We are homeward bound the following Thursday after the storm. Although we were safe and comfortable in Dallas, we wanted to get back home and see how much damage we might have from Katrina’s visit, so we load it all back up and head back down to our home in Covington.
The 504 phone exchange is not working so we are not able to contact anyone we know that stayed behind. As a precaution I decide we need to bring some supplies back with us in case things are not available. A trip to the local Walmart for 4 blue 5 gallon water bottles, 2 igloo ice chests for food and ice, 6 red 5 gallon gasoline cans and misc. other cleaning supplies and food. Since our Ford Expedition was at max capacity when we started out, we decided to rent a small U-Haul trailer to carry our Walmart load home rather than strapping everything to the roof.
Technically, we are not supposed to return to the area until cleanup crews are finished, or so they keep saving on the TV coverage. But we are confident that that just applies to the Greater New Orleans area where the flooding occurred. Since we lived on the North Shore of the lake we didn’t have any reason to be concerned with any flood waters, just wind damage is the most likely. We decide to take our chances and work our way back a shorter and more direct route through Shreveport to Lafayette and then across I-10 and I-12 to home. The storm went almost due north so the route we took when we left through Jackson Mississippi was hit hard so surely gasoline and supplies would be in short supply.
It’s a slow but steady trip back, quite a bit of traffic, a lot of electric company vehicles and tree service people are heading into area as well. Since the city of New Orleans is closed we hope the recovery services are working the smaller towns on the North shore until they can go into the city. As we get closer to home, about two hours out, we see more and more damage, trees down and debris. About sun down we reach Ponchatoula where my brother in laws home is and start to notice how dark things are getting, more so than usual. It is because there is no electricity in the entire town.
It’s obvious by all the cut up trees lining the roads that the chain saw crews had made it this far. I can only imaging most of the roads would have had trees down on them, making movement buy car impossible. As we arrive at brother in law’s house I notice it’s dark, apparently he has problems with his generator that he was relying on when he decide to stay behind, along with his elderly mother and stepfather. He was fortunate, several large pine trees are down in his yard but they missed his house and out buildings. Everyone is OK, just uncomfortable due to the August heat and humidity and wants to hear any news we might have gathered on our way in.
After we are relieved to see everyone is OK, we push on the final 20+ miles to our home in Covington, not knowing what to expect. As we get to our subdivision, the primary entrance is blocked by fallen trees and down power lines so we go around to a secondary and fortunately it has been cleared. Not a single light on anywhere, the sky is dark; no moon out tonight and it’s an eerie drive through our subdivision. When we get to our house we cannot see it from the street for all the limbs that are piled out front. We found out later that my daughter’s fiancé had made a trip to check on the house and chain sawed the tree limbs that had blocked our driveway and piled them out front so that we could get into the garage.
As we unload, we can hear a number of generator sets running within a block or so of us but don’t see any lights. I make my way into the house with Glock 17 and Surefire light in hand and check to see that all is secure and we have not had any unwanted visitors, thank the good Lord we are untouched. Next I make my way to the garage, pull out the 5 KW generator set, extension cords, some drop lights and a couple of box fans so we can start setting up camp inside our house. Our home is a two story and I had covered most of the windows with plywood to protect them from wind borne objects. Bedrooms are upstairs and we decide to all 4 sleep downstairs in the den tonight to where we can all enjoy (?) the cooling from the box fans. (Did I mention how hot and humid August is in South Louisiana?).
First night was a restless one but we all did manage to get some sleep. I must have gotten up 5 or 6 times to look around to make sure we are secure. The dogs are fairly good watch dogs and would alert us if there was a problem, but it would be up to me or wife to deal with an intruder.
The morning light of day 1 at home allows us see the devastation and destruction in our area that was not apparent in the darkness. We were lucky, three huge pine trees are down in our yard, the neighbors has taken out our electrical service lines coming into our house from the street and a fence. Second and third are down on rear fences and chicken run enclosure. All but one chicken is present and accounted for. Thankfully there is no apparent damage to the house, which was my major concern from all the trees that surround it. However, within blocks away many homes have been cut in half and others sustained major damage from falling pine trees.
Projects for day one include emptying out the freezers and refrigerator of the spoiled food and bagging it up for later disposal and setting up a sanctuary room inside house. The generator set is not big enough to power the central AC unit but it will run a small 8000 Btu window unit that I have stored in the garage. We decide to seal up the big walk through opening to the dining room with blankets and plastic sheeting so the remaining entrance is a doorway with a door. Next the window unit is installed in a front window, we move the dining furniture out and bring down mattresses from the upstairs bedrooms for a big communal bedroom. It’s going to be cozy but cool and comfortable for resting, sleeping and escaping the heat for a little while until we get power restored. (Which took three weeks…).
1. Having no communications and accurate information about the conditions in the area is bad. We did not know what we were returning to and were lucky. If we could not have gotten back into our home when we did, our fall back was to return to brother in laws house, but until we stopped there on the way in that was an unknown possibility. We probably should have made some room for the basic camping gear set up as a fallback position.
2. Basic inexpensive small generators suck up some gasoline, (a Honda 2000e is on my wish list, they are much more efficient), so the 20 gallons of fuel we brought back was a good addition to the 20 gallons I had stored.
3. They also require frequent oil changes and most are not really designed to run 24 / 7 for any length of time. Good to have a backup just in case, which we picked up from my parent’s house several days later.
4. Family dogs are a good thing to have around for companionship and intruder alert. We were able to sleep much better with them around.
5. Defensive weapons are a necessity in this type of situation. We never had to use them but hand guns were always kept on the adult’s person and a shotgun within arm’s reach.
6. Keep plenty of shelf stable food on hand. We had a good amount set back and the loss of the frozen and refrigerated food was a letdown but we did OK.
7. Maintain a good insurance policy with one of the major insurers. Between Allstate and FEMA we able to have trees, fences and other damaged removed and repairs made so we were able to get back to normal fairly quickly.