Saturday, August 28, 2010

My experience during Hurricane Katrina part One

Broken Beauty, my friend Peter Patout's courtyard after the Hurricane. 
I did not know a hurricane was coming my way until Saturday morning Aug 27th when I walked across the street to go to Circle K to get half & half to make my Café au lait. The glass door of Circle K had taped X's on it. I thought Hum a hurricane must be coming as all glass is taped with X's to prevent the glass from flying when windows are blown out.

My dogs Belle & Lebeau on there mid 19th century Rosewood New Orleans sofa.

Also I don't look at the news as it is all depressing and propaganda! I did turn on the news when I returned home to see that yes a BIG hurricane was coming. I was not worried as I had lived in New Orleans for over 10 years and had never left because of a hurricane. I did know how to prepare myself for one but I was in some type of a daze. I did not have any food in the house or bottled water. I thought I will just buy some after Mass at Jesuit Church tomorrow. I don't know what I was thinking with that thought. Latter in the day I got phone calls from friends that were fleeing the city. Most asked if I wanted to ride with them. I turned them down as I had two dogs and they were not offering to take them.

18th century French colonial Creole plantation house a block away from my apt

Sunday Morning rolls around. The city is overcast with clouds. On the 13 block walk thru the French Quarter to Jesuit Church. The city had a quietness and stillness I had never seen. As if it know that this was the last chapter of a period that I was lucky to have lived for 10 years. I arrived at Mass and there was only 20 people compared to the few hundred. I was asked to help serve the wine during communion if one of the people did not show. I was glad to see the person show up as I have never served the wine before and don't like to be the center of attention. After mass I ran to my grocery store Matassa's Market to find a line of people outside a block long. The grocery store is in a old small 19th century home so it's not that big anyway. Plus on a regular visit. If some one was coming down the same aisle you were on, You had to do the Egyptian to let them pass. I had to stand in line a hour before I could get in, and by that time bottle water and other provisions I needed was long gone. I did pick up some picked over food items but being in that store was a ordeal.

Jackson Square after the storm
The good thing is on my way home friends were packing cars to pull away and gave me frozen meats and seafood. As you always clean your refrigerator out as to not be surprised a week later upon return when the power has been out. I returned home to more frantic phone calls from family and friends warning me to get out. That morning mayor Ray Nagin ordered the first-ever mandatory evacuation of the city, calling Katrina "a storm that most of us have long feared. If you could not leave the city wanted you to go to the Superdome. I knew I was not going there.

My Street Esplanade Ave outside of the Quarter

My Street Esplanade Ave outside of the Quarter

Not having a car or knowing how to drive. I could not leave on my own, plus my friends offering me a ride did not offer my dogs come along. So I decided I was staying as I would not leave my dogs. If I was to parish it would be with my cherished collection of antiques and loved animals. To be earnest I was not afraid and had a calmness about me. For some reason I know I would survive the storm. I had chosen the French Quarter to live in wisely. Not only was it the oldest and most beautiful part of the city. I felt as if I was living in some old world European city inside of the Quarter. But the French were very smart in the early 18th century to place New Orleans on the highest ground on the Mississippi river and that was 100 miles up river from the mouth of the Great Mississippi. The French Quarter sits about 17 feet about sea level. That not much in most places but when you compare that around the French Quarter the land is at sea level and drops off the further you go out to 5-10 feet below sea level. If you have to live anywhere in New Orleans the Quarters as we call it is your best beat.

My Street Esplanade Ave last block in the Quarter
I filled my bath tube up full of water to be used after the hurricane as the water supply would be polluted. Sunday night in came the rains. I went to sleep that night knowing that the big one will be here tomorrow. Monday morning Aug 29th. I awoke to more rain the Hurricane was not here, as the morning went on the wind and rains picked up. I remember talking to my sister as it was her birthday. I also talked to a few other people. Every 30 min I went to my French doors and windows to see what was going on and every time I looked the storm had picked up more. My apt was in a 3 story slave quarters on the 2th floor to the back of a 1834 Greek Revival Townhouse on Esplanade Ave on the edge of the French Quarter. I had lived in 3 apts in the building. The first being on the 3rd floor of the main house with my French boyfriend. The 2th was the finest apt in the building on the ground floor in the Greek Revival double parlors. After this one we bought a house 7 blocks away from the Quarter. We restore it and lived there for 2 1/2 years. Broken up after the house sold I hastily moved into the 2th floor slave quarter apt in a building I was all too familiar with.


The slave quarter apt had small rooms that led into each other without a hall. I had a kitchen, parlor, bedroom & bath. Each room had a 19th century French windows and French doors overlooking a long balcony. The courtyard was below with a Olympic size swimming pool. The courtyard was bigger then most in the Quarter as the original wealthy owners bought a double lot. As the morning went on the trees that were in front of my balcony begin to lean in the high wind. There was a family of Cardinals that lived in them. On one of my visits to the window I could see the male cardinal holding on for dear life to a tree that was leaning in the wind profusely! I felt so sorry for that bird as I had observed it and it's family for months. As time went on the leaning tree with the cardinal and all surrounding trees had every leaf off of it. But the Cardinal was still hanging to the leafless tree for dear life. The next visit to the window found the Cardinal "gone with the wind". By this time the light went out and power. I lit candles in 18th and 19th century candlesticks.

The Château de Hopkins at the time of Katrina 

The Château de Hopkins at the time of Katrina 

The Château de Hopkins at the time of Katrina 

The Château de Hopkins at the time of Katrina 

The Château de Hopkins at the time of Katrina 

The Château de Hopkins at the time of Katrina 

To keep busy I started a painting that I finished that day by candlelight . It generally takes weeks to complete a painting but this one was completed in a day. As the Hurricane tore on I could hear that the French windows and doors in a apt above me were blown open. Water poured into my apt from above thru cracked ancient plaster ceilings. I was glade I was home to move around delicate French 18th century chairs, American mahogany chests and New Orleans made rosewood Rococo Revival sofas. At this point water was being blown thru the ancient cracks in my many French doors and windows. My male dog was calm but my female dog was antsy. I stayed calm and painted. The next stop by the window I saw a view I had never seen before as my view from my apt was always green trees, everyone of them were down. I could see the pool full of trees and the house next door.

Painting I finished Aug 29th 2005.  

The Château de Hopkins at the time of Katrina 

I turned on my battery operated radio on only to hear person after person call in to radio stations that were trapped in attics & roof tops with old people and children. They were frantic calling on cell phones that could go out any min. There cry's for help during the storm struck a card on my heart. The person on the other end could only tell the callers that help could not be sent until the Hurricane was over. Call after call came in with no help to be delivered. As I painted away to keep busy I knew I could no longer live in New Orleans. After a few more hours of hearing the calls the hurricane had passed over the city.

Jackson Square after Katrina. 

Just before sundown the rain had stopped. The Sun was going down. The French Quarter had a cool and calmness about it and was quit.  Curios I went out for a walk to observe what was left of my beloved city. Lot's of People were out observing also. The French Quarter did not flood. There were down trees, tree limbs every ware around with dead birds and squirrels between the branches, roofing material from every roof in the Quarter was scattered about. But for the most part the homes and building in the Quarter were ok. There were a few collapsed walls but the Quarter was better then I had expected. The Next neighborhood over did not fair as will as the Vieux Carré. Faubourg Marigny down river from the French Quarter flooded and walking around right after the Hurricane 19th century wooden buildings were twisted on there foundations, brick 2 story buildings had walls collapse so you could look inside and see furniture and painting still hanging on the walls. I tuck many photo's. I would illustrate this story with them but I can't find the photo CD they are on. I went to visit my best friend Don who was in his late 70's at the time and lived a few blocks away in this neighborhood. I invited him over for candlelight supper at my place that night.

Luckily my landline phone was still working and my gas stove. That night by candlelight I and my best friend Don had a very nice hot cooked meal of grilled chicken with vegetables in butter served on 18th century French Sèvres porcelain plates with a very nice bottle of chilled French white wine served in1830's  Louis Philippe period Baccarat cut glass. Little did I know that this meal would be the last luxury for myself for a week and a half. I know refer to this as "The last meal". That night as I retired to my French Empire bed to gun shots all night. I felt scared for the first time. We were in August the hottest month in New Orleans, with no ac, so the windows were open for the hot humid air the pored in like a mist that covered my body and everything around me like a thick damp blanket. The mosquitoes biting me all over my body. It was too hot but I had to cover my body with a thin sheet to stop the mosquitoes from eating me. I don't know how I went to bed that first night but I did. with out light the city was pitch dark with only moon and stairs lighting the night sky as if we were back in Antebellum New Orleans. This was how my Creole ancestors lived long ago on the Gulf Coast.  I had one candle burning on a 1840's Louisiana cypress tapered leg table by my bed as I can't sleep in a dark room. I thought that I could be killed, held up having my windows open like they were. the property was surrounded by a 10 foot brick wall that was some comfort. I went to sleep not knowing the storm surge had caused 53 levee breaches in New Orleans, Or that eighty percent of the city was under water. People were drowning that had survived the Hurricane in flood waters.

The bedroom at the Château de Hopkins at the time of Katrina. 

Part two coming soon guns, sex and drugs

No comments:

Post a Comment