55 Years Gone
Part 1: It’s Every House; It’s Every Business – –
“It’s not anything like you see in the news,” commented Marietta Battle. “On the news, it’s one house or one business. When you see it in person, it’s every house and every business.”
I met Marietta Battle during the Hurricane Katrina evacuation while staying in Tunica Mississippi, a small town that hugs the Mississippi River about 20 miles south of Memphis. I spent the better part of 2 months there waiting for the all clear signal to return to New Orleans.
Six months later (eight months after the storm), Marietta visited the city and I gave her a driving tour. From the Interstate all she saw was wall-to-wall blue roofs. It wasn’t until she traveled the surface roads did she see the mounds of debris, abandoned buildings, crumbled walls, and over-her-head waterlines on houses. Then there was the smell – something you can’t capture on TV.
If you’ve ever seen any of Matthew Brady’s Civil War photographs of Atlanta after Sherman’s March, you’ve seen New Orleans immediately after Katina.
Hub Hobby opened its doors in 1951. It was in a freestanding, 2-story building located about 100 feet away from the largest drainage pump in the world – a drainage pump that got flooded and was still not working 8 months after the storm. (That’s Hub Hobby in the photo – – dead center – – surrounded by water). The shop had 7 feet of water, its roof ripped completely off, its windows blown out, mold that made it look like a moss cave, and looters: we had it all. It took 3 insurance adjusters 4 hours to inspect the building. Before they were finished, one of them was in tears.
Part 2: Inside The Devils Punch Bowl – –
Twelve years work on Pumping Station Number One – 100 feet from Hub Hobby.
It was supposed to save the city from flooding.
The levees failed and the pumping station flooded.
And 55 years of our work was gone.
In the blink of an eye.
In the flash of a flood.
The first thing we noticed when we first pulled up was that 3 of the 4 picture windows had been broken. Then the eyes drifted toward the roof which had an overhand when we last saw it two months earlier. It was gone – which meant so was the roof.
There used to be about a 3 foot high “wall” around the perimeter of the roof. The front and left hand side wall was gone. There was no sign at all as to where the bricks wound up. Our membrane-roof landed a block away. Right in front of our driveway, we saw a bulge in the sidewalk – – it was the concrete section housing the manhole cover and its chimney. The pressure of the water blew it up through the sidewalk.
The way we normally entered the building was through the steel door on the right, but the lock was frozen. The main entrance – the glass door and windows – were protected by an interior roll-down grate. The roll-down security grate was secured by looping one of the links in the chain over a hold-down. The glass door could be unlocked but the grate couldn’t be raised – – until we broke the only unbroken window to reach in and unhook the secured link.
Once inside, we spent a lot of time climbing: the counters floated, then flipped over, settling on top of each other. Merchandise was piled high and we had to navigate it using flashlights. No lights until we brought in the generators. (We burned up 2 of them over the course of the next 4 months that we stayed in that building.)
Hundreds of Squadron Signal Publications were fused together by the water. Ten Thousand dollars of Osprey Publications swelled in their spin racks. Did you know that books expand when they get wet? It took a while to pry the books out of the rack. Why not just leave the books in the rack, you ask? Do you know how heavy wet books are? And how stinky they can get? Not one book in the shop survived.
Our rotating display cases disintegrated in the water. Every glass counter top broke, as did most of the glass shelves.
Our 3 foot by 5 foot by 6 foot high custom built rocket engine/dope rack/glue rack was toppled and floated, winding up in the middle of the floor. Not to mention all the soggy plastic model kits on the floor.
The water also washed everything off of all of the pegboards.
Since we had no roof, every time it rained, we get flooded from above. It leaked through every light fixture, every piece of duct work, and every sprinkler head. The ceiling started caving in due to the rain about 2 months after we got back. Large chunks of plaster kept falling to the floor.
Sometimes I felt like one of those grubby little characters in a Charles Dickens novel, dressed in tattered clothes with ruffles, a funny hat, and picking through a dust bin. I came close to that image: I was wearing a respirator, haz-mat suit, and hunter’s boots.
Part 3: Blackhawk Rescue – –
Roy Kelly, co-founder of Hub Hobby, did not evacuate for Hurricane Katrina. The morning the storm hit, he was able to call and say that there was no damage to the hobby shop and there was no water in the streets. That changed rapidly and was the last we heard from Roy for a while as almost all lines of communication went down.
Here are excerpts from the journal he kept:
Sunday 8/28/05: Katrina due Monday 8/29
Monday 8/29/05 5:20 am – East wind/ rain gusts
6:00 am – Lost power
10:50 am Jack called – said eye to East of N.O.
2:25 pm Jack called – going to mom’s in S. Carolina
Tuesday 8/30/05 I pulled all fuse blocks outside in knee-high water. Moved stuff into attic
Wednesday 8/31/05 6:00 am Up. Bad situation. Have to leave house & cats behind. Knee-high water in house. I grabbed money, wallet, briefcase, some clothes, but left much important stuff behind. Water outside now about 5’ deep. Neighbor rescued me in rubber raft. Black Hawk lifted me off roof. Got a huge lump on right leg.
Copter dropped us off at bus staging area (Causeway & I-10). I was among first on bus for a hard ride to Denham Springs LA (Near Baton Rouge) to a Gym shelter. Janet & Tim L (son) persuaded me to come to their home for shower & Clean-up. TV broadcast rescue and interview at bus area – many saw & recognized me.
Thursday 9/1/05 Still at Shelter. Met Vickie A (volunteer). She called Rick & Linda. He still wants me to stay at his home.
Friday 9/2/05 Rick arranged a 12:00 Flight (Delta) to Atlanta. Tim L. drove me to airport & saw me off. Nice guy. (Divinity student, Baptist)
Rick picked me up at airport, wheel-chaired me to his SUV, drove to his beautiful home.
Sunday 9/4/05 Resting at Rick’s Home
Monday 9/5/05 I found Jerry & Hellen in West Monroe, LA. No details yet.
Thursday 9/8/05 Jerry & Hellen drove 500 miles from Monroe to Atlanta to stay with John (Drove Rental)
Thursday 9/29/05 State Farm called to arrange a look at Hub
Sunday 10/9/15 Hellen Called. Their house & content OK. Used cell phone in car (Battery was low).
8:00 pm curfew still enforced in N.O. Blocked by National Guard – found a way around them. Staging area near house – plenty of security. They went to Hub with Cop Sal P. and Jeff. Part of roof blown off – 8’ water – no power.
In this video, Roy shows up just past the 2 minute mark:
Roy’s story was typical of those of us who either evacuated or stayed behind: fear of the unknown and a sense of loss. What was also typical was receiving help along the way from people we didn’t know. It was the kindness of strangers – from all those little towns with exotic sounding names that line interstate exits – that allowed us to smile again! That’s the real heartbeat of America.
Part 4: Pirate’s Gold – –
The shop had between 6 ½ and 7 feet of water in it, depending on which side you were on. When we first entered it look as if someone had put the entire contents of the shop into a blender and set it on puree. We had to cut a path into the store before we began clearing it. Our first goal was to get the counters out of the way to give us more room.
We moved all the counters out of the shop and put them on the side of the building. About a week later we moved some of the better ones into our fenced-in driveway to put the really soggy stuff on. As we were moving them I heard some rattling in one of the cases and thought nothing of it. Then, for some unexplained reason, I thought it needed further investigation.
So I said, “Phil, get the hammer and start ripping out the back of the case.” (Phil really enjoyed this task and he was really good at it.)
Within seconds, hundreds of SILVER dollars and half dollars came pouring out like a slot machine. There was another counter built the same way, so I had Phil whack that one too. Same result – – – hundreds of SILVER dollars poured out of that one. I mentioned this to Jerry and he’d forgotten that Roy built false backs into the counters 40 years ago to hide the real silver coins. We felt like pirates!
We put all our treasure into a box. It was so heavy, that we had to use a hand truck to move it inside. . . . . and we spent it all!