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Sitting in Applebee’s in Salinas having lunch, when it dawns on us. 5 years ago today Roberta and the girls arrived here in California from the aftermath of Katrina. It was in the hotel a block from here that we spent our first Californian Christmas.

Time sure does fly by some times.

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What do I remember of our time during Katrina? Things that 5 years later just stand out?

  • I remember standing in the parking lot of NAVO, knee deep in water during the eye of the storm. Pulling debris from the storm drains and throwing it as far as I could so it wouldn’t just stop up the drain again. Finding the drains between the cars. As the drains cleared a whirlpool would form and suddenly I’d be standing in ankle deep water while just feet around me the water was still knee deep. The suction and swirling water was intense. I remember reaching under the front passenger wheel area of a grey car, pulling debris and being frightened that I would get sucked down and drown. I can still see the wheel, hubcap, and grey of the bodywork. Nothing else about the car, just that.
  • I remember Drew sitting in our garage with a bucket of soapy water washing muddy plates and glasses like they were made of gold. Instead of the $3 Target specials they were. The look of “I’ve saved this” on his face. The look someone gets when their arm gets ripped off and they haven’t decided it’s really happened yet. That was his look. Drew and Sam had a foundation with debris around it where their house used to be.
  • The smell. Riding my motorcycle between Stennis Space Center and Diamondhead Mississippi. There was a stretch by the river where the smell was so bad you couldn’t breath. The stench of rot and death. I remember how the smell would get less strong after search and rescue went through.
  • Lines and lines of trucks being loaded with supplies and heading for New Orleans. Signs in the windows saying “Ice” “Water” “Food”.
  • Riding my motorcycle through the debris and over 50k volt highline power lines as big around as my wrist.  Thinking, damn, what if these go live again? Damn near hitting a ladder in the middle of the road at 70 miles per hour.
  • Having a van stop in front of me as I drive through someones yard, thinking “oh crap” some dude is gonna be mad I keep driving my truck through his yard. Watching the side door slam open and my neighbor jump out yelling “They found them! They’re alive!” and balling my damn eyes out. It was 6 days before we found out my daughters friends had survived. Where they rode the storm out took a 25ft storm surge, they were in a single wide trailer. No one knew, or thought, they had lived. I remember calling Roberta so she could tell Megan that Heather and Skyler were still alive. Roberta and the girls had left for Montana thinking they had been killed.
  • I remember the quiet in the hallways as the storm approached. The tv at the end continously playing news and landfall projections. The screaming fury of the storm as it hit. Water coming down through the ceiling. The ceiling tiles lifting and falling with the ebb and flow of winds howling outside. The hallway between the two buildings, it sounded like God was tearing at the doors and he wanted in BAD! The windows on the second floor shattering and falling into the courtyard. I remember the shock once it was over.

Those are just some of the things I remember.

Last night the Robert Down Elementary School here in Pacific Grove did their poetry night. This year it was titled “The Pink Sun Sings to the Night.”

Molly and Nora both read their poetry and had a lot of fun. One of the poems read that really stood out was a poem read by a 4th grader titled “Hurricane Katrina.”

From what I understand, the family moved here from Louisiana last year. They tried to stick it out after the Storm but finally moved here. It reiterates why I’m glad we decided to bail after only 4 months.

Hurricane Katrina

I am hurricane Katrina. I take lives away
every time my powerful winds
of water hit the earth. I cause destruction.
People run scared every time they see me coming.
I knock down trees, flood your streets.
I leave you crying for me to stop my fury.
I am not afraid. I suck you into my horrible waves
until you stop fighting me. I destroy all that is in my path.
I will make you cry and scream, but you can’t fight me.
I am too powerful. My waves will smother you
and my winds will drag you to my soul.
I show no mercy for anything.
I will never stop my strong winds and waves
that make you suffer. I will come for you, for I am hurricane Katrina.

M. G.
Grade 4.

It’s official. The 4th annual Katrina party has been canceled this year. Roberta and I talked about it and it would be just too much with everything else going on. Hopefully next year we can have a big blow out for the 5th anniversary party.

4 years. Hard to believe it’s been that long.

Where we rode out Katrina

Where we rode out Katrina

Since he never checks this blog I can say it. Saint Gary Smith.

Gary Smith

Gary Smith

While we were standing out in the eye of Katrina thinking “Uhm this might be bad” Gary, who is an IBM Top Gun, was in San Diego doing an install at SDSC. He’s a Texas boy, and has been through a Hurricane or two, and new better than we did the hell that had been unleashed.

He called his boss on August 29th and said I’m headed back to Texas and will be driving from there over to Mississip to help. He then boarded a plane, flew to Dallas, gave his wonderful wife a hug and headed for Hertz. Rented a truck, drove to Walmart and filled the truck with supplies then proceeded to drive into the center of hell.

I will never forget unloading that truck with him. The quiet of the night, not a cricket to be heard. While carrying a load in to NAVO he whispers “Look behind the drivers seat”. On my next trip out I take a look and there, god love him, is a case of beer.

We stood out there in the pitch black that night and drank some of that beer. It’s something I will never forget as long as I live. It’s the little things in life that make the difference. Gary did something during that time in my life I will never forget.

Here is a copy of a post I put up just before the 1st anniversary of Katrina. It’s hard to believe that we’re coming up on 3 years. Wow. Three years since the world got tossed, turned, washed, and wasted. Since it’s that time again I thought I would start it off with a visit to past impressions.

A friend of mine put up an article on her blog Crabby’s Kitchen, about her first impressions on coming home after Katrina.  That made me think that maybe I would put up the following notes. This was something I wrote only a few months after moving away from Mississippi. It’s just some thoughts and experiences I had as Katrina started coming our way. Anyhow, here it is.

Where we road out Katrina

Where we road out Katrina

My family and I ended up riding out Hurricane Katrina at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The eye of the storm went right over us. The family actually went out and stood in the eye of the worst disaster to ever hit our county. We rode it out, and we survived the worst that the bloody thing could throw at us. At the time we had no idea of the damage that was happening around us. We were lucky. To tell the truth we were very, very lucky, and at the time had no idea of just how lucky. Our house survived with only minor damage. Our family made it through the storm alive, heck, even the dog and cat survived. We were lucky. There were so many around us that weren’t.

My wife, three daughters (twin 6 year olds and a 10 year old) and I all lived in Diamondhead Mississippi. We were there 1 year and 1 day before Katrina came and said hello. I worked for IBM at the Naval Oceanographic Office, NAVO, which is located on Stennis Space Center, MS. Which also happened to end up as FEMA’s command and control center after the storm. We watched the storm coming our way with the same disregard/worry that we did all the other storms that year. They always seemed to miss us or weaken to the point of not being a danger just before landfall. Thus we didn’t evacuate. That and we were between paychecks and light on money. Heck, to tell it like it was, we were broke. The closest family was in Montana, not really an option. So we waited and watched and worried.

On Sunday morning things were looking pretty grim. Lucky for us NAVO was considered a refuge of last resort for staff and family. That and I was the only IBM specialist to stick around, I’m something of a supercomputing specialist.  As such, as soon as I walked in the door with my family I was considered part of the ride out crew, and thus considered essential personnel. (NAVO is a very large computer center for Navy research.) We had a safe place to stay only a short distance from home. Not only were we allowed in, I was immediately put to work. We started opening offices up, conference rooms, hallways. Putting  people in every nook and cranny available. Not even the stairwells were safe from being used. There were children of all ages, elderly, wives, husbands, you name it. We made beds out of blankets, air mattresses, whatever. We all, and I mean all, believed that we would be there for the night and maybe for part of the next day. It looked rough. But, so did Ivan, Dennis, Cindy, and several other storms before this.

Across the street the NASA building was filling up with staff, family, and people from the surrounding area. That building was about 3 times the size of ours with the cafeteria in it. Since our building was a Navy building with some extremely large computer systems in it, we had tighter security and thus we only had staff, family of staff,  and Navy personnel, and still we were tight on room.

The day wore on, the winds kept picking up. News from southern Louisiana was bad. The day wore on. Things started to get tense. I took my laptop, a monitor, some chairs, some boxes, speakers stolen from my friend Pat’s desk,  and set up the first and only “Stennis Theater” at the end of a hallway for the kids. We had tons of DVD’s. Movie after movie was played to keep the kids entertained. We had popcorn and snacks for the kids.

As the night progressed the winds kept getting stronger and stronger. Some slept. Others tossed and turned. Some spent the whole night in front of the small tv that had been set up in the hallway. Watching and waiting. I was lucky, I was busy. I had things to take my mind off what was happening outside, but even I kept stopping and would stare at the tv. Waiting, wondering, not really believing. Not many people slept that night, as the winds slowly built up.

It was a long night. For the rest of my life I will remember the quiet of the hallways. People laying in the semi dark. The flickering of the TV down at the end of the hall. The quiet whispers. The way everything was hushed, tense, with an underlying layer of scared. The way people would look to me because I was busy, had a badge, kept meeting with the powers that be, and acted like I knew what the hell I was up to. People kept asking me what was up, what did I know, what had I heard. Even though, just like everyone else, I had no idea, no concept of what was, and about to happen to the world around us. Later, this would haunt my dreams.

Can you feel it? Can you possibly imagine what that’s like? The nervous anticipation, the dark crowded hallways, the news showing us the wrath of mother nature headed our way. Knowing that it’s headed straight for you and you can do nothing more, just wait for it to hit. Now remember, the worst hasn’t even begun yet. The storm is coming, but isn’t yet upon us, and we had no idea of how bad it would get.

I was one of the lucky ones. We survived. We moved out of Mississippi in December and moved to Pacific Grove. My family is alive and with me here. We all made it, and yet one of my twins has been having problems, nightmares, anger, etc.  And then here I am, the rational one, I see the Navy do an awards ceremony, giving out all these “thanks you”, medals, and what all, to folks that supported the Katrina effort. But were NEVER there! I was so irrationally angry that I had to walk away. I couldn’t speak I was so pissed off. The only thing going through my head was “I didn’t see a single sorry ONE of you there!!” How DARE you!! I know this is nothing more than a stupid reaction. But I can’t stop myself. I know that over time things won’t be so sensitive. But right now I can’t help it.

Katrina  kicked a lot of us in the teeth. Some a lot worse than others. There are days that I’m amazed I even get out of bed. Everyday that goes by it gets a little more and more like a dream that happened to someone else.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year already since we rode out Katrina. Our party went pretty well on Saturday. In fact we made the local newspaper. Front page of the Sunday Herald no less. Slow news day.

Article: http://www.montereyherald.com/mld/montereyherald/news/15373991.htm

And since we made the Herald, well the local news station couldn’t pass up a blurb of their own.

Video: http://www.kion46.com/mediacenter/default.aspx?videoId=4671@video.kcba.com

All because we just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time. Go figure.

Where we rode out Katrina

Well,

Saturday is fast approaching. There have been more and more “specials” on TV about Hurricane Katrina and it’s effects. Some of them little better than bald face lies and political manipulation. Yes Spike Lee, I’m referring the that piece of bullshit you call a documentary. Lying bastard. Gee, does my opinion show?

Anyhow, back to good things. The party is ON! Blue tarps will be on the roof, FEMA on the neighbors trailer, BBQ fired up and beer on ice. I’m sure people driving by will be wondering what in the world is going on. They’ll just have to stop by to fine out.

 The First Annual Katrina Survivors party. Or Katrina the Beotch, or Club Med Katrina, or “Fill in cool name here” party is rarin to Go!

Well. It’s coming upon us fast. The first anniversary of Katrina. Since it’s going to be on a wednesday this year we have decided, like Crabby, to have a party on Saturday the 26th of August. A party you may wonder, why the heck a party? Well, mainly because we survived the damn thing and plan on thumbing our noses at mother nature. Maybe I’ll get smashingly drunk, stand down by the water edge and yell, “That’s it?!? That’s all you got??? You wuss!” Then I’ll run scampering back to the house before the tidal wave, or lightening , or some other disaster takes me out. (-:

Side note: So far the family and I have survide the 6.3 earthquake in Seattle, the 7.9 earthquake in Alaska, trees falling on our house, the 500,000 acre wildfire behind our house in Alaska, and then hurricanes Ivan, Cindy, Dennis, Katrina, and Rita. The only one of which to nail us was Katrina of course, the others just clipped us. But, as you can see, we’re not afraid of mother nature. Maybe we should be, but so far she just likes to keep us on our toes.

Anyhow, what better way to remember the damage and horror but to thumb our noses in the air and have a rip roaring party and drink, yes drink, good ole southern style Hurricanes until we’re too drunk to drive the blender. We’re planning to have the West Coast version of the “Katrina was a big ole Beotch party”. Although I’ll need to come up with a new name. I’ve stolen that one from Crabby herself, until I can come up with my own.

I’m already planning to have a blue tarp on the roof, a couple of blow up palm trees laid over in the yard, I’m putting a big ole FEMA sign on the neighbors Airstream trailer, I know, they weren’t airstreams, but, remember this is California. I’ll try to grab my other neighbors boat to tie up to the front porch. We’ll have bottled water, MRE’s, and the few FEMA Heater Meals I still have left. I’m sure the locals here will be wondering what the heck I”m doing, too bad for them. This party is for me and mine. If others want to come along for the ride, well then, let’s drink. We lived it, were gonna party it! We were lucky, so very lucky, and I figure we should celebrate that.

Well. I’m looking for names. I’m open to ideas. “The Blue Tarp Regalia?” “Mother Nature can be a real Mother party?” “Wow, that was bad. Let’s drink.” “Katrina? Katrina who? Hic..” I need a good catchy name for the get together. So help me out with some naming ideas. I need to make the invites pretty soon. Also, if your in the Pacific Grove, CA area on the 26th swing by. I’ll have burgers, dogs, and lots of alcohol ready and waiting. Just look for the house all decked out in modern disaster design.

Also, If you weren’t there and don’t like the idea of me having a party, and yes, I’ve had a few people (very few thank god) express displeasure over the idea of me throwing a party. If your one of em, Shut the hell up. You have no idea of what your talking about, you couch sitting, tv watching, backseat driving, sniveling waste of good air, foolish turd sucking maggot. Not that I have an opinion or anything. (-:

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