On the 10th anniversary of Katrina I find myself living on beautiful Vancouver Island on the west coast of Canada. The climate is more temperate so we don’t get the heat and humidity but when we get a gust of wind in the tall Douglas fir trees around our home, a part of me looks outside, shivers and remembers some of the events leading up to, during and post Katrina.
One particular memory is at the shelter.
During Hurricane Katrina our family found shelter at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Lab Building 1022 at the Stennis Space Center. This was a new building designated as Hurricane safe for University faculty and staff and their families. There were about 30 people staying in the building, mainly family members of faculty. My husband was faculty so we packed up our 3 kids, some sentimental items and took cover. There also was a family brought in from the main shelter at Stennis that consisted of a grandfather, a grandmother, daughter and two teenage grand-daughters. They lived south of the railway tracks in Bay St Louis, the area hardest hit.
While the hurricane screamed around us,we waited with nerves stretched thin wondering what we were going to find when it was all over. I would try to read but there was a restlessness that made it hard to concentrate. The kids brought movies to watch but were also feeling the restlessness and anticipation. At one point the waiting was interrupted by a tornado that took a piece of the roof off one of the lab rooms. A number of us scurried to help pull out, and dry off $100,000 in lab equipment, while the water from the roof overhead poured down into a drain in the floor of the room. The excitement helped to pass time.
I will never forget the high pitched screaming of the wind forcing its way through the cracks around the doors of the building. When the eye of Katrina passed over us, it was completely and suddenly silent. After being cooped up for many hours, a number of people were anxious to get outside but were told to keep the doors secured and closed because we did not know what to expect when the other side of the eye wall hit. The other side of the eye came, but with less force. We waited some more.
Finally, we were able to open the doors and go out into a world that was changed forever, both physically and emotionally for each of us. Anxious to check on our dogs, my husband set out for Diamondhead as soon as enough flood water had receded off the interstate. The kids and I again waited to find out if we still had a home and that our dogs were OK.
The usual 15 min drive home took hours to go and return.
As the sun set, we sat in chairs in silence outside of that lab building and listened to the first reports of casualties to human life, to buildings and more on the radio. Many people, myself included, cried. The elderly grandfather would crank his radio and we listened to people that still had cell service call in with reports. I will never forget the anguish and emotion in voices of strangers. It brought me to tears. They said things like “bodies in the streets”, “the casinos are completely gone, washed away”, “I have nothing left”, “the Kmart in Waveland was completely under water”, and “everything south of the tracks along the coast has been destroyed” The radio would start to lose power and before the grandfather could crank it again, everyone was sniffling. I remember hearing the daughter murmuring “it’s all gone, it’s all gone”.
Crank, crank, crank…
We later found out, they had indeed lost everything.
My husband made it back late, but was able to report our dogs were extremely happy to see him and fine. Our home was still standing, although we had some large trees on the roof. The water was up to the edges along the highway and the streets were not passable in Diamondhead due to so many downed trees. He had had to park and hike in to our house. We were able to leave the shelter the next morning and go home. Something I felt so grateful to be able to do. So many did not have homes to return to.
When we left the shelter early the next morning we exchanged contact information with a number of other people. Although our cells had gone silent at Stennis we had a 2 hr window of use when we made it back to Diamondhead. I was unable to call anyone in the US however; I was able to call into Canada. I called my mother in Fredericton, NB and gave her a list of names and numbers. She made contact with anxious friends and relatives waiting to hear in our family as well as other family members of fellow shelter residents.
The aftermath of clean-up survival is a whole other story.
The one thing the hurricane did show me is that, ultimately when disaster hits, most people pull together and help take care of each other. There is goodness in the human spirit that can be found in most people.
Christina van Driest currently lives in Sidney, BC Canada. She is in the middle of renovating a home with a view of mountains and ocean. Chris and her husband David Dodd are very pleased to have all 3 of their children now residing close by on Vancouver Island. At the time of Hurricane Katrina, Chris and her family lived in Diamondhead, Mississippi.
Grace & Peace