Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gustav evacuation: Saturday night

Posted By on Sun, Aug 31, 2008 at 2:26 AM

JACKSON, MISS. -- I left the Northshore of New Orleans at 4 pm and reached Jackson, Miss. about 7 pm. Not bad. Every car on Interstate 55 seemed to have a Louisiana plate instead of a Mississippi one. This was my companion, Daniel:

click to enlarge Daniel

Daniel was pretty good, but very unhappy. Didn't meow too much. Barfed once.

Kept the radio on WWL-AM until the signal gave out in central Mississippi, around the time that state and parish officials were warning residents of New Orleans' West Bank that evacuation was not only mandatory, but that their homes were likely to be inundated. According to the Times-Picayune, Mayor Ray Nagin said:

"This is worse than a Betsy, worse than a Katrina," he said.

The mayor speculated that Gustav is so fierce Baton Rouge likely will experience 100 mph winds.

"You need to be scared and you need to get your butts out of New Orleans right now," Nagin said.

Nagin said he expects Gustav to "punch holes in the Harvey Canal," which could cause the West Bank to become a bathtub.

The West Bank has 8-foot-high to 10-foot-high protection, he said. Gustav's storm surge may be 15 to 24 feet high.

I have many friends on the West Bank (including some Gambit employees) and I am trying not to be sick right now. (If you are reading this, please check in in the comments.)

More under the cut, including some of the people I've met in the motel that will be my home for the next few days...

There was a little boy riding a Razr scooter around the parking lot. About five. Wearing purple Crocs. "That's my daddy's truck!" he said proudly.

His daddy was on the cellphone, sounding agitated. His mother was standing by their truck, not unloading it. Looked like there was no room at the inn.

"You been in that truck all day?" I asked him. He nodded, spinning round and round on his scooter, never taking his eye off the cold Coke I was finishing. "We've got water," his father called to him.

"We don't have ice," his mother snapped. "All the water is hot."

I followed them into the lobby, where Dominique, an angel dressed as a desk clerk, was trying to find them a place somewhere, anywhere. "You need ice?" I asked the mother, and she nodded. I took her back to the ice machine. She thanked me.

"You get a room?" I asked.

"I think they're finding us one in Tuscaloosa, Alabama," she said.

The little boy had dropped his scooter and was guzzling cold water.

"You from New Orleans?" I asked, and she nodded and her eyes welled up, and I didn't ask her name or to take her picture. Instead I said "Good luck," and she wished me luck, too, and she and her family headed back to the parking lot to, I guess, start the drive to Tuscaloosa.

click to enlarge Parker family

This is Earl and Claire Parker of Metairie, Louisiana, along with Pokey II. They are staying across the hall from me.

Metairie is the nearest suburb to New Orleans, in Jefferson Parish, separated from the city by the 17th St. Canal that so famously and tragically breached during Katrina. The Parkers lived in an area called Lake Villa. They were not able to come home for months after Katrina.

Their house was destroyed.

"It would've been fine if Aaron Broussard's people hadn't abandoned the pumps," said Earl. Many people in Metairie blame Broussard, the president of Jefferson Parish, for their homes being destroyed -- another unnatural disaster of the storm. Read about the Broussard's alleged dereliction of duty during Katrina.)

"And when we did, everything we owned was in a pile," Claire said. "Thirty-five feet across and ten feet high. It had been gutted."

She began to cry, right there in the hall, and I told her that of course this time would be different, and neither of us believed it but you can always hope.

I asked the Parkers if I could take a picture of them with Pokey and that made them smile.

Just then, down the hall, came an amazing vision: a handsome couple, him in an immaculate white suit, her in a bright orange dress with a jeweled tiara.

"You two look too nice to be evacuating," I said.

They were. They were Trini and Lynnita Balu, and they had just been married.

"Sorry all of us raggedy-ass New Orleans people are ruining your honeymoon," I told them.

"Oh, no, we're sorry," Lynnita told me, looking embarrassed.

And Mrs. Parker started crying all over again. "No, no, don't be sorry," she said. "It's wonderful. Life goes on. It must."

Best wishes for a wonderful life, Lynnita and Trini:

click to enlarge Balu Honeymoon

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