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In the Path of Hurricane Gustav
September 9 2008

   

   

   

   
 
 

The Day Before Landfall

Chewing my lip, I sat on the arm of my couch and stared around at the house, all packed up as if my partner and I were moving again. Reports were coming over the radio, and the weatherman was repeating what he'd just said ten minutes before. Hurricane Gustav is on its way. It struck me as funny in a sad, desperate kind of way – the radio reports were mostly about how Gustav was threatening oil production in the Gulf. Who cared? It was threatening our home – threatening us.

We packed everything. To make matters worst my partner had just had cataract surgery with complications therefore, we thought it wise to leave and not chance another Katrina. I had no idea what to bring, what was important, what wasn't. My mind was stuck on all the horror stories, come home to roost now that we were in the same situation. I walked around the house in a daze, touching things here and there, memorizing the way the house looked. I didn't know what I'd find when I came back – didn't know what kind of condition it would all be in.

Though the evacuation was geared more toward New Orleans, Saturday night they said we were supposed to evacuate as well. By then, we were already on the road with whatever would fit in the car, joined by two and a half million other evacuees. With every major interstate going north lined with traffic lights, it looked surreal.

We left around 3:00 p.m. Saturday afternoon, driving east to Mobile, Alabama, then north toward Montgomery. With the wind blowing hard and the traffic unbelievably heavy, what would normally be a three and a half hour drive took seven hours. We finally found a hotel around 10:30 that night.

Sitting in the hotel room, I waited for information to come that would give the "all clear" - which the evacuation was over and we could return home. It never came. I watched countless numbers of big media anchors talk about the effects of Hurricane Gustav on New Orleans, how New Orleans was in a bowl, in danger of flooding, still evacuating, etc.

The day after Landfall

I listened, getting steadily angrier, as other anchors talked about the effect Gustav was having on oil prices. If Mississippi was mentioned, it was only in passing. After 12 hours of hearing absolutely nothing, we decided to go home anyway. I told my partner to throw on the “wrap around” glasses grab the dog we were going home. The house we returned to was subtly different from the house we'd left.

Minor flooding had marked the vegetation. The wind had blown shingles off some roofs but we were lucky. There was debris in the streets, and the tree in my front yard had almost been uprooted and was now leaning over into my neighbor's yard, threatening his house. All in all, however, it was better than we'd hoped for.

The electricity was out across the neighborhood; our neighbor had a generator and offered to run an extension cord – or at least charge our phones if they needed it. Instead, we opted to go to my parents; their house hadn't been damaged and they still had electricity.

Though Gustav didn't carry the high winds that Katrina did, the wind was still hard, blowing branches down, debris flying through the air. It was also full of water, Mother Nature was angry and she was bloated or full of it… Then she dumped all over Louisiana and southern Mississippi. We thought the hurricane had already hit – the media said Gustav had made landfall somewhere in Houma, Louisiana – so we thought we were safe. What we didn't know when we left for my parents' home, was that the "surge" was still coming in. Rising water was slowly washing out the roads.

As we headed towards my parents, that are actually closer to the water, we turned onto a street and saw what looked like two or three inches of water. We decided not to chance it, steadily getting agitated at all the unsurpassable streets. It was getting darker and I feared the worst. From road to road I kept turning back realizing I may actually get stuck. Night was nearing and I could feel the tension between us rise. Finally I flagged a policeman down who told me I could try heading towards highway 90. For those of you who are not familiar with the Gulf Coast that is the beach road. My thinking is a policeman should know… right?

Now it’s dark and I can see debris with my headlights that seemed like huge trees, of course I could not chance it with our Toyota Prius. So once again I start heading back only to realize the streets were gone, where there was once nice crisp yellow dividing lines there is nothing but the shimmer of water. We brave our car down one road, listening to the water under our wheels. Then another road, this time my partner with the “wrap around's” sheepishly mumbles we should roll down the windows in case we go under. I am thinking, “go under” what the hell is that supposed to mean? It was then I realized things were looking bad even to a virtually blind person.

I am determined to get us to safety, I have 2 other lives in my hand and I can brave anything, even Mother Nature. My white knuckles grip on the steering wheel as I go up a steep incline and realize we are going over the railroad tracks, I stopped holding my breath expecting I can drive through only to see swamp as far as the headlights can see.

I decided there has to be a passable road; I refused to think I was going to die in the swamp. I never wanted to live in Mississippi anyway, I am a California gal give me earthquakes any day. I drove on slowly with the water splashing in the car. Once the car hit the middle of the water, we realized that it was a lot higher than we'd thought – either that or the water was rising fast enough that it quickly became impassable.

We were stuck. Couldn't go forward. Couldn't go back. The water rose higher, carrying debris from the swamp. I felt the car start to slide, being pushed by the currents, and my heart stopped with a sickening, slow thud. My mouth was dry; I couldn't even swallow.

Somehow, either the water dropped enough for the car to make it through or the currents pushed it far enough past the deeper part, or maybe the wind was blowing hard enough, or my karma finally was paying me an old debt. – Somehow we ended up on the other side of the road, in low enough water that we could drive out of it.

Where to go from there, though? Gustav was dropping water at an alarming rate and we weren't anywhere near far enough away to be able to get out of it. We ended up driving for another hour, turning on clear streets, turning away from flooded streets. 4:30 in the morning, we pulled over on a hill and waited for everything to stop.

I'm not a religious person, but I prayed more that night than I have my entire life. Prayed for safety, for deliverance – mostly, just to have something else to hold on to instead of worry about what was happening.

I was scared – terrified, to tell the truth. I thought, "If I can only get out of this alive…" What I didn't know was that the following days, after we returned home, would be worse.

The Next Day

We pay a monthly fee to live in our community; it seems like they would be willing to help with debris cleaning up the streets, hell maybe fix our street but a leaning tree I thought was not much to ask for, especially when that tree is leaning into another's house. During Katrina, the core of civil engineers came around, cutting trees for free. This time, however, it's a "do-it-yourself" endeavor.

The insurance won't pay for damages to the vegetation even though we've paid, faithfully, year after year. They don't cover minor flood damage. We're spending money to cut down a tree, uprooted by an "act of god". Not knowing anything about vegetation in the South, I paid some tree "spray" guru $500 to spray all the trees on our property. For all I know, he sprayed water, because it didn't help. If the tree causes more damage, we're liable for it.

The anger and frustration are not just mine. Thousands of people in Mississippi are returning to their homes, some in worse condition than mine. There are people who now have no homes to go to. There are people who can't afford to fix what their insurance won't cover – and the media is talking about nothing but New Orleans and oil prices.

Yes, people were uprooted in New Orleans. Yes, people lost their homes and some lost their lives. But, I can't help but feel that we have been left behind, our stories drowned and washed away by another type of hurricane – a hurricane of insensitive media and uncaring government.

The government knew the levees wouldn't hold before hurricane Katrina happened. All the funding that had been set aside to fix the levees, however, was slowly cut out from under the project. The general consensus being, "We don't have enough money to fix the levees and pay for the war in Iraq. Iraq is more important."

The media picked this up; all of a sudden, it's all over the news; FEMA wasn't performing as it was supposed to. The levees weren't safe. Thousands of people lost their homes – some lost their lives – because of an inept government. Things settled down, though, as most things eventually do, and the people of Louisiana and Mississippi got down to the business of picking up the pieces.

Then, a tropical depression became hurricane Gustav and the meteorologists started tracking its path and saying that it's heading toward Louisiana. Again, the media noticed it, dredging up all the old information on New Orleans and Katrina. As Gustav hit the coast, newscasters talked about New Orleans; how it's in a bowl; how the levees may not hold against the surge of water; how much damage they were going to suffer.

Mississippi was ignored, the problems of more than two and a half million people replaced by an overload of stories about Mardi Gras central, our stories left to rot and decay like so many homes were after Katrina.

Please understand this story is not about me it’s much bigger it’s about the whole country. It’s about bureaucrats, politics and the frenzy hungry media. My partner and I have work very hard for everything we have, we are not on welfare, we have never been given a handout, and we are not asking for anything. We just want our story to be heard. Therefore CNN, FOX, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC, and any other media out there that covers Hurricane stories get your facts straight and disperse the news to ALL the Gulf Coast residents not just Louisiana. It is the final injustice.


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Comments from Our Readers

  "Wow that is just awful. I am so glad you are all safe. The lack of coverage and aid is just so awful. Wonderful article!!!" - Bleu, September 9 2008 - reply
  "I didn't know it was that bad for you! I kept listening on the Internet for where it was going to be bad, and you're right, they only talked about Louisiana and New Orleans. I had to help my family with their evacuation, many came up here, but I didn't know it got that bad in Mississippi, too. Thank you for writing this." - Loni from Kansas, September 9 2008 - reply
  "From one writer to another: You Rock, girlfriend! I too live in your state, in-fact in your neighborhood and know intimately the fear and frustration that comes from a deep seated anger. An ager fueled by the laze faire attitudes of bureaucrats and the media. Bravo, well stated." - Patricia Soucy, September 9 2008 - reply
  "Excellent story of two women braving the hostile elements and returning home all in one piece. It also reminds us what is important in this country. Foreign aid, pointless, unwinable wars, stock market gains, oil refineries and platforms take precedience" - Frank, September 9 2008 - reply
  "What a story! A high school friend of mine lives in New Orleans, and your story is much like hers. I only wish more people could hear the true stories of what goes on." - Alli, September 11 2008 - reply
  "WOW...amazing article! My heart is still pounding and now I'm angry too at all the media lately . Thanks for opening my eyes. Being from Missouri I deal with tornadoes and flooding. The same issues get raised here. Days after the storms pass and people are uncovering their devastation, the concern is what this has done to the economy! What about the poor people trying to locate their scattered lives. Great article! Love your style of writing! " - Jules/Clay, September 15 2008 - reply
  "Between "your partner" and your "Toyota Prius" in addition to the fact that you are a "california Gal", it doesn't take much of a strech to know your liberal vote for Obama will wipe out my Conservative vote for McCain, Do you realize when you refer to your "significant other" in using the California Gay Agenda term of "my partner" that you are showing just how insignificant he or she really is in your life????????? If you do not have enough respect to address he/she by his/her name or his/her gender, you shouldn;t bother mentioning he/she at all because you put him/her in the same category as the dog. Whaddya mean "It isn't about you"? You use "I" in almost every utterance. For God's sake, it is all about YOU!! I feel sorry for both "your partner" and the dog!! tkmartin1070@gmail.com" - Ted Martin, October 1 2008 - reply
  "Hello Ted Martin See how much you know..lol When I referred to my partner it' was not about whether he or she is gay or because I am using a "California" agenda as you call it. Sheezzz you sound like a miserable homophobic bigot who cannot appreciate a NON gender article written for the sake of the story. A creative outlet something that was important to me and that I wanted to write. Yes, I do end the article with it's not about me.. but apparently you do not and cannot understand the whole point of the article. You are too blind with your idiotic self righteous insults. Figures you would vote for another idiot like McCain lol just so we are clear, I am not an American citizen therefore I cannot vote nor would I want to. As far as I am concerned they are all idiots including Obama. In conclusion that is not to say you cannot state your opinion on here.. however, I have learned the real art of communication is not only to say the right thing in the right place, but also to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment. thanks for dropping by Gabriella Sannino" - Gabriella, October 1 2008 - reply
  "what an ordeal to go thru, for all involved. when i lived in Summit County Colorado, our animal shelter took in a lot of the poor animals from Katrina,, there were hundreds of them " - jesee_jean57, June 11 2009 - reply


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