As the week progressed settling into school, I also had a show to do at WWOZ. I had moved my show back to Monday mornings from 6am to 9am so that I could teach my classes. I didn't realize that the Monday August 22 show would be my last show at WWOZ. That Monday morning I had no clue about Katrina. She was just a depression that was heading our way, and I kept hoping it would turn North at some point in time and not hit Florida or enter the Gulf.
Tuesday night was our normal poker night at JC's house. The discussion centered on music and the neighborhood and not the storm, and I remember seeing Donald Harrison walking down the street once I had lost all my money and headed home. We talked music and his two new CDs which were about to hit the stores, and how he was heading that night to Los Angeles to do some studio work on a tv project. Things were pretty normal in the neighborhood. Poker games, walks in the neighborhood, and pleasantly hot and humid nights in New Orleans.
On Thursday, August 25, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made her first landfall in South Florida and had entered the Gulf by that evening. The track placed it moving from the Gulf towards the Florida Panhandle, but New Orleans was still in the cone of potential landfall and I decided to book a hotel room in Lafayette for Sunday and Monday “just in case.” I still had some room on our debit card to cover the room, and I had pretty much intentionally not paid the electricity and water bill to keep some money in our account if we needed to evacuate. At this time it looked like Katrina would totally miss us, but after years of evacuating for “near misses” only to find congestion on the roads and no place to stay once we got off the road, I decided this year we would have a place to stay no matter what. Lafayette was two-hours away, so it was close enough for us to get back home quickly if the storm didn't hit New Orleans, but far enough away that it might not feel the brunt of the storm.
Friday morning I woke up and logged on to the Weather Underground site to see where the storm was heading. It was still projected to hit the Panhandle, but the forecast kept jogging it to the West towards New Orleans. It came out stronger, though, than I liked. It already was a CAT 2 storm, nearing 100 mph sustained winds. I didn't like the pressure system that was hovering over New Orleans that would attract the storm our way and kept hoping that pressure cell would move East. As Susan was getting ready for work, she asked me what I thought. I told her we looked good, but I was still worried and would know more probably later in the day. On my way to work to the University, I couldn't get my mind off the storm.
I only had one class for Friday—the Urban Sociology course. It was an 11:00 to Noon course. The topic for the day was a discussion of the two articles the students had read (Orum's “Centrality of Place” and Long's “The Paradox of a Community of Transients”) and their research on New Orleans communities. The questions I raised in the discussion were what does community and neighborhood mean to them, and how does New Orleans foster this sense of community and neighborhood meaning. It really got the students thinking about the importance of their places in the New Orleans region, and how many of them had never really ventured too far out of the area. Family, friends, and culture kept them close to home. They hated the poverty and crime, but they loved the culture and the closeness to family.
While I was an affordable housing advocate in New Orleans in 2002, I had completed an analysis of the 2000 Census data for the New Orleans region and was stunned to discover that nearly 90% of all New Orleans residents had never left the region—ever. When they moved, it was from one neighborhood to another, but never away. The roots run deep here in New Orleans, and for all of our complaints about this city, we still choose to live here over anywhere else in the country.
As we completed the discussion and the students turned in their papers, I told them to watch the news about the storm in the Gulf. It looked very bad, but it also looked like it would not come our way. I told them if anything, the University might close down Monday and Tuesday and that they should monitor the University web-site for news updates. I also implored them that given the strength of the storm they should seriously consider evacuating should the storm head to New Orleans. Our levees could handle a CAT 3 storm (I believed), but anything bigger than that would devastate the city. As the class dispersed, I went back to my office, worked on some grades, and by 2:30pm was ready to head back home and pick up Devin for our Friday afternoon walks through the Quarter.
Since purchasing our house in the Broadmoor neighborhood in October 2002 (and evacuating to Mobile of all places shortly after moving in because of Hurricane Lili), I had pretty much spent most Friday afternoons going for walks in the French Quarter. It had become a strong tradition in my everyday life. I met many business-owners and bartenders on those walks that I still have strong relationships with. So many memories from these walks, and when Devin was born in December 2003 it wasn't too long before he would join me on those walks. By August 2005 these walks with Devin through the Quarter were part of my normal routine, and this Friday would be no different. Our neighbor Miss Lee was Devin's nanny, and she loved him as if she had given birth to him. To this day Miss Lee calls Devin every Sunday. EVERY SUNDAY. And she always knew that I would be home early on those Fridays to pick Devin up for our special time together. She had him ready to go for our walk.
There were no updates from the 11am report earlier in the day as to Katrina's new track....
Devin and I made it down to the Quarter, but I had a bad feeling in my gut about the storm. The walk through the Quarter today was a bit more methodical and meaningful. I was talking more to him about “things.” The architecture and the history behind the various types that line the Quarter. The River (“Old Man River”) and how we have to respect it for it's power and what it can give to and take away from New Orleans. I made a conscious effort to seek out friends in the Quarter to say hello. The discussions with my friends in the Quarter centered on whether they would evacuate if the storm headed our way. It was pretty much “50-50” on who was going to stay and who had plans to leave. No one was boarding up their businesses yet, but they were ready to do so if they had to. I spent a long time with my friend Harry Anderson at his magic shop on Chartres Street across the street from Harry's Corner. He was tasting some rum he was going to showcase at his new club at the corner of Esplanade and Decatur and urged me to try it out with him. We talked about his new club, which was finally doing well after all the chaos of refurbishing the place for almost two years. We talked magic tricks, which he helped me learn. Devin was asleep in the stroller so I could spend a bit more time there than at the other places I stopped.
By the time 6pm got around, I received a call from Susan asking me when I might be coming home. I took that as a sign that I had better go home, and so I packed Devin into the car and we headed back towards Broadmoor.
The 5pm NOAA report placed the storm further West AGAIN, this time forecast to hit the Gulfport/Biloxi area. It was still a CAT 2 storm, but it was gaining strength. With three days left before it was projected for landfall, and the fact that it just seemed to keep heading West, I pretty much knew we needed to start packing the important stuff and do what we needed to do to evacuate “just in case.” I took my Cadillac to Susan's workplace in Metairie and parked it in the 5 story covered lot there so it would be relatively safe from the storm, and then we all went out for dinner at Bud's Broiler.
The 11pm NOAA report placed the center of the storm just east of Lake Ponchatrain....
The 5am Saturday NOAA report placed the center of the storm right over New Orleans.... It was now a CAT 3 storm, and growing in intensity....
To be continued....