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The Beotch katrina
(I refuse to capitalize the name)

Friday Evening, August 26th - Distant Rumbling

My wife, daughter, aunt, and cousins were having dinner in Slidell when my daughter happened to mention, "what's up with the govenor declaring a stare of emergency?"  It was 8pm on Friday evening.  [In a little more than 48 hours, the restaurant where we were sitting would be ten feet underwater.]  I attached little importance to Betsy's announcement.  After all, we usually had a storm evacuation at least once each year.  We had grown accustomed to our little 'fire drills' as opportunities for an unscheduled vacation.  We would drive to Ole Miss, stay on campus at the uncrowded Alumi House Hotel, have a couple good meals on the square in Oxford and then drive home on Sunday.  The worst of it would be enduring the traffic leaving and returning to New Orleans.

After dinner we returned home to see if Bob Breck had anything to say about the storm on channel 8.  Bob was painting a gloomy picture of a dangerous and fast approaching storm that was quickly growing to cover the entire map of the Gulf.  Feeling more than a little disbelief, I sighed as I yearned for the days of Nash Roberts.  Nash was a beloved, local legend of a weatherman who would draw his projected landfall maps for TV with a wax crayon and a paper easel.  Nash had been on the first plane ever to fly into the eye of a tropical system.  He was the only local weatherman to accurately predict the paths of Hurricanes Betsy and Camille.  If Nash said get out of town, you packed your bags and got the hell out.  It wasn't that I doubted Bob Breck.  It was as if he was the new preacher in church telling the same Easter story that I had heard all my life, but delivering the sermon with less passion. [Nash Roberts and his wife evacuated in advance of the storm, the first time he had left town for a hurricane.]

Amy and I were determined that news of the interloper would not diminish the joy of visiting with our out-of-town guests.  The weekend had been planned for months and I was relishing the opportunity to learn more of my mother's childhood from my aunt Evelyn.  Througout my life I had spent very little time with my mother's sister.  My mother died shortly after my birth, and I knew precious little about her or her family.  This weekend would provide an opportunity to ask Evelyn many questions. We talked and reminisced until late in the evening.  By the time we were ready for bed, all thoughts of the storm had been temporarily set aside.  Any unpleasantness about the weather could be revisited on Saturday morning.   

Saturday Morning, August 27th - Natives Growing Restless

We awoke to a beautiful and sunny August morning that you can only experience in south Louisiana.  As we gathered for breakfast, the conversation turned quickly to the storm and what plans should be made.  The latest news was that katrina had been upgraded to a category 3 storm and the New Orleans area was in the bullseye.  My cousin's husband Ken has a Ph.D in marine biology and is a professor at Texas A & M.  Having a healthy appreciation for his academic credentials, I think my first awareness of how critical our situation might become was when he said "has everyone come to accept the fact that we are going to have to get out of  here within the next couple hours?".  Reflecting back, that moment was when katrina became real to me.  I decided upon the traditional New-Orleanian-disaster-plan: go buy gasoline. 

In coastal Louisiana, you can always measure a storm's perceived threat by the length of the queue at gasoline stations.  I was somewhat reassured to find my local station not much busier than normal.  I've seen and felt the tension at gas stations before tropical storms.  Gasoline represents freedom.  Freedom to leave.  Freedom to be mobile before, after, and sometimes during a storm.  I have seen grown men fight over gasoline when a storm was in the gulf.  You may not have time to board your windows, but you better top off the tanks in all the cars. If you delay, you will find every gasoline station within the metropolitan area with lines of cars 20 to 30 deep.  Most will be sold out of gas quickly. I filled up the truck and returned home to finalize our plans.

I sensed nervousness from everyone when I returned.  My aunt is in her eighties and is not one to be in a rush when she dresses and 'makes herself up'.  I was surprised to see that her bags were packed and she was at the breakfast table prepared to leave.  We were sad to say our goodbyes so soon but there seemed little other choice to be made.  Quick hugs and then Amy and I were alone. 

What should we do and when should we do it?  Those were the questions of the hour.  Dawgie, our 85-pound, pampered Labrador sensed that something was up.  She paced nervously as Amy and I discussed (argued) our options.  I didn't wish to drive too far because that would make for a tiring Sunday when we returned home.  Amy wasn't as concerned about our evacuation point as long as we got underway quickly.  It had only been a year ealier in 2004 that we evacuated during Hurricane Ivan and experienced horrific delays as we fled the area.  It seemed that if our departure were to be done at all, 'twere well it were done quickly'. 

To my absolute amazement, I found hotel rooms available in Jackson, MS.  During prior storms, it was not uncommon for all rooms to be full as far away as St. Louis.  I quickly reserved two rooms, one for Amy and I (and Dawgie) and one for our daughter and son-in-law.  However, when I reached my daughter by cell, I found their evacuation plans to be more casual.  Betsy was quite pregnant and had decided that she and Travis (son-in-law) would stay with my son Michael in Baton Rouge if it became necessary.  [If it became necessary.]  

So our adventure began.  Against my recommendation, Amy decided to take her car even though I was driving my truck.  I thought this to be a frivilous action since I was still planning on being home on Sunday evening or Monday morning.  [Within forty-eight hours, a sixty-foot tall pine tree would fall across the driveway where her car was parked.]  We proceeded to box and load most of our family pictures.  The strategy of Louisianians fleeing storms is: 1) buy gasoline and 2) pack the family pictures.  Because of our rush, we decided to place a number of the least valuable items on the top of a piece of furniture in a closet.  We figured that if water got in the house, the picures were a few feet off the floor.  If a window was broken because of flying hurrican debris, the items were in a closed closet.

I took one final walk through the house and wondered what would remain upon our return.  I was beginning to have a very bad feeling about things.

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