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We Made It Out Alive

By Rip Naquin-Delain

[Editor's note: This article by the publisher of the New Orleans GBLT magazine Ambush Mag originated as an e-mail sent on September 4, 2005, shortly after New Orleans was flooded as the result of Hurricane Katrina.]

Marsha and I made it out of New Orleans Wednesday morning, August 31, early. We're staying alternately with two of my sisters, Cindy and Cathy, in the Morgan City area.

On Sunday, before the storm, we went to Matassa's, and Miss Billy helped us get 40 bags of ice into the house. Phyllis and Andy Denmark, Lewis Routh  and Marlin Haindfield, and Michael Sullivan stayed with us for the storm, and everyone brought water, food and bedding, so we were set in that department. They all helped us clear the balcony and patio, and get all of the shutters wired shut to protect the windows.

On Monday morning, the storm blew out the glass in the dormer windows on the third floor, but luckily we were there and managed to board up the windows from inside and save the house. Thank God Andy, Randy, Michael, Lewis and Marlin were here to help. I don't think Marsha and I could have patched the windows by ourselves.

We lost power about 6:30am. The worst thing was we lost all cell phone service, and practically all communication and news with the outside world. After the storm, we went out around the neighborhood late Monday afternoon to survey the damage. Throughout the Quarter was mostly wind damage with downed trees, broken windows and some minor and some major roof damage.

When Tuesday arrived we thought the worst was over, so we went to our parking lot to get our and Phyllis and Andy's cars to go up to the Marigny to see what the damage was there. Usually, when the power is off, we can turn the key and push the gate open manually. That did not work. The gate would not open, so we said, oh well, we'll take a walk to the Golden Lantern to see if they might be open. They were not, so we walked to Decatur. The whole roof was off of the old US Mint. But we found Monahan's open so we had wine without ice and still luckily they had cold beer and bottled water.

Peter and Hoyle from Petunias came by our house later and invited us all for a drink at Fritzel's in the 700 block of Bourbon. They were open and had ice, so we got cold white zin and cold beer with the rest, mostly locals, from the neighborhood. How relaxing . . . things were going to return to normal.

Then, by word of mouth, various tourist and locals said the looting had begun, cleaning out A&P and Winn-Dixie in the Quarter. Next thing we heard was there was a levy breach flooding Uptown and the Bywater and they were working on repairing it. Then the looting began at Robert's, Payless shoes, Walgreens and the wig store on Elysian Fields. About that time we heard a Wal-Mart had been looted in Chalmette and the looters had stolen all of the guns. Then we heard that Canal Street was being looted. Next up we were told that Martial Law had been declared for 6pm and we all had to return home (it was about 4:30pm now). On the radio we heard the levy breach could not be patched and that the Quarter would have water within 12 to 15 hours.

By the time night fell, we were a little nervous, but since the police had patrolled up and down the streets all night in their patrol cars on Monday night, we thought we'd all be okay, since we had a second and third floor. Practically all of our neighbors in the 800 block stayed for the storm. It was so cool on the balcony on Monday night that both Marsha and I slept out on the balcony, so after telling this to our neighbors on Tuesday morning and how much cooler it was, practically everyone up and down the 800 block who had balconies, slept out on them.

We all heard a crash down the street and saw that a police cruiser had pulled up to Mary's True Value Hardware and was breaking down the door. Apparently, we thought, they were getting supplies they needed to insure the Quarter's safety. Another car drove up and a police officer, with what looked like a machine gun, got out and stood guard while both cars were loaded from Mary's Hardware. That was certainly scary. Little did we know that that would be the last time we'd see police officers through the night and the next morning, Wednesday.

As the city became pitch black with nightfall, the noise began. We heard crashing glass as looters broke into, we believed, the bars down the street. Then we heard what sounded like doors being kicked in or sledge hammers knocking them down. We couldn't see anything so we did not know what they were breaking into. Since most of the 800 block was on their balconies, and all of us had high powered flash lights, when we heard a noise, we'd all turn our lights towards the street lighting up the 800 block, but we did not see anyone in our block. At the same time we yelled,  "You can't steal from us. Get out of here!"

We woke up around 5:30am Wednesday, and after seeing no water in the  street, Andy, Randy, Michael, Lewis and Marlin gathered up wire cutters, tools and a ladder and went to our parking lot to see if they could get the gate open. After some time, they arrived with our van, and Andy and Randy's car.  That's when they told us the lastest word was that cars trying to leave the city were being carjacked.

Marsha and I quickly packed a suitcase, got the babies and headed out, down to the van. The boys grabbed the database tower and my computer tower and the mail crate with our insurance papers, and some Ambush paper files. We quickly loaded the van. After locking up the house the best we could and locking all of the iron gates, we were ready to leave. Andy and Randy took Michael. Marsha and I had the babies (our ferrets, Buffy and Chris), Lewis and Marlin, and Jay and Jay from the Bourgoyne Guest House across the street, along with their parrot Harry, loaded into our van. Andy said to follow him and drive quickly. I told him, if there was water, to stop and turn back. Andy drove to Decatur trying to stay as close to the River as possible since we'd heard that was the highest ground and there was no reported water all the way to Tchoupitoulas and the Crescent City Connection. I had decided if I saw anyone trying to get close to the van that I was going to speed up and go as fast as I could. When we got to Decatur, we did not see anyone in the streets. Once we crossed Canal, which was all dry, we saw a large group of people outside of one of the hotels. Andy went faster and I was right behind him. We flew by the crowd, and with a sigh of relief, we reached the ramp at Tchoupitoulas for the bridge. There we saw a caravan of National Guard and all said, "Thank God – they're going to save the city." Once we reached the top of the bridge, we all felt a whole lot better.

At the 310 split, Andy, Randy and Michael went on to Atlanta to drop Michael at the airport for a flight back home to Ohio. Andy and Randy went on to Andy's sister outside of Atlanta.

We went down the bayou to Morgan City, stopped in Berwick only to find my sister Cathy not home. We stopped for gas, and guess what, our cell phones were working. I tried to call my sister Cindy in Patterson, but she was not home either. We decided to drive to Lafayette and look for a hotel. About that time, I was able to reach Daddy in Youngsville. I told him we'd made it out and were heading towards Lafayette with a van full of friends. He wanted to know if we were okay. Then the cell went out. While driving near New Iberia, my sister Suzanne in Lake Charles got through on my cell and told me we were all welcome to stay with her and my brother-in-law Rob. She had talked to Mama and Daddy, and they had told her there were six of us.

I told her we'd get back with her, but first and foremost, we wanted to tip a waitress or waiter. Yes, we had not had a hot meal since Sunday, and we all certianly needed some hot food that someone else was going to serve to us. After stopping at our favorite hotel in Lafayette, and finding out that there were no rooms in Lafayette, nor anywheres past Houston, we decided that we'd eat and then decide what to do. But before we could eat we had to find a pet store to buy a carry cage for the ferrets, since we'd taken them out of the house in a cardboard box. We found a nice one and the fella behind the counter helped us get one, along with a water bottle and food bowl. Once we tranferred the babies to the cage and got them situated we were ready to eat.

We took everyone to Logan's Roadhouse, which serves fabulous chargrilled steaks. Practicallyall of the patrons there were New Orleans refugees, and the table next to us with five adults and five children were from the Bonnabel area of Metairie. The TV screens were on in the restaurant on the news channels, and it was the first time we were able to actually see what was happening and going on. We had no idea that the hurricane had been that bad. When we left New Orleans, we figured everything would be normal and we'd return next week.

After having a wonderful meal and an incredible waitress, we took Lewis and Marlin to the bus station so they could go on to Houston where Lew has a brother. The bus station was closed, so we took them to the airport where they would rent a car or fly home.

Mama called and said that my sister Cindy wanted us to stay with her, so we headed back to Patterson. We wanted to be closer to New Orleans, so if we could go back, we'd be able to get there quicker. The past two days have been spent in front of the television seeing the most horrible things happening to our home city and across Mississippi and Alabama. My God, how lucky we were to get out safely. I had been in some despair, inwardly, since we did not have time to take some of our favorite religious pieces and the Fabergé eggs, when all of a sudden I realized that all of those things can be replaced, and really, are not important at all. We got out alive, have the love and support of our families, and through their generosity, a place to live until we can return home.

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This e-mail was originally published in Ambush Mag in early September 2005. It is reprinted with permission of the author.

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Copyright © 2005 Rip Naquin-Delain. All rights reserved.
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