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09/01/2005 09:09:33 AM · #1
The following is from a friend (posted with permission). Very moving.

"Very long read, but this is my mother's journal entry. She is a social worker in Louisiana and recounts some vivid details.

August 31, 2005

On Monday, August 29th, New Orleans was hit by a category 4 hurricane. We live in Baton Rouge, about 60 miles northwest of New Orleans. The storm had turned slightly east just before it hit the coast and this turn saved Baton Rouge from experiencing heavy damage. New Orleans and all points east of Baton Rouge were devastated by the hurricane. New Orleans is a city built like a bowl. It is surrounded on all sides by levees. That is because the city itself is from four to nine feet below sea level. The levees have always kept the sea and the lake at bay. But on August 29th, history would be rewritten. A tidal wave 20 to 25 feet high surged into Lake Pontchatrain, overflowing the levees. In two places the levee broke and water rushed into New Orleans. At least 80% of the city was under water, much of it to the roofs of the houses.

I am a social worker for the state and as such I am assigned to one of 17 four-member teams who are to work the special needs shelter at Louisiana State University (my alma mater) during times of evacuation. I had been assigned to work the day of the hurricane from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm, but by 6:00 am the storm was too intense (even in Baton Rouge) for me to leave home. I was then rescheduled to work the night shift on Tuesday, August 30th.

The special needs shelter is for people who need medical attention but not a hospital; it is for people who are incontinent, oxygen dependent, in wheel-chairs, or in need of a minimum level of nursing care. There were 278 evacuees there when I left this morning and 128 volunteer workers which included doctors, nurses, social workers, respiratory therapists, electricians, guards, police, clerical staff—and others I can’t even think of right now.

I have been up for over 24 hours straight, but I must write this before I can sleep. I want to remember this experience and so I will put this record in my journal. I must write down some of the stories of the victims. The people we saw were still in shock. Their faces were like a stiff mask. Their eyes would frequently widen involuntarily as the horror replayed itself in their minds. They wept. They wanted to tell their stories---over and over and over. It is important to let them. It allows their brain to process the information and try to make sense of what has happened.

The first man I saw was Thomas. I don’t know his age but he was a retired black man and had been at home with his 86 year-old dad. Thomas’ sisters had been the caregivers but they were evacuating before the hurricane and dad didn’t want to leave. So the sisters took him to Thomas’ house and dropped him off. Thomas has only one kidney and is on dialysis treatment three times a week. So he is a sick man himself. During the hurricane, Thomas had been laying on his bed. He got up to check on his dad and the floor was wet. By the time he got to his dad the water had risen considerably. It was coming in the house extremely fast. His house was only one story, but he had a ladder to the attic. Thomas had to haul his dad up the stairs. When they got to the top, the water level was right behind them and still rising. It was pitch black in the attic. The dad fell and said, “I’m in the water.” He had fallen through the hole they had just come up through. Thomas reached down into the water and just barely grabbed his dad’s shirt collar as he was starting to float away.

Thomas kept a hammer in the attic. He hammered a hole in the roof. But when he tried to climb onto the roof, it was too hot. He poured water from a pan on to the roof to cool it down. He had no shoes on and couldn’t stand up on the roof because of the heat. The roof got too hot to stay on so he would alternate being there and going back in the attic where there was about a three square foot floored area not under water. His dad was sitting there as he could not get on the roof. But the heat in the attic was intense coupled with the high humidity of southern Louisiana. So Thomas would go from the roof to the attic and back again. All night he could hear others around him saying, “Help me. Help me.”

He and his dad spent Monday afternoon, Monday night, and most of Tuesday there. They were rescued by helicopter, flown directly to the interstate, where buses and ambulances were waiting to take people to Baton Rouge. His dad had been delirious by the end of their ordeal and Thomas thought he had been taken to the VA Hospital in New Orleans. He didn’t know, and I didn’t tell him, that none of the hospitals there were open. They all had water on the first few floors.

“I had $150,000 home and a 2000 Corvette in the garage. But I didn’t have insurance. I lost everything.” No, Thomas, you didn’t lose everything. You escaped with the prize—two lives. God blessed you richly today.

I met Alice, a sweet, very little, elderly, black lady—possibly in her 60’s or 70’s. Black people age so gracefully and beautifully that you are never sure how old they are. A 40 year old can look 20. All of Alice’s children left town due to the approach of the hurricane. She couldn’t go with them as her husband couldn’t walk and had no wheelchair. Many of the people there were extremely poor. Water began coming up in her house, but she wouldn’t leave her sweetheart. They were fortunate as the water stayed low in their home. “We were in the water for three days,” she said (which wasn’t possible, but it had probably seemed that long to her; I figured maybe 30 hours at the most). They were rescued by boat. Her shoulders at the shelter were covered by a paper blanket as she sat waiting to be triaged. She was shivering and said, “I’m freezing cold.” She had been given a dry shirt but her pants were still wet from the water and smelled strongly of urine. I found her a pair of sweat pants at the shelter supplies area. She was so appreciative, but wouldn’t put them on—“not until I have a chance to clean myself up a little, you know.” She still had such a dignity about her. She and her husband had become separated and she didn’t know where he was. She was carrying everything she had left in the world in a handbag and a small plastic bag. But she trusted God to get her through the rest of her story. He had already brought her through the worst of it.

In times of tragedy, you need to find humor when possible. It helps everyone cope better. Two, black, middle-age sisters came to New Orleans from Atlanta to have “a wild and crazy time”. They didn’t know a hurricane was coming until they arrived Saturday morning. They immediately tried to schedule a flight back to Atlanta but all flights were sold out. They went to their hotel in the downtown area not really knowing how to prepare for what was to come. The hotel lost power quickly as the hurricane approached and so Monday there was no food or services available. Not there---not anywhere in the city. The oldest sister was diabetic and by Tuesday had not had any food for over 24 hours. She was becoming weak and sick. The younger sister, who was a DVM (veterinarian) and a fireball, decided enough was enough. She explained her sister’s condition to the small, remaining hotel staff. The sisters were told they were on their own—there was nothing the hotel could do. There was also a mother and daughter there—the mother in increasing need of her dialysis treatment. The younger sister became loud and obnoxious, ordering the staff to get them help. Probably in an effort to rid themselves of the mouthy, demanding, younger sister, one of the staff found a “passing canoe” into which all four of the ladies were loaded and sent on their way to the Superdome (home of the New Orleans’ Saints football team and an emergency shelter in a disaster).

As life would have it though, the adventure had not yet ended. The canoe tipped over! They fished their possessions out of the water, climbed back in, and finally made it to the Superdome. They were fed MRE’s (meals ready to eat---kind of like military meals in the field). The National Guard came by in huge trucks that could drive through the water (it must not have been too deep as I know those trucks don’t float!). The trucks took them to an area where a helicopter picked them up and flew them to an area where they could be bussed to Baton Rouge.

They smelled like sea water and when one of them opened the carry-on bag she had managed to rescue, everything inside was dripping wet and smelled like dirty sea water, too. The oldest sister was near to having a panic attack because of all the stress. Since they were not familiar with anything about Baton Rouge, I encouraged them to either call the airlines directly or get a family member in Atlanta to do it and change their reservations so they could leave from the Baton Rouge airport, hopefully today. Then they could get a cab to take them to the airport which was only about 15 miles away from our shelter. I encouraged them to look on the bright side. They both were alive and they had certainly got their money’s worth for having “a wild and crazy time in New Orleans”.

I also met Rose and Timothy, an elderly white couple, possibly in their 70’s or 80’s. They had lived in a two-story house with a cat and a Chihuahua. On the day of the hurricane, water started pouring in the house. As in the story of Thomas, this likely happened during the time when the tidal wave hit. As Rose and Timothy hurried up the stairs of their home, the water was right behind them the whole way. They reached the second story and the water kept coming up. They were able to climb out a bedroom window onto the roof with the dog. They had been unable to find the cat. They sat there for three hours until dark hoping to be rescued. There were no rescue boats or helicopters out. The wind was still too strong for rescue operations to start.

Rose and Timothy finally crawled back into their house. The water was up to the bottom of their mattress. They lay on the wet bed all night long. Timothy had been in the Korean War and said over there you didn’t really sleep. At night your senses had to be hyper-alert. You listened for the Koreans and sniffed the air. Their diet was heavy in garlic and they had a garlicky body odor about them which you could smell when they got close. On this night, Timothy was once again hyper-vigilant—listening for any sound of rescuers. No one came. The next morning they waited again. Finally the sound of helicopters could be heard. Many of them. Timothy climbed onto his roof. His wife was too weak. A helicopter rescued Timothy. The rescuer had to crawl through the window to get Rose out and the dog she would not let go of. They were airlifted to the levee near Jackson Barracks which was also underwater. Another helicopter airlifted them to the interstate where a sort of receiving area had been set up and survivors were brought there awaiting bus or ambulance transport to Baton Rouge.

I met them about 3:00 am. I had noticed them still sitting in the triage area after others were done. Their records had been misplaced and I was able to facilitate them being found and the couple was taken care of. They had a daughter near Lafayette but wouldn’t let me call her as it was the middle of the night. (They were really in a state of shock and couldn’t think of anything at this point.) I saw them several hours later after their wounds had been treated. I offered again to use my cell phone and call their daughter. Rose had a little difficulty remembering the number, but at 6:15 am we finally reached their tearful daughter. She and a brother had been calling hospitals since Monday trying to find their parents. Rose cried for the first time when she heard her daughter’s voice. The daughter was still crying when I took the phone to let them know where to come to find them. I thanked God for allowing me to help them.

A side note here. A number of the LSU students wanted to help out. They came down and stayed outside of the shelter with people’s animals and cared for them as, of course, animals are not allowed in the shelter. I am an animal person and thought this was such a wonderful service for them to give. People who had lost everything but still had their pets felt life could still go on.

This was my success story of the day. I wish all stories could have had a happy ending. But they didn’t. One lady cried as she said her family had refused to help her. Yes—I know there is always a lot of bad history in families, but does there not come a time when you can forget and just reach out to help someone in need? She had called her brother to say she was in a shelter and needed help. He had hung up on her.

One lady had been on a roof with her brother. The water level was up to the bottom of the roof. She saw him fall off the roof and drown. People sat on their roofs for hours and watched their possessions float out of windows or down the streets. They watched as neighbors houses burned and then collapsed inward into the water. Many of the survivors, if not most, lost their beloved pets. I wonder today how many bodies will be found in attics once the water recedes; ie. people who were not able to break through the roofs of their home to be rescued. It is unmercifully hot in attics in Louisiana in summer. We can only stand to be in ours for a couple minutes at a time when necessary to go up there.

Those who are not here to witness the devastation cannot imagine it. It is far worse than images on TV or newscasters can portray. How can you imagine a whole city like New Orleans being ordered to evacuate? How can you imagine the whole city being nearly covered by water? How can you comprehend that now there are NO jobs there? There are NO homes. There are No stores. People are without money, food, and water. The victims are walking around in a state of shock. The task of supplying the needs of all these people is monumental. I saw a small percent of that last night. It was overwhelming to me how all this can be dealt with. And we only saw 278 of the victims—in a metropolis of a million people.

I thanked my Heavenly Father many times during the night and again when I got home today that my family has been spared from the destruction of many natural events over the years. We have been in areas hit by earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, fires, and hurricanes and we have always been protected. What a blessing we too often take for granted. I just so much want to give to others and help them through their trials of life. I was amazed and disheartened to find out that many of the team members of which I am a part refused to come help at the center. They, in fact, were rude to the person calling to let them know their team needed to be at the shelter for the next shift saying they would not go. How can they watch the same news I watch and not have their hearts softened? How can they be so selfish to sit in their air conditioned homes with clean water and plenty of food, money in the bank, a job to go to, a family around them, pets to love—and not want to give something in return for their blessings? I will never understand them.

I thank Heavenly Father for the privilege I had of working at the shelter last night. I was also privileged to work with a wonderful group of other volunteers. I was so impressed with the caring attitude of every one of them. I never saw one incident where any worker was short tempered or rude. They were a loving group of people. The nurses and doctors were overworked and understaffed. Still, they took time with each patient and listened to their needs. I was blessed to have been a part of that. Out of a catastrophe, out of devastation, blossomed a rose. I got to be one of the petals.


Licensed Clinical Social Worker"

09/01/2005 09:22:15 AM · #2
09/01/2005 09:25:20 AM · #3
omg this is so beautiful to read and cry over... my thoughts and prayers are with the families that have been touched by Katrina. My Thanks are for the people who search for survivors, the people who take them to safety, the Doctors, Nurses, Social Workers, Volunteers, friends, Family and complete Strangers who help those who need help because of Katrina. God Bless you all.

Thank you for sharing this!!!

Message edited by author 2005-09-01 09:26:13.
09/01/2005 09:50:51 AM · #4
Thanks for this...what a fantastic writer she is!
09/01/2005 10:15:26 AM · #5
take that and multiply it by 5,6,7 HUNDRED THOUSAND and you start to get the picture...

incredible post, thanks for sharing!
09/01/2005 10:17:48 AM · #6
I will admit, I've seen some of the pictures and read some of the reports, but this account is the first that has really moved me to tears.

I cannot imagine . . .
09/01/2005 10:26:06 AM · #7
I'm without words... only tears and an extreme feeling of helplessness. I just cannot fathom how something like this can happen here, how there are so many lost, stranded and without any information or help. I cannot even begin to imagine. I'm heartbroken.
09/01/2005 10:28:28 AM · #8
my heart goes out to all those ravaged by katrina.
you are in my prayers.
09/01/2005 10:45:03 AM · #9
Thank you all for reading my mother's account. I am across the country and despite the globalization of the news it brings it all into perspective on a personal level.

I cannot imagine how many people are displaced and still looking for loved ones. You are all in my prayers.
09/01/2005 10:57:06 AM · #10
Thank you for sharing this!
09/01/2005 11:34:18 AM · #11
Words fail me after reading this. I have been near tears for the past few days, this spilled them over. You are the true embodiment of a Christian, God has blessed you and those you touch. Thank you for sharing
09/01/2005 12:06:19 PM · #12
I have sympathy with all the people in the south.

My father's business here in Pittsburgh, was flooded last year on Sept. 19 with the reminants of Hurricane Ivan. It caused $250,000 in damage. This was the third time that it was flooded.

You never recover financially and emotionally from a disaster like this. All we received was a low intrest loan from the Small business Administration.

The only positive from the storm was the time My father and I spent "fighting off" the flood waters with our 7 huge pumps. It felt good to be there as a team...Me and him vs. the flood. It was my time to help my dad instead of him helping me. We ran those pumps for 2 days straight without sleep.

Even though our family suffered a huge financial loss, I'll never forget the time I spent with him during the flood.

I hope that everyone that suffered a loss can find something positive in a negative like I did.
09/01/2005 12:19:42 PM · #13
Thank you for your first hand account of these terrible events.You are a Saint.We wish you all well in your greatest time of need.With our hearts Rick & Suzie
09/01/2005 01:52:17 PM · #14

Thank you so very much for sharing this first hand report of what it was like. I'm crying as I type this but I will continue to pray for these dear folks.

I so appreciate Karmat for alerting us to this thread.

09/01/2005 02:28:11 PM · #15
Made me cry too. What a story, and no end to it yet.


Message edited by author 2005-09-01 14:29:43.
09/01/2005 03:14:23 PM · #16
Life is very scary there. Here is an update. My mom has not been able to get back to the shelter because of lock-down

Debbie--I cannot tell you how scary it is here. Dad is going to borrow one of our friends rifles to protect us. People are getting their homes broken into. Women have been pistol-whipped and had their car stolens. Dad just told me that at a gas station near our house, a woman was just robbed at gunpoint. Thugs have come from New Orleans and are trying to establish themselves in Baton Rouge. Thugs are at the shelters! I heard that earlier today there was a near riot at the Centroplex (now a "general" shelter) and police with rifles were called in. The surrounding buildings are all in a lock-down. Streets in and out of the area have been closed off. Police are patrolling the area. One family down here had a bunch of men trying to break in their home while they were in it eating dinner! The father fired his rifle at them and they left. It is like a city gone crazy. It is extremely scary. And it will probably get worse. Talk about the last days! We constantly have to pray for our personal safety. Mom
09/01/2005 03:51:17 PM · #17
It was the best of times.
It was the worst of times.

Odd how an event like this could bring out such polarization of the human nature. :(
09/01/2005 07:56:39 PM · #18
Debbie, thanks for the update.
09/06/2005 05:34:31 PM · #19
Thank you for sharing this... It's extremely moving to hear these first-hand stories relayed by such a beautiful, generous soul. May God continue to bless you and your family. My prayers are with them and everyone affected by this tragedy.
09/08/2005 12:09:29 AM · #20
Some more from Debbie's Mother.....

Update from my mom:

Could it really only be a week since I last worked at the shelter? I was scheduled to work at the temporary hospital that had been set up out on Airline Highway, but when I got there, they told me it had been closed down and would reopen the next day as a walk-in clinic. The temporary hospital had only been open two or three days and then closed; it gives you a little bit of the feel of the disorganization down here. People are really trying their best, but it is a new experience for everyone involved, and sometimes it just has to be trial and error to see what really works. So I was sent back to the LSU fieldhouse special needs shelter which is where I had worked last week.

I met Joseph and his nephew. Joseph is a black male probably in his sixties. The nephew may have been in his early thirties. Joseph had his left hand and arm thickly bandaged along with a finger on his right hand. As we talked, he still had a look of fear and unbelief in his eyes. On the day of the hurricane, Joseph had been at his nephew’s house. They were in an area where there was flooding, but not “up to the rooftops flooding” as in other areas. They eventually walked about six blocks to Joseph’s house where the water was not as high. They stayed there seven days as they had food and bottled water. They could hear frequent gun shots outside. At one point, thugs tried breaking into the house through a window. Joseph and the nephew fought them off, but that is how Joseph sustained his injuries. On the day of their rescue, ambulances were driving up and down the streets looking for victims and the two men were taken to safety. “I’m a changed man”, Joseph said. “I used to drink a lot, but no more. I’ve turned my life over to God.” Promises made under stress are often not kept. But for some of these people who had never-to-be-forgotten experiences, you wonder if maybe they will be changed forever.

Marie was an 86 year-old, white female who was there with her son who looked to be mid-fifties. He had lived in Chalmette (near the eye of the hurricane) and his mother had a home in an adjoining parish. Both of their homes were destroyed. They had gone together to a hotel near the Superdome before the storm. They often stayed there when there was a hurricane threat. Their room was on the 10th floor, but during the hurricane, all the guests had been required to go to the 3rd floor and sit in the hallways. They were there for seven hours while the storm wreaked havoc on the city. They stayed at the hotel for two more days. Of course, no services were available. Finally they were told they would have to leave as the water was beginning to rise in that area. They were able to drive out of the city, but the water was nearly up to the top of the tires on his car. He worried about the car stalling, but it didn’t. The police directed him the few blocks to the interstate where he could evacuate from. They went to a friend’s home in Gonzales (just south of Baton Rouge) and stayed for two days. While there, he fell and hurt his knee and had to come to the special needs shelter for treatment. His mother came with him. A friend of his in Maryland contacted him and offered to let him and his mother come stay with her. Mom didn’t want to go, though. She had lived her whole life in Louisiana and had never been on a plane. They had no family and her only other option was to go to a nursing home. She eventually decided to go with her son. I saw them leave the shelter early this morning on their way to the airport. My heart went out to her. How awful to be 86 and forced out of the area you have lived your whole life in, out of a hot, humid climate that you knew well, away from the culture you have loved, and have to live in a northern, cold climate in a culture you will never truly be part of because of your age. And then to know you may die before ever getting to return to that which you so loved in another lifetime.

Arthur was a 56 year-old black man who was there with his 83 year-old dad. Their home, too, was underwater in New Orleans. He had a sister who had been in northern Mississippi during the storm but her home was in Slidell (which was also in the eye of the hurricane). She had lost her home, too. Arthur had been the caretaker for dad for a number of years. Dad seemed to have some kind of dementia, but was a very sweet man; he smiled and asked me if I was doing OK. The sister was driving over to pick up Arthur and dad and then they were all going to drive to San Antonio. It would take them several days due to dad’s condition—he was unable to travel for long periods. They would try and rebuild their lives there.

While the stories of victims I saw this time were less dramatic than the ones I saw last week, I saw what many of the long-term effects of the hurricane would be on the victims. Their whole way of life has been disrupted. That is such an easy sentence to write but there is almost an inability for most of us to really comprehend what that means. It is having to build a new life (not just a place to live, but finding a new doctor, dentist, grocery store, church, friends), finding missing family members, finding a job, figuring out how you will survive until you get some money, maybe relocating to an entirely different state or culture. And for many, it is also a matter of taking care of all those who depend on you for the above things. And all of these things would have to be done ASAP. It is absolutely overwhelming. Two weeks ago your life was “normal” and you would never have dreamed this would be possible.

Scott was a 51 year-old black male who had survived in his mom’s home for eight days even with two feet of water in the house. He had previously lived with his mother and a brother who were both in wheel chairs. A sister had picked the mother and brother up and they had left before the storm, but he had no idea where they had gone. It was unclear why he didn’t go with them. He seemed to be borderline mentally retarded. But he had kept himself alive for those eight days. He kept talking about his sister’s “big, bad dog” that he was supposed to be taking care of. With all the water in the house and yard, he had opened the yard gate and let the dog out. (I had visions of this “big, bad dog” prowling the streets of New Orleans.) Scott knew he had to leave the house so left out a big bag of dog food and a big tub of water in case the dog came back. Scott was rescued by a helicopter and taken to an area to be bused to Baton Rouge. We checked a number of different lists of refugees and could not find his mom and brother on any of them. This was another huge problem. Many people were not getting registered at the shelters and it will probably be awhile before they are all found and reunited with loved ones. What will happen to Scott in the meantime? I don’t know. Probably he will be sent to another shelter, maybe many states away.

The most interesting person I talked with on this shift was not at the shelter. We received a call for a psychiatrist to go to the Police Training Academy. They were housing displaced policeman from New Orleans. We did not have an available psychiatrist so I went as I am a mental health professional. I visited with Nick for an hour. He was a black male and had been with the police department in New Orleans for almost 30 years. He had been in New Orleans with his unit for the past eight days. All of his men had lost their homes. Fortunately, their families had all been evacuated before the storm. But what Nick and his fellow officers endured for eight days was incredible. They had assisted at the Superdome and at the Convention Center. When the policeman had been shot in the head, his unit was called in to assist. They had to walk around bodies floating in the water which were decomposing. They had tried to stop looters. He said they often couldn’t see the looters. “We could hear gunfire, but because of the way sounds were echoing down there, you couldn’t tell where the shots were coming from”. Nick had a 10 month-old puppy that he had put in the kitchen on the morning of the hurricane. “Now my house is under 30 feet of water. She was such a pretty dog.” He and his fellow officers slept in their cars and siphoned gas from abandoned cars to keep their own cars going in the limited areas where driving was even possible.

Nick met President Bush on the latter’s first visit to New Orleans after the hurricane. Nick told the president, “We will not leave until our job is done”. The president commended him for his diligence and said “I will send you help.” True to his word, the next day help started rolling in. Nick said not one person of his unit left or quit (it has been said that one third of the New Orleans police force quit as they were getting no support; there was no ability to even communicate with each other). He said none of his female officers ever cried. “I had to keep everyone focused. They didn’t like me before—I didn’t care if they didn’t like me now. I had to keep them focused so they didn’t have a chance to think about what was really happening to all of us. We had a job to do.” He said it was surreal—“It was like watching everything happening on a large screen TV—but you were in it and couldn’t get out”. “It was like something Biblical,”he said widening his arms in an expressive gesture. “I kept expecting to look up and see Moses parting the waters!” His unit was finally relieved of their duties on Tuesday morning—eight days after the storm. “We lost the city”, he said with tears in his eyes. No Nick, you didn’t lose the city—it was taken from you by what insurance companies call “an act of God”.

Nick said one of the hardest things was hearing the news. They could listen to news reports on their radios and it was disheartening to constantly hear that the New Orleans police were not getting the situation under control. He said he and his officers gave it everything they had, but it was an overwhelming situation.

A young black female maybe in her 20’s was brought to the fieldhouse on a stretcher in restraints. She was crying and screaming and had been combative. She was delusional (which means she was out of touch with reality). The ambulance personnel knew she had come out of New Orleans but knew nothing else about her. She kept saying she had to get home and feed her kids. She didn’t know her name. We wondered: Did she really have children? Were they home alone? Where? We had NO information about her. The doctor was going to order her medicine. “Are you pregnant?” he asked. “Yes—three months.” Was she? We didn’t know. We had no pregnancy tests there. The doctors finally decided it was worth the risk to give her medication and calm her down and hopefully reduce her delusional state. These were tough times for doctors, too.

Hurricane Katrina is said to have caused the worst natural disaster America has ever experienced. When earthquakes have hit foreign countries, I have always wished I could go help the survivors. Last year when the tsunami hit Asia, I wanted so much to be able to go and help the people cope with their losses. I knew that was impossible as I couldn’t even speak the language! But this time—I was in the right place at the right time. This time I could help. It has been one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

09/08/2005 12:21:43 AM · #21
Nathan, Thanks so much for getting this update to us. I feel as if I know Debbie's mother and my thoughts and prayers have been with her and others. You, Debbie and her mother have allowed us to feel a deep connection with each of these people. Thank you.
09/13/2005 08:20:27 AM · #22
A friend sent me this:

Please keep in mind, this story was written for the October 2004 edition of National Geographic Magazine.

It was a broiling August afternoon in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Big Easy, the City That Care Forgot. Those who ventured outside moved as if they were swimming in tupelo honey. Those inside paid silent homage to the man who invented air-conditioning as they watched TV "storm teams" warn of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Nothing surprising there: Hurricanes in August are as much a part of life in this town as hangovers on Ash Wednesday.

But the next day the storm gathered steam and drew a bead on the city. As the whirling maelstrom approached the coast, more than a million people evacuated to higher ground. Some 200,000 remained, however—the car-less, the homeless, the aged and infirm, and those die-hard New Orleanians who look for any excuse to throw a party.

The storm hit Breton Sound with the fury of a nuclear warhead, pushing a deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. The water crept to the top of the massive berm that holds back the lake and then spilled over. Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level—more than eight feet below in places—so the water poured in. A liquid brown wall washed over the brick ranch homes of Gentilly, over the clapboard houses of the Ninth Ward, over the white-columned porches of the Garden District, until it raced through the bars and strip joints on Bourbon Street like the pale rider of the Apocalypse. As it reached 25 feet (eight meters) over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it.

Thousands drowned in the murky brew that was soon contaminated by sewage and industrial waste. Thousands more who survived the flood later perished from dehydration and disease as they waited to be rescued. It took two months to pump the city dry, and by then the Big Easy was buried under a blanket of putrid sediment, a million people were homeless, and 50,000 were dead. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.

When did this calamity happen? It hasn't—yet. But the doomsday scenario is not far-fetched. The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the nation, up there with a large earthquake in California or a terrorist attack on New York City. Even the Red Cross no longer opens hurricane shelters in the city, claiming the risk to its workers is too great.

"The killer for Louisiana is a Category Three storm at 72 hours before landfall that becomes a Category Four at 48 hours and a Category Five at 24 hours—coming from the worst direction," says Joe Suhayda, a retired coastal engineer at Louisiana State University who has spent 30 years studying the coast. Suhayda is sitting in a lakefront restaurant on an actual August afternoon sipping lemonade and talking about the chinks in the city's hurricane armor. "I don't think people realize how precarious we are,"
Suhayda says, watching sailboats glide by. "Our technology is great when it works. But when it fails, it's going to make things much worse."

The chances of such a storm hitting New Orleans in any given year are slight, but the danger is growing. Climatologists predict that powerful storms may occur more frequently this century, while rising sea level from global warming is putting low-lying coasts at greater risk. "It's not if it will happen," says University of New Orleans geologist Shea Penland. "It's when."

Is this unbelievable or what?? It IS in that edition of National Geographic!

One thing they didn't predict though, the Bush administration would find a fall guy: //news.bostonherald.com/national/view.bg?articleid=102281
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