I didn’t want to do an entry on Katrina. That murderous storm has received enough ink as it is. I changed my mind, though, and here we are.
I sent out notices to many of my friends here in J-Land telling about my family ties to Southern Louisiana and of my sister, Jan, and her husband, Dave. Their home is in Slidell, a town on the northeast shore of Lake Pontchartrain. In the letter I described their home on the Pearl River and the boat they keep docked in New Orleans on the lake.
After I sent the letter out, I went back and watched more coverage on CNN and MSNBC and any other station that showed new camera shots of the area. I saw so many who had lost everything, even their love ones. I listened to Jeanne Meserve’s tear choked account of the mass devastation she had witnessed. I saw the man who told of losing the grip he held on his wife when their house split in two, never to see her again.
As I watched scene after scene of mass destruction and pile after pile of debris, I felt myself closing in and retreating within myself. This has been my lifelong defense mechanism to protect me when reality becomes too harsh to bear. I seal myself off into a private world within, where nothing can reach me and, seemingly, nothing can harm me.
I realize, though that this story is not about me and I am trying to keep that inner door open and stop my mind from shutting down. This story is about those who have lost everything, the ones whose lives will be changed forever.
As many of you know by now, both sides of my family are from Louisiana. My mother’s side of the family is from Franklinton, about 75 miles north of New Orleans. Franklinton is where my brother-in-law, Dave, went to wait out the storm. He stayed at my first cousin Bill’s house.
Jan is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserves and is on active duty at Ft. Polk, located in the northern part of the state. I was talking to Jan on Sunday before the storm hit as she drove north to return to the base. She described to me the traffic and the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty the looming storm was causing.
I have heard from Jan since the storm passed. Dave and the family members in Franklinton with whom he stayed made it through the hurricane without harm. They were without phone service and electricity, but safe.
On Wednesday, Dave drove up to Ft. Polk to stay with Jan. What should have been a four-hour drive took him nine hours to navigate.
The pictures shown on TV of the Slidell area tell a story of almost total destruction. The hopes of salvaging anything from their home remains dim at this point. It will be days, maybe even longer, before it’s safe enough to even attempt to survey their house and belongings.
This story is but a small byline in a tale of epic dimensions. As all of the individual experiences are pieced together, the account of one of the worst disasters in our nation’s history takes focus. In perspective, and by comparison, my family is lucky. They survived and have a place to go for shelter. There are untold thousands who are not as fortunate.
As the days go by, the stories of horror, destruction, and despair will multiply. Let us band together as a nation and offer our prayers and aid in whatever form we can to the survivors. Let us vow to remain steadfast in our strength and loyalty and help one another make it through this most troubling time.