30 August, 2009

It's been four years...

Today, four years ago, my neighbors, my friends and I woke up in a place we did not know. Sure it was the same town but we all had gone through a traumatic experience the day before: Katrina. Hattiesburg is located 70 miles north of the coast and about 90 miles northeast of where it made its third landfall in Waveland-Bay St. Louis area. It was still a category 3 hurricane when it reached our town.

Tall pine trees were scattered all around blocking the streets, branches and limbs landed on carports, homes and vehicles. Some trees landed on homes. Shingles and roof decking lay on yards and driveways. Electricity had been cut off by the power company on the early hours of the 29th to avoid tragedies, however cables and some poles were on the ground. Water had also been cut off by the city. It was hot, so very hot, hardy a cloud in the sky. My friend Benny came on his bicycle to check on me. I was fine, just the damage caused by a branch that came in through the roof. He pull it out, put a board (left over from one of my DIY projects) and then cover it with a tarp. Just a temporary fix as we did not know when it would be properly repaired.

My cell had a weak signal and I could only make long distance calls. I called a friend in MD who made a few calls for me and also called my parents in Mexico. Land lines were down. Some cells had signals, many could only receive calls.

I have some friends that live about half a mile away. I went to check on them to see how they were. I had to climb over fallen pines to get to their house. A tree had fallen on top of Ann's house. She was across the street at her mom's where both had stayed during the storm. There was a lot of debris on the yard but that was all. On the way back I saw the mayor on one of the streets surveying the damage, I suppose. It was so hard to get a grasp of things. So unreal to see the destruction after the storm, grateful to be alive, but at the same time realizing that there are so many affected at so many levels.

I ventured into town and checked on Brenda. Due to the change of pressure in the air, the back windshield of her car cracked into pieces. A couple of trees uprooted, one of them fell slowly and was now resting on roof of the apartment complex behind the house. We went to check on Lucy on the next town. She, her husband and the kids were okay. Her house had minor damage. Her father's house, on the other hand, had lots of damage so him and his wife were staying at Lucy's. There was no power but there was water. Brenda I went back home to grab a change of clothes and headed back to Lucy's for a shower.

Seeing the Red Cross Disaster Relief vehicles on the highway a couple dozen at a time gave me the chills. I knew they were headed to an area that was hit harder than our town. Police officers were posted at major intersections. The same officer I'd seen earlier on the day at the highway intersection near my house was still at her post hours later, now she had a partner. When we drove by again, we gave them bottles of water and some candy (as that was the only food item we had). We got back to Lucy's before curfew. Got a shower and crashed.

It's been four years. There are no blue tarps over people's homes or fallen trees blocking the streets. For the most part the city has recovered. However there are places along the Mississippi coast that have not healed completely.

Here is a clip of Katrina damage in Laurel, 30 miles north of Hattiesburg.

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