking about the various hurricanes that have hit the Gulf coast in recent years for several months now with the idea that one of these days I would actually put pen to paper. Three catalysts have triggered me into action. About two weeks ago I read Keifer Bonvillains very disturbing book on FEMA fraud The Broken Road To Disaster Recovery. Secondly on Thanksgiving my wife and I went to Slidell and for the first time I saw the lake front properties near Eden Isle (part two), and finally, today I was in Gulfport and had a brief drive along the Gulf shore. Our travel guide Doris made a statement that I will likely remember for a very long time.
Sorry that it was not much of a sight seeing tour, all of the sights to see are gone
She was right, as you came within a few blocks of the beach the absence of habitation was apparent. Whole city blocks gone, what used to be prime real estate is now a no mans land, the occasional concrete pad, or brick foundation is all that remains.
In part two I will be taking you on a journey to Slidell and the water camps.