I remember one week that had been particularly exhausting mentally. I really was glad to see Friday. After work on Friday my ritual was to stop at my neighborhood carry out for dinner and go home to eat and relax. Carry out food in New Orleans is rarely disappointing.
I arrived home as it began to rain. There was no hurricane or tornado – just a lot of rain. Steadily it came down, for hours, never missing a beat. The jazz on the radio provided a soft backdrop to the rainy evening.
The constant patter of the rain and the soft jazz combined to make me sleepy. Preparing for bed, I stopped suddenly when I heard the radio announcer advise his audience not to go to sleep. He said it was beginning to flood. Really?
I rushed to the living room and opened the front door. The water was rising in the street and pouring onto the sidewalk. I lived by the pool and at that moment I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or bad thing. I opted for good as the pool gave the water somewhere else to flow and fill before seeking the level of the garden apartments.
The words of advice from a former New Orleans’ resident before I moved there haunted me: “If you get an apartment, don’t live on the ground floor.” How I wished I had followed her advice.
Around midnight, the rain stopped. I treaded gingerly into my living room. The carpet was dry. Relief. I opened the door. Water covered the front step. One more hour of rain and I knew the carpet and Persian rugs would have become sponges.
It was still, quiet. I finally felt safe enough to fall asleep.
I would often recount my experience, to people outside Louisiana, of the rain and awakening that next morning. I’d exclaim, “I awoke to waterfront property.” Many people would marvel at my good fortune of living by the water. My reply, “No, you don’t understand. It wasn’t waterfront property when I moved in.”
In place of the street was a river. From my front door, I could see three inches of a roof of a pickup truck. Water covered all the vehicles parked on the street. My car was safe and dry in the apartment complex’s parking lot. It was fortunate the complex was on higher ground than the surrounding houses. I thanked God.
Watching television news, I realized it was still raining in the metropolitan area. The storm lasted nearly three days saturating the south and east before heading north across the lake for one last downpour.
There was no choice but to stay home all weekend. If I grew restless, I could visit with my immediate neighbors. I was just happy to be safe and dry.
Monday morning came and I learned from the radio broadcast that mail delivery was canceled that day. No surprise. The only way anyone could navigate my street was by boat. It was Wednesday before the waters had receded enough for me to drive to work. When I came home that evening I couldn’t believe my eyes. On the curb in front of my neighbors’ homes, in place of grass, were stacks of damaged tile and carpet. For many people, the flood had found its way indoors.
This scene played out in neighborhoods across the metro area for weeks as people cleaned and restored their houses. Lack of transportation impeded the process. Most of the submerged vehicles were a total loss. Occasionally, you would see a vehicle with doors and windows open, owners waiting for them to dry; hoping they would be salvageable.
For months, people would fly into New Orleans and try to rent a vehicle at the airport all to no avail. Residents had beat them to it.
No one who lived there ever talked about leaving. It simply didn’t occur to them to leave home. Why would anyone let a rain storm chase them away?
That rain storm caused a lot of misery — a harbinger of things to come.
No one in New Orleans, or in America, will forget the devastation of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans from the wind and water pushed by Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago.
For weeks, horror after horror unfolded on television for the world to see. My old neighborhood was no longer local.
This time, more than vehicles were submerged. It was entire neighborhoods. Pieces of tile and carpet had been replaced by countless homeless people and dead bodies.
I departed New Orleans years before Katrina. After evacuating for a hurricane that seemed dead set at coming ashore in New Orleans but didn’t, thank God, my body and spirit were weary. I realized then God was beyond nudging me to go. He was yelling.
Easy for me to leave but not so easy for the people of New Orleans. It wasn’t home for me. It was home for them and home was all about family. They would never think of leaving no matter what scourge may come. There is something magnetic about the familiar.
The culture and tradition of the place are in their DNA. They are a resilient bunch. They will weather the storms.
Thanks to Toney Persica for this tribute on YouTube featuring the angelic voice of Aaron Neville singing, “Louisiana 1927,” written by Randy Newman.
Photo: Neighborhood, Metairie, LA, by Zillow.
Photo: Walking in New Orleans in the rain, Wikimedia Commons.
Photo: Young woman praying, publicdomainpictures.net.
Photo: Storm surge Gulfport, MS, Wikipedia.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class NyxoLyno Cangemi, from Wikipedia.