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On the 5 yr anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a survivor tells a story of faith

Discussion in 'Off Topic' started by bcweir, Aug 29, 2010.

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    Five year anniversary of the night that changed my life. A Katrina survivor tells his story.

    On August 28, 2005, I was in my old apartment at 3816 Ulloa Street, Apartment 1 (mine is the one that overlooks Tulane Avenue). I remember the day like it was yesterday. The sky was dark and blackened in broad daylight, and the wind was gusting strong. I had no idea I was in my apartment as a resident for the last time. I was a sheriff's deputy at the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office in the House of Detention building. I was experiencing a crisis of faith, as although I had been restored to God's church for nearly three years, my work schedule and my work environment was taking its toll on my spiritually. I hadn't been able to attend Sunday service or fellowship in three weeks, and the spiritually cynical and skeptical law enforcement environment was getting under my skin. I prayed to God that He give me some kind of sign that He was still with me, that He still loved me, and that His grace was still with me, because I honestly didn't feel I was measuring up in even a token fashion.

    I brought only what could fit in my backpack as well as my pillow. The second floor of the House of Detention had been converted into a hurricane shelter for the deputies and their families. Once inside the building, no one was allowed to leave due to the danger from water and wind. None of us had any idea what was going to happen, nor that any of us would not see our homes again for months. When we were taking our shifts providing security on the detention floors three through ten, wind and water was blowing into the hallways. The higher rank supervisors walked down the hallways with shotguns warning the inmates that anyone caught in the hallways would be shot attempting to escape, per state law mandating the handling of escapes during a state emergency. We rotated in and out of our shifts for two days, rationing all food and water supplies. There were 169 civilians, 69 deputies, and around 700 inmates in that same building.

    Unfortunately, what happened two days later is that the backup generators that were providing power to the building after the main power failed ran out of diesel fuel two days later. Worse, the diesel generators were at ground level and UNDERWATER, making it impossible to refuel them without flooding the backup generators with water! Whose bright idea was it to put backup generators on the GROUND LEVEL in an area KNOWN to being a FLOOD PLAIN?!!

    At any rate, once the backup power died, we were completely out of power. No communications, no electronic controls, no power to the doors, no nothing! I was at my duty station on the sixth floor when I saw several of my fellow deputies running down the stairwell to the 2nd floor. My backup, a rookie female deputy (I had been on the job for two years), also ran down the stairs to the second floor. I went down to the first floor as well. The deputies were crowded around the asst. Warden, Captain Pittman, all yelling about how the inmates were panicking and rattling the bars, and that they were quitting, fearing for their lives. Captain Pittman told everyone that we could either turn in our badges, resign right there, and take our places with the other civilians, or go back to our stations and try to prevent escapes and a possible hostage situation from developing as a result. I was just as scared as those other deputies, but I felt a commitment to do the job I was assigned to do. So I asked one of the other deputies to escort me back to the sixth floor. My backup deputy had quit, so I had to man the sixth floor, with 120 screaming, panicking inmates, ALONE. it gets worse. They LOCKED me on the sixth floor and nobody knew where the key was! So I was stranded on the sixth floor with no weapon, no power, no communications, and no way to get help for 12.5 hours if something happened. The inmates started yelling threats, shouting that they hoped I had a weapon, because "I was going to need all six shots against all 120 of them." The inmates couldn't see me, so they couldn't tell if I was armed or not (i wasn't). Instead, I gathered four dry chemical fire extinguishers, a chair, and a broomstick, and told the inmates down each of the four hallways that if I found a single inmate out in that hallway, they'd find out what I had. Nobody called my bluff, things calmed down after I shared with the inmates what little information I knew about what was going on to de-escalate the situation. The next morning, I was relieved by my morning relief 12.5 hours later.

    The rest you people already know. I like to think of it as my trial by fire, my 40 days in the wilderness, my 40 days in the fish story. It was a defining moment in my faith to trust God to carry me through and not give in to my fears. God worked a miracle in the regard that out of the 13 buildings that composed the Orleans Parish jail complex, my building was the only one with no fatalities and no escapes. Considering that the entire city was under 8 to 12 feet of water, we were all evacuated five days later on September 2. The inmates were evacuated to other state facilities, and the deputies and civilians were evacuated first to Houma, then to Baton Rouge.

    By the way, please don't call me a Katrina "victim" or a "Katrina evacuee." It might pass to describe my situation in a generic way, but it doesn't do my faith experience justice. I prefer to think of myself as a Katrina survivor. It's what I am. I survived, not on my own strength, but by relying on God and doing the right thing during a very scary and spiritually challenging time in my life.

    As long as we're talking about labels, I'm no hero either. The real heroes were the men and women who volunteered all over the country to rescue me and others from the folly of the leadership that didn't see fit to plan or evacuate properly for this historic disaster, as well as all of the brave volunteers who came after to help my fellow New Orleanians rebuild their homes and businesses.

    I arrived in Dallas on September 17, 2005, where I have been to this very day. Thank you for sitting through my story, my family and friends, and may God bless you all.

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    Wow. Dude. :(

    Amazing story. Nice to hear you made it out of that ordeal and lived to tell about it. I always admire folks who go through hell like that and come back, and their stories are inspiring and make our little daily issues just that - LITTLE DAILY ISSUES.

    3 years after Katrina hit, in 2007, my daughter and I went on a mission trip to Biloxi, MI for a week to help rebuild houses leveled by the storm. It was a Church youth group trip, my daughters are both members of the group, and we adults went as leaders. What an experience, in many, many ways...not the least of which was seeing what some of those folks were still going through, 3 full years later.

    I was assigned to help rebuild a home owned by an elderly African American woman who had some debilitating medical issues. To make matters worse for her, her 2 grown sons lived with her...full-grown, adult sons who BOTH suffered from some form of Down's syndrome or various learning disabilities. We were there for a week...installing a roof on her house, wrapping her house with plastic 3M wrap, putting in new windows, and other assorted jobs. I learned how to do things I never did before, and learned how to lead a group in these jobs as well.

    While we did this work, this woman and her sons made-do in a FEMA trailer...a 12 by 6 FEMA trailer at that. 3 disabled adults, in a FEMA trailer, with just the basic essentials. That was hard enough to witness. But what really floored me was the fact that this woman was HAPPY :eek:...Happy to be alive, Happy that we were there, just HAPPY!! She was one of the most pleasant, non-bitter women I have ever met in my life, just grateful that we were there helping to rebuild her home. She appreciated each and every one of us and the work we were doing, our little jobs, a week here, then the next group would come as we would leave and work for a week..and so on, and so on, etc.

    At the end of the trip we paid a visit to say goodbye to the woman and her family. And she was just beaming with thanks. She hugged and kissed everyone in our group who worked at her home site, and exclaimed "when y'all come back next year and my house is done, I'm gonna make you a FEAST!". Of course we all said "no, no, you don't have to go through all of that trouble" and she said once again "oh YES, you come back and we will FEAST!!".


    I have yet to get a chance to go back to Biloxi...we haven't had the chance to go back since in the time since Katrina, most of the mission work had been completed, and our mission trips since then have brought us to other sites in need. But I often think of the woman and her sons, and what her home must look like and how her life has been since. This woman made me understand quite clearly how lucky I am...lucky that I have a home around me that hasn't been damaged by a hurricane...lucky that I am healthy (well, relatively for a 52 year old! :cool:)...lucky that my family is healthy as well...and LUCKY indeed that I can afford to drive a BMW.

    God indeed works in strange ways and his messages, while not always obvious, do indeed hit home...

    Thanks for reading...:)
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    Wow. Thanks for sharing your feedback and your own story as well.

    I am happy that we are both survivors. I regret the loss of my E21 though. That car was my first BMW and she will be dearly missed -- buried under 12 feet of water.

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