09 September 2005

What It's Like in New Orleans

My friends Jimmy & Sharise were visiting family in Minnesota days before they even knew a hurricane was headed toward the Gulf coast. As a result, they were unable to board up their home to protect it. After seeing what happened to the city, it doesn't look like boarding up a home would have helped much. Here is a brief excerpt that Sharise sent out to friends and family of what they found when they returned to their home to salvage what they could.

"What we found was a stinking cesspool that used to be our home. Jimmy and I decided we couldn't sit in Minnesota and not know the condition of our place. We flew to Austin, borrowed his Dad and his Dad's truck, bought supplies, and drove to Baton Rouge. My hospital, Ochsner, is fully functioning and needed people to come back, so we drove behind the shuttle from the Baton Rouge clinic to N.O. We were headed to the hospital, but had to see our place first. Our neighborhood had quite a bit of water. Jimmy and I put on chest-high waders before entering our neighborhood and started walking carefully to our house. The water was 2 inches lower than the top of my waders at a few spots. It was a long, slow walk to our place, where we found my car in the driveway with the filthy water up to the door handles. Inside, our main level had water about thigh-high and it smelled like rot, burned sulfur, choking, awful in stagnant water, stagnant air. It isn't even water, but a viscous chemical fluid that had eerie swirls of color on the surface but was pure black just underneath. We took pictures for insurance as we went in. The walls showed the water level had been about a foot higher than what we found, and mold was already grown about a foot above the highest water point. We started taking what we could possibly save upstairs. Our Very Important Papers (ie. car titles, passports, mortgage) were the consistency of sawdust when Jimmy's gloved hand tried to pull them out of a drawer. They were out of the water but had been soaked, and were no longer Very Important. It was pretty creepy. My photo albums were in the water and as Jimmy and I walked and stirred the water some of the pictures floated to the surface. They were discolored and the ink was lifting off the paper but staying in the image. Baby pictures, family and vacation pictures came up and then were taken back down. My confirmation certificate came up and then sank, and some of Jimmy's things. It was like our lives were flashing before our eyes, and we were having to witness the death of these things that we only kept because they were our history or our most important things.
The good news! Our wedding pictures, negatives, scrapbook (I was working on it), were upstairs. I pulled my wedding dress from the disgusting chemical wet and Jimmy's Mom is working on finding a place to clean/restore it if possible. We got our honeymoon watercolor, my baby blanket and baptism dress, jewelry, christmas ornaments/decorations, and my beloved fridge magnets from most of the places I've traveled to, as well as two quilts (a wedding quilt and another) made by my Aunt all out. We had plastic bins in the garage floating in the water but they were miraculously dry inside, so these things we put in garbage bags and then in the bins and floated them out. The upstairs looked untouched but the smell permeated. Our mountain bikes were in the bed of Jimmy's truck (also a total loss) in the garage so they were muck-free and we lifted them to the upstairs. We could only make two trips to the house and back before we were out of time and energy, I had to get to the hospital to work 7 p.m.- 7 a.m. I asked Jimmy to get these few things back to Austin for cleaning and air conditioning. The plan is to hopefully get back there again with a truck later this week to salvage whatever else we can.
Then we have to leave the rest. That's the bad news. Everything in our house is the rest. The downstairs had our bedroom and office, the upstairs had the kitchen/dining, living area and a guest bedroom. The couch and chairs are done, anything fabric will mold. The humidity and mold will take the rest. Hopefully we will be able to get out the upstairs bed frame and dresser, they are antiques. Hopefully I can get the cookbooks, I had a lot of my grandmothers' recipes, but I'm worried the pages will be ruined. I am glad my kitchen is made up of Crate and Barrel, Pampered Chef, and Calphalon, it all can be replaced. My china is a Noritake pattern that has not been discontinued so if we can't get it out we will replace it.
Jimmy has started coordination with the insurance company, sounds like it will be a pure tug-of-war and I'm glad he's willing to take that on. I'm at my hospital, Ochsner, the only one functioning in the area. My unit actually has the same number of patients as we would any other day, and taking care of them is refreshing for my heart and brain. After one more trip to our place, hopefully after the water will be low enough to drive to our house and quickly get out whatever we can, we will leave for Austin and start planning another move. Jimmy's company, Johnson & Johnson, will send us somewhere to help another rep until Jimmy gets assigned to his own territory in January. I'll be leaving my wonderful hospital and job, and we will never return to New Orleans if we can help it."

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