Monday, April 30, 2007

Katrina Story, Chapter 8: Our House

(Dr. Scott's inner demons persuade him to return to Katrina Story at long last! My apologies if I repeat any details from prior chapters; I'm going to put pen to, fingers to keyboard...and write while I have the time and inspiration.)

After assessing the office and hospital, we turned from the professional sphere to the personal, and drove towards our house in Waveland. As we turned onto Jeff Davis Avenue (hey, this is Mississippi!) we saw a now-familiar sight: house after house with destruction, devastation, and the ubiquitous orange spray-painted "X." Immediately after Katrina, search-and-rescue teams went to each and every building across the Gulf Coast. The teams would tag each building (both residential and commercial) with an "X," and each quadrant of the X had a different piece of information: the date searched, the team that was there, the number of human bodies inside, and the number of dead animals (pets) inside. Fortunately, almost all of these orange Xs had zeroes or empty space in the last two fields.

The street was much narrower than it had been two weeks ago, due to the fallen trees and debris already starting to be pushed to the road. Power crews were also out in force, with their trucks in the road making the street just barely passable. Downed power lines crisscrossed the street and hung from tangled branches. At long last, we reached our house.

A massive tree had fallen across the front yard, completely blocking the driveway. A branch of the tree had punctured the side of the house, emerging in the master bedroom. The yard fencing on the other side was squashed under more fallen trees. Two beautiful magnolia trees in front had been stripped of leaves and now looked half-naked. A few towels and quilts were draped on the fallen trees, already bleached from the hot Mississippi sun.

We climbed the stairs to the screened front porch and tried to unlock the front doors. The doors were massive and made from solid wood, which meant they had warped stuck and refused to budge. I hopped the fallen fence and walked around the side to the back, climbing over a few more trees.

The back deck had been completely flipped over, concrete anchors up in the air. A huge tree that had been in the middle of the deck became uprooted during the storm; presumably the water loosened the roots while the wind pushed the tree down. When the tree fell, the roots came up, and the deck went with them. The whole process must have been terrific to watch: the charcoal grill landed neatly under the deck, only now upside-down.

With the deck out of the way, the back door was now four feet off the ground. I climbed up and unlocked the door and stepped into the mudroom, never more aptly named. The carpet was still sopping wet, squishing with every step.

I continued around the corner into the play room and then the living room. The wooden floors were horribly buckled. The glass screen of the television (bought only a few months ago) was marked with a horizontal line of dried debris, the water line, at about 3 1/2 feet off the floor--which translated to about 6-7 feet off the ground. We were about 1 mile north of the beach.

The boys' bedrooms were strewn with books and toys, while the beds had been neatly submerged, now giant wet sponges. In the master bedroom, our wooden dresser had tipped on its side and refused to be moved.

We opened some windows for ventilation, and to half-heartedly drive off some of the pervasive odor of mold. Back in the kitchen, flies buzzed around half-emptied juice bottles. I tried to take stock of what might be salvaged, especially before any looters thought the same. The wedding china was above the floodline in the cabinets, all intact. I wrapped it up in some of the boys' clothing, also preserved. A desk in the hall still held a book of blank checks, some photos, and personal trinkets. The jewelry chest from the bedroom fell apart like cardboard, but its contents were still present, if covered in muck. Most of our photo albums and my wife's wedding dress had been stored up high and untouched. Also saved were my collection of my father's cuff links, an audio tape of my wife when she was a toddler, and a few paintings done by my wife's grandmother. Lastly, I returned to the kitchen and grabbed a still-unopened bottle of Canadian whiskey, given to me by a medical student I had preceptored, and I tossed the remaining bottles of booze out of the window (lest they serve to attract vagrants into the house). We locked up the house, loaded the car as much as we could, and I walked two doors down, where our neighbor had Oscar the dog.

Nearing her house I heard a frantic barking. Oscar and two new canine friends were having a run of the place, cavorting and having a grand old time. The house's human resident came to the door, apologizing for the mess, at which I had to laugh. Oscar had been a fine houseguest and she had been happy to oblige. I offered my profuse thanks and asked if I could get her anything on my next trip down, perhaps in a week. "Fresh fruit," she said. "What I wouldn't give for a nice orange, or a banana." Her Jeep had been flooded, ruined, and she wouldn't be going anywhere, anytime soon.

We wrangled Oscar into the car, with much jumping and licking, and started to drive out. It was now about 4:30 in the afternoon. But we had one last place to go before returning to Birmingham.



We've all got demons, my friend. You keep exorcising yours. And I'll keep reading.

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