Nine years and one day ago
I had not forgotten yesterday was the ninth anniversary of when Katrina slammed into Louisiana and Mississippi. It’s just I have not been able to sit down long enough and blog about it.
I was hoping to save most of the details of my experience with Katrina for 2015, the 10th anniversary of the storm. However, one year is too long to go, so I’ll go into the story now, since the blog only started in June.
I learned about Katrina when it formed off the coast of Africa Tuesday, August 23. That day, I opted to make a reservation at the Residence Inn near the Shreveport airport. Shreveport is the third largest city in Louisiana, in the northwest corner of the state at the junction of Interstates 20 and 49. I-49 is the major north-south evacuation route in Louisiana, running from I-10 in Lafayette through Alexandria to I-20 in Shreveport. I-10 is the east-west interstate in south Louisiana, and I-20 is the east-west interstate in north Louisiana.
I figured if Katrina did not threaten New Orleans, I could cancel the reservation, since i had until 6 p.m. that Saturday. By then, it would be clear where Katrina would head. I reserved the largest room offered at Residence Inn, a two-bedroom suite with a sleeper sofa, which would give myself and my parents each a place to sleep. It also had two bathrooms and a full kitchen, plus three televisions.
That Wednesday was normal for me. I drove from my home in Arabi to Baton Rouge to cover a volleyball jamboree, picked up dinner at Outback Steakhouse, and drove back to New Orleans. Thursday was also normal, as I covered a football jamboree at Destrehan High School in St. Charles Parish.
The critical day was Friday, August 26.
I went to lunch at a fine restaurant located in the Renaissance Arts hotel on Tchoupitoulas Street. I had a date. A date. Laugh if you must. It was arranged through It’s Just Lunch, a matchmaking service.
After the lunch date, I drove across the Mississippi River to Boutte in St. Charles Parish for another high school football jamboree.
When I checked the latest information on Katrina, my life was altered forever.
The new track, issued at 4 p.m. Central by the Natonal Hurricane Center, had the storm heading straight for New Orleans. I would need my hotel reservation after all. I knew this might very well be the last event I covered in Louisiana.
When the games ended, I drove hurriedly on the Hale Boggs Bridge to cross the Mississippi River, and once I got back to Arabi, I began to pack frantically. I slept a couple of hours, then got up to keep loading and keep loading my Oldsmobile. By time I was done, I could not look out the rear window.
At 7 a.m. the morning of Saturday, August 27, I pulled away from 224 Jaguar Drive for the last time. I didn’t know for sure it would be the last time, but I had the feeling it very well could be. I arrived in Shreveport at noon and went to a Barnes and Noble on Louisiana Highway 1 to access the Internet, since I would not be able to check into the hotel until 3 p.m. After checking in and unloading a few things, I went to Outback for dinner.
The “could be” changed to “would be” by late that afternoon. The storm continued to intensify, and the forecast models moved into agreement that the storm would make landfall near New Orleans.
My parents were holding out hope the storm would not come towards southeastern Louisiana, but they faced reality that afternoon. They took a circuitous route to Shreveport, taking I-10 across Lake Pontchartrain to I-59, which took them northeast to Meridian, Miss. At Meridian, they turned west on I-20, passing through Jackson, crossing the Mississippi River into Louisiana, and going through Monroe before reaching Shreveport just before 7 p.m.
That Sunday, my dad was on the phone with Air Products and Chemicals. My mom was calling her friends and family. I was on the Internet and watching TV. My dad and I went out just before 1 to eat lunch at Whataburger, and we talked like it was going to end the next day. My mother joined us for to dinner at Chili’s. Just after 3, I took a little drive across the state line into Texas just to kill some time.
The next morning, Katrina was battering Louisiana and Mississippi. Just after 8 a.m., I caught wind of a levee breach which was sending water rushing into the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish. Arabi was the first community in St. Bernard when driving from the city along Judge Perez Drive or St. Claude Avenue, so it wasn’t hard to put two and two together.
Game over. Life as I knew was about to change forever.
Shortly after finding out, I called Brenda LeBlanc, the volleyball coach at St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge, and Joe Scheuermann, the baseball coach at Delgado Community College, which at the time was my employer. I told them the Steinle homestead was completely flooded. Then began the e-mails.
The home at 224 Jaguar Drive flooded and was blown down by Hurricane Betsy in 1965. The house was rebuilt and completed in 1966, and my parents bought it for $23,000 in August 1971. Sadly, my parents had just replaced the flooring in the house not one month before Katrina hit. It was sorely needed. My dad also lost his Ford pickup truck to the flood. I stressed to them to drive both cars and follow one another, but they believed naively Katrina would miss New Orleans and we’d go back to life as normal later that week.
We spent Tuesday in Shreveport, watching the horror unfold. The next morning, I left the hotel at 6 a.m. while my parents handled the checkout. I was in Texas before 7 a.m., and by 2 p.m., I was on Interstate 35 north, crossing from Oklahoma into Kansas.
Hello, new life.