‘Off the road, but OK to land’
Note: Mary Sue and Steve Katz are part-time Vail residents whose home in New Orleans was severely damaged and flooded by Hurricane Katrina. They have been traveling back and forth between Vail and New Orleans since the storm. NEW ORLEANS – I would like to think that this trip started off with a symbol of what was to come. Five o’clock in the morning on Sept. 28, en route to the airport, my entire life flashed before me as my husband, Steve, and I skidded off of Interstate 70 between Copper Mountain and Frisco. Luckily Steve and I had just traded driving, and he was able to keep the tires in the direction of the skid – this took all of his strength and concentration. All I saw were the trees, since we were in them and were not sure whether there was a drop off. All of the luggage from the back came to the front, and we had mud inside the car, even though all of the windows were closed. Somehow Steve managed to stop the car along the side of the interstate after missing the signs. I am sure that the entire accident didn’t take long, but to me it seemed forever. It brought back terrible memories of my accident in 1980 when I broke my neck. I obviously survived that ordeal, and I was written up in medical journals because not only did I survive, I wasn’t paralyzed. The difference this time was that I was not hurt and I was aware of what was happening and could reflect quickly. The important stuff is what came to my mind – Steve, the children, family and friends. Amazingly, the rental company picked up its car and the shuttle picked us up and we made our flight to New Orleans. Steve couldn’t understand why I wanted a drink on the first segment of our flight! I knew we had work to do and left it at that!On the plane, I overheard the people in front of us talking. The lady, Fran, was volunteering in Louisiana with the Humane Society of the United States. It so happened that our friend’s dog had been found, and we were going to get him. Seeing Eye dogsOur friend Carlton and his wife are both blind. They have five children and lived in Chalmette, La., which was totally lost and may be returned to marshland.Only one of the children was with them at the time of the storm. They had another friend with them, who was also blind. They were evacuated from their roof to a shelter via boat.
Listening to Carlton talk about getting on the roof is amazing. Some of you may have listened to a piece on CNN Sept. 16, when the sheriff of that area described having two boats and only picking up children. Their boats were filled, and then he saw a blind man on the roof pleading for him to take his child, also. It was several days before Carlton and his wife located all of their children. Their family dog, Moe, was left behind. Moe not only served as a pet but had skills of a Seeing Eye dog.Our daughter, Beryl, had gone online and registered Moe as missing. He was found Sept. 27, having survived with a pack of dogs. He was at a temporary shelter in New Orleans East.Since we don’t have a home anymore and were staying at various friends’ temporary homes, we weren’t sure what to do with Moe once we got him. Carlton and his family had been evacuated to a shelter in Houston, and then with Rita, they were evacuated again. They were not in a position to take Moe immediately. So we were hopeful that the lady on the plane from the Humane Society would be able to help, as she was stationed at Lamar Dixon staging area near Baton Rouge. After explaining the situation to Fran, she thought we would be able to keep Moe there while in town and then take him back to Vail. This was not to be the case, as that staging area had thousands of animals, and there were National Guard troops at the compound trying to prevent pit bulls from being stolen. Lamar Dixon is an arena, and five of the barns were donated for this use. Once an animal was brought into this compound, it was almost impossible to get it out. After much discussion, it was decided Moe would go to Chattanooga, Tenn., with our daughter, Beryl. Possessions on the lawnOur first mission in New Orleans was to retrieve Moe. This was not easy, as we could not exit any ramp in that area. Each was guarded by either the police or the National Guard. There were areas that were still flooded from Katrina and sections reflooded by Rita. Steve drove creatively, and you can’t imagine my reactions, especially since we were just in an accident that morning!Amazingly we found Moe in the parking lot of a Winn Dixie that was being used as a temporary shelter, and looked like a M.A.S.H. unit. Moe wasn’t in bad shape, but it was so sad to see the condition of some of these others animals.So with Moe in tow, we headed to see our house. Steve, driving creatively again, got us into the neighborhood after not being allowed access. We could see that other neighbors had been there, and they’d put their life’s possessions on their front lawns. We met other neighbors, hugged and cried, and tried to speculate on things to come. I had a small list of things that I wanted to try and find on this trip and started my search.
Then we drove to Baton Rouge to stay with friends, Cathy and Buddy. Moe would have to sleep in the car, but that was a step up from where he had been. Early the next morning, we met up with the newlyweds – Beryl and Nathan – and together (with Moe in tow) went back to New Orleans. Nathan had his precious pickup truck, and Steve drove even more creatively to get us to the house.Beryl and Nathan were a wonderful help at the house. We were also meeting the new demolition crew we had hired the day before. The original crew hired on the first trip hadn’t been able to reach the house. It broke my heart watching Beryl try to save some pictures from albums. The albums were nasty and wet, and when she tried to remove photos the colors would smear into nothing. Beryl was wonderful helping me find very important, but nasty documents for my mother. We had to peel them, and set them to dry. A few days before I had woken in the middle of the night realizing that I had all of the notarized documents giving me power for my mother in my desk drawer. Mom is no longer in a mental state to sign anything, and the attorney had recently passed away and all documents were given back to me. I now have the original official documents, and if anyone wants proof they just have to hold their nose and read.After doing whatever we could at my house, and seeing the new crew start the gutting we headed to Steve’s grandmother’s house. There were a couple of pieces there to save and put in storage and luckily we had Nathan’s truck. We went by Steve’s mother’s house to see it completely gutted and everything on the curb. Then off to two different storage units and back to Baton Rouge after a very long day. Shiny, new collarThe following day was more of the same at the house. That afternoon we took Moe on a shopping spree at PetCo in Baton Rouge. Decked in new collar, and a few other accessories, we dropped him off at Buddy and Cathy’s house. Moe won everyone’s heart that met him during these few days.Then Steve and I had a very late dinner before heading to his mother’s temporary house. It reminded us how overcrowded Baton Rouge is with all of the people from New Orleans. Trying to find a place to eat, even very late, that wasn’t an hour wait was difficult. Then the next morning we were off to visit Steve’s grandmother in Pollack, La. It was a little later than we had planned, but we were able to take Mama Ruth out for dinner in Ball, La.
Mama Ruth looked pretty good considering she’ll be 98 soon. She didn’t complain about anything at the home, which I thought amazing. She was the only resident that only takes one pill, and that’s a vitamin! So, we left knowing that she was doing OK and hoping that we’d be able to get her in a facility in New Orleans, where she could be with her sisters.Some get richOn the way back to New Orleans, we stayed in Lafayette, La., with good friends Vivian and Richie at their ‘evacuation’ house. We were able to catch up over an authentic Cajun dinner and left early the next morning. This time we were staying with good friends, Sue and Harold, that were able to move back to their Metairie home in Jefferson Parish. Metairie is attempting to get back to normal. Some restaurants have opened and a few stores and all along the street are help wanted signs. We were told that the waits at these restaurants are hours, and so my friend opted to cook. There were lines everywhere as they are not equipped yet to service the people.Our last morning of our trip, Steve thought we should attempt to bring the tree branches to the front yard so FEMA could take them. Steve was lucky to have only a black eye from the branch that attacked him, and decided we would deal with the rubble in the back yard later.We were told that FEMA is paying a large amount for the removal of debris, and this is being doubly contracted out. I believe that this will be the general way of things – some people will get rich and the people doing the manual labor will make minimal wages.In addition, we heard that the mayor of New Orleans gave pink slips to 3,000 city employees. How can the city return without people running it? I look at the ripple effect of having no employees available or customers, and of businesses and restaurants not being able to function and folding or moving elsewhere, and of people starting new lives elsewhere and not returning. It all makes me wonder about the city’s future. I think that there needs to be a master plan for the rebuilding of New Orleans, and don’t see that. I only see a mayor scrambling with the best of intentions.Back to my first paragraph of symbolism. I think that we are a little off of the road and will land all right. I do believe that this is a trial, and that we will be better and stronger because we have what’s important – each other.Vail, Colorado