Friday, September 09, 2005

More on Katrina- Another Gunflint Connection

Just received the following article from Tim Young's, co-owner of Youngs Island on Poplar Lake. Tim, his wife Lois, their daughter Jenny Schroedel, husband John and daughter Anna Pepper just happen to be in New Orleans the day before Katrina struck. They were on river boat tour. This is their story. From Focus on the Family magazine

Escaping Katrina by Jenny Schroedel

“You have no idea how bad it is in New Orleans,” my brother said as we
gazed up at the star-filled Mississippi sky with three-year-old Anna between us.

“Tell me,” I said, “But chose words carefully as to not frighten little
“Well,” he said, “They’ve been herding people onto the freeways
because they’re still dry. It’s so hot. And ...” He trailed off, realizing how
quickly words become nightmares.
Our boat was winding slowly up the
Mississippi, through forested areas thick with quiet broken only by the cry of
crickets and cicadas. Our thoughts followed the snaking river back toward the
Gulf, to the devastated city we left just days before, in a grind of traffic as
the evacuations began.

We’d spent three days exploring New Orleans, dipping beignets into
coffee with chicory, eating oysters fried in jalapeño butter, rumbling through
the Garden District in rickety streetcars and listening to curbside Blues while
Anna danced. I awed at the French and Spanish architecture and complained about
the air quality -- swampy and smelling of diesel fuel -- in that stinking,
sinking, glorious city.

To walk in New Orleans was to wilt. We stayed a block from Bourbon
street, where people sipped “Hurricanes” from plastic cups, peeking into bars
and strip joints. New Orleans is also the Voodoo capitol of the United States.
Perhaps not coincidentally, on our first day there, we watched a police officer
pull a stiff dead rooster out of his trunk.
“You have a chicken,” my husband

“It is a weird story,” the officer replied.

Saturday morning, I woke before Anna and John and snuck out for coffee.
The shuttered shops were beginning to open and the air was faded and yellow,
like sheets crumpled from sleep. A woman leaned into a car. I heard the word
“evacuate,” but I didn’t make the connection.
We were scheduled to leave
that evening for a seven-day riverboat cruise. As we lugged our bags through the
front doors of our hotel, a woman stopped me. “How did you get a flight out of
* * *
We were grateful to escape New Orleans, but steamboats
certainly aren’t the fastest way to go. Our boat traveled away from Katrina at 8
MPH. The numerous curves in the Mississippi and the heavy barge traffic made the
journey even slower, although the crew was confident that we would make it far
enough north to be spared the brunt of the storm.

Our rooms did not have televisions, but we did have access to CNN. On
Saturday night my parents’ radio stopped working. Early Sunday morning they were
startled awake with these words: “Do not panic, but you must evacuate
immediately.” They bolted out of bed, thinking the message had come over the
boat’s PA system, only to realize that they were listening to a clip of
Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco speaking to the residents of New Orleans.

On Katrina’s eve, John tucked Anna in, and I sat in a rocker on the
front deck with a Walker Percy book that I could not open, beside a blind man
named Bob, his wife Niki and his guide dog.
As the sun set over the
Mississippi, a balmy breeze teased the surface of the river.
As the sky grew
darker the wind picked up, causing the flags onboard to swat and stutter,
flinging insects into our faces.

“Those are big, dead bugs,” I told him.

“Hmmm,” he said. “Well at least they’re dead.”

When the wind pushed a piece of wrought iron furniture across the deck,
the dog crawled between my rocker and Bob’s. It was time to turn in.

As I reached for the door handle, I saw a royal blue moth under it,
each wing as large as my daughter’s outstretched palm, dotted with four caramel
tears. We are also fragile and exquisite -- sometimes blind -- especially on the
eve of a storm.

Early Monday morning, our boat wedged itself into the bank at Natchez,
Miss. Although we’d been traveling since Saturday night, we were not as far away
from New Orleans as I had imagined we'd be -- by car our two-day journey would
have taken only three hours and 13 minutes.

That morning the wind yanked the trees and water poured onto the decks,
seeping into our cabin. The boat’s satellite had been damaged, knocking out the
three televisions on board and cutting off our Internet connection. Our cell
phones stopped working and we hadn’t seen a newspaper for days.

John and I decided to go into town to search out a television. As we
climbed the bank, I struggled to steady myself. I didn’t realize the winds were
moving at 75MPH. I told the shuttle driver I was scared.

“How ‘bout this?” he said. “If I pull over and start running, you start
running too.”
* * *
Eighty percent of the boat’s crew was from New
Orleans. Somehow, they managed to keep pouring drinks, clearing tables and
turning down beds even when they couldn’t reach family members after the levees
broke. As more news leaked onto the boat, grief was palpable.
afternoon, John took Anna to the boat's bar for popcorn, but the bartender was
crying, trying to jot down a phone number. Anna came back empty-handed and in
tears. I’d like to think she was upset because the bartender was sad, but more
likely she was just crying over popcorn.
* * *
On the taxi ride back from
O’Hare I was a little surprised to see that Chicago’s trees and buildings were
still standing. It seemed inappropriate for them to show off like that. When we
arrived at our curb, my husband told the taxi driver that we’d come out of New
Orleans just before Katrina.

“It breaks my heart,” he said, “I can’t watch the news anymore.” My
husband handed him some money. He looked at the bills in his hand. “Whatever you
can pay is fine,” he said.

We came home hungry, and John went for a pizza. He passed a woman
conversing with a row of newspaper boxes. “I just can’t help,” she yelled back
at the photos from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Meanwhile, Anna and I started to unpack. The New York Times was waiting
for me. I set down my bags to stare at a photo from the Louis Armstrong
International Airport, which had been turned into a hospital and morgue. Sick
people lay prone on the conveyor belt where I’d retrieved my luggage just 10
days before.

It’s tempting to feel helpless in the wake of Katrina. But yesterday I
saw a sign written in a child’s wobbly handwriting: “Lemonade 50 cents -- for
Hurricane relief.” A neighbor tells me that there were three humanitarian
lemonade stands in our neighborhood.

These children know the secret that might just pull us through, in the
months (and years) to come: concrete acts of kindness are survival, for all of
us. Just as floodwaters can push through a levee, empathy, action and prayer can
carve a way through Impossible.

Still, we have no vocabulary to express what we’ve seen, only grief and
rage, only hearts that can break open and expand and then break open again. I
hope they can expand as much as they can break.

Copyright © 2005 Jenny Schroedel. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Help Hurricane Victims Focus on the Family has created a secure donation page to receive aid for those who have been affected by hurricane Katrina. We are forwarding every dollar donated on this page to relief organizations working with victims along the Gulf Coast.


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