Saturday, August 16, 2008
The idea of painting New Orleans street signs came in late 2007. I had always been intrigued by the names of the streets in New Orleans – names like Arts, Music, Painters, Humanity, Piety, Desire and more. The idea to paint some of these just stuck in my head one day. The goal was to provide snapshots of New Orleans with three street signs grouped together. I had not painted in some time, but I dug around and found paint, brushes and a few small canvas sheets. From the start I wanted to use two of the primary colors – red and yellow. Since I didn’t have any blue, blue didn’t come to mind until later. The scheme was black, white, red and yellow. I settled on “Arts,” “Music,” “New Orleans,” as the streets for my first painting. I painted until the piece was finished. The streets names said a lot about New Orleans, but read together, the painting did not have a poetic ring. Soon I had painted over New Orleans and replace it with “Melody.” “Arts,” “Music,” “Melody” had a ring. The blue, red and yellow color scheme didn't come along until early 2008.
The following three posts compose a timeline of the days leading up to the Hurricane Katrina evacuation through the Sunday after the storm. I wanted to put down a brief record of these 10 days that changed my life forever. Katrina is always with me and always will be. In these lists, my focus is on the events and sequence rather than exact times. These are not intended to be lilting prose. I hope to post additional entries in the future that delve deeper into the emotions I felt during the Katrina event and the implications these feelings had on my life. Maybe the future posts will be more artfully done.
Friday, Aug. 26, 2005
Friday, Aug. 26, 2005
- Left New Orleans around 3 p.m. headed for Diamondhead, Miss. We planned to stay at my in-laws home there. Saturday I had a 7 a.m. interview and photo shoot scheduled with a Richard Cowart in Picayune, Miss., who was working on the seminary’s Bradbury piano.
- We first heard Hurricane Katrina could head toward New Orleans on LifeSongs 89.1 FM radio as we pull away from our campus apartment (Apt. 206, Farnsworth).
Saturday, Aug. 27, 2005
- I traveled from Diamondhead to Picayune and met with Cowart (lots of photos and interview notes).
- I headed back to Diamondhead and secured the Oglesbee place (my in-laws were living in Hickory at the time). Before tropical storms and hurricanes loose items in the yard must be stored or these will become wind-guided missles.
- On the way back to New Orleans (a 50-minute drive) I received the call from Chris Friedman, NOBTS facilities VP at the time. The seminary had called for a mandatory evacuation. As PR director I had to notify to local media.
- I went to the PR office and made the media contacts, secured the office and headed home by about 12:30 p.m.
- Kimberly and I packed and watched the TV news conferences about the storm. I will say this: the city was taking this storm serious – more serious than any other storm since I had been around. We had a near miss with Ivan one year before. That time I stayed on campus to provide news and photo coverage. Nothing happened – the storm hit Alabama and Florida. This time Kimberly convinced me to leave. What a good wife!
- We left about 3:30-3:45 p.m.
- It was a long slow ride on I-10 East toward the Twin Spans bridges at Slidell. Contraflow (all lanes dedicated one direction – AWAY) kicked in about 4:30 p.m. as we reached the Twin Spans.
- After Slidell we drove north on I-59 in what is usually the southbound lanes (all four lanes were headed north). We made great time!
- Somewhere north of Popularville, Miss., contraflow ended.
- Finally we reached my in-laws home in Hickory, Miss. We would ride it out there. Hickory is three hours north of New Orleans – we didn’t think there would be much to ride out.
Sunday, Aug. 28, 2005
- We went to Sunday morning worship services at Hickory Baptist Church.
- That day I monitored the news. I kept hoping to see Katrina take the eastward turn that Ivan took. I really hope the storm would just fall apart – I didn’t want anyone to face this storm. It was clear this was a massive storm. That day out in the Gulf hurricane hunters took some of the highest intensity readings ever – Katrina was big and power – a Category 5 storm.
- I worked on a few paragraphs for the Baptist Press. The graphs focused on the seminary preparation, the team that stayed and the historic evacuation called by N.O. Mayor C. Ray Nagin.
- We went to Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church in Meridian, Miss., for Sunday night services. This was the church we attended when I worked at The Meridian Star newspaper. This is the church that commissioned us for US/C-2 mission service in 1997 – we love these people.
- When we got home from church I called Chris Friedman. Things were already getting rough in New Orleans.
- That night I prayed for the safety of Chris and his crew. I also prayed for the large number of residents who had stayed to ride out the storm.
Monday, Aug. 29, 2005 – a day that will live in infamy.
- I got up early that morning and was glued to the TV – flipping between CNN, MSNBC and FoxNews.
- I was also monitoring the internet. I found a few New Orleans post-storm photos there.
- The storm hit at the mouth of the Pearl River near Pearlington, Miss. It sounded really bad for the Mississippi Coast – huge storm surge. But it sounded like New Orleans would be okay.
- Power failed in Hickory sometime that morning. We tried to keep up with the news on a battery-powered black-and-white TV and on the radio.
- I don’t remember exactly when the rain and wind started at Hickory, but we were in for a long, long day. We just didn’t know it yet.
- The day before, at Hickory Baptist, someone wondered aloud whether or not Hickory residents should evacuate. I laughed under my breath (Hickory is at least three hours inland). I wasn’t laughing when Hurricane Katrina blew over Hickory.
- The hurricane still packed Category 1 strength when it blew into Hickory. The gusts were very high.
- It started out breezy then moved to blustery. Before we knew it we were experiencing gale-force winds.
- Most of the shingles blew off the east side of the Oglesbee home early on – the whipping rain began leaking through roof, through the ceiling and onto the floor of every room on the east side of the house.
- We gathered as many bowls, pans, empty coffee cans, trash cans, empty margarine tubs and buckets we could find in the house and in the storage shed. We tried to catch as much water as possible. Drops leaked from hundreds of holes. We were fighting a losing battle against leaks. We mopped and mopped with towels and emptied container after container of water. Meanwhile Jonathan, just four at the time, bounced off the walls. He couldn’t handle all the noise and excitement and indoor rain. He was in a frenzy – totally out of control. He couldn’t process what was going on.
- Outside the wind whipped and sheets of rain came down. Large pecan and oak trees in the yard swayed back and forth. It looked like they would break or fall. Debris filled the air.
- The leaks continued for 3-5 hours.
- A large tree crashed across the driveway, blocking us in. I watched through a window as the tree fell. I was in the living room watching a tree close to the house tip and almost uproot. While the other tree fell, this one continued to sway. Each time the wind would gust the tree would rock. It’s roots would raise revealing sloppy, soupy, water-saturated mud. That sloppy mud was all that held the tree up. Thankfully that tree didn’t fall – it was very close to the house.
- Across the highway a huge, old oak tree toppled.
- Finally the wind died down and the rain slowed. We ventured outside to see the damage.
- Limb and trees were down everywhere. Shingles from the back side of the house littered the front yard. Plant debris, leaves and grass, covered the house under the carport. The tree that feel over the highway was huge.
- Just before dark Kimberly’s uncle, Troy Brand, and her cousin, Bill Brand, came with a chainsaw. They cut and we moved branches. The driveway was cleared.
- We knew little of what was going on in New Orleans. We had been doing battle with the elements. The Meridian media outlets were focused on the problems there. Hickory and Meridian had been hit harder than expected.
- We had seen the footage of the SuperDome roof peeling away – scary. We had seen footage of looting.
- I can’t remember when we heard that levee failures had occurred. It hurt when we heard. It was like a hard punch in the stomach. We knew our lives would change and we knew many people in New Orleans would die.
- We were exhausted from our day of battle so we went to bed early – we had no power so we opened the windows. It was hot, humid and still.
- Shortly after we went to bed, the wind picked up again. First it was a gentle breeze, then the curtains began to stretch out at a 45 degree angle. The cool air felt good.
- Before long the wind was blowing hard again. The curtains began to whip in the wind. Fear and the noise kept us awake.
- After a while the rain came again. The roof started leaking again. More mopping and dumping water.
- Apparently the storm’s eye had spread out and opened wide after landfall. The hours of stillness must have been the remnants of the eye. Now we were getting hit with the back side of the storm.
- The storm blew and blew.
- That night I picked up Mississippi NPR and heard some reports from the coast. Surreal is the only way to describe these reports and the way I felt.
Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2005
- Early Wednesday, Kimberly’s Dad (Paul Oglesbee Jr.) and her older brother (Paul III) went to Meridian to buy supplies to patch the roof.
- I called the NOBTS North Georgia Campus to reserve a hotel room. Liz Stewart (NOBTS Student Life Director at the time) answered and made the reservation.
- I worked hard all morning to help patch the roof. After we finished I changed clothes and got ready to leave for Atlanta.
- All we had were a few changes of clothes, a van and our lives.
- We still didn’t know a whole about what had happened in New Orleans. The local radio and tv stations were focused on the problems in Meridian instead of focusing on the more serious problems on the Mississippi Coast and in New Orleans. It was rather frustrating.
- When we made it to Meridian we could tell the town had taken a fairly serious hit. Power was still out in parts of Meridian and at Kimberly’s parent’s house in Hickory.
- We stopped at an A&W/Long John Silvers for food. Two days of food off a single-burner campstove had taken a toll. The fast food hit the spot.
- At the time we had no idea that we were going to be in Atlanta for the next eight months.
- My family became a part of the largest disbursement of people in the United States since the Great Depression/Dust Bowl. Countless other New Orleanians were displaced as well – our city: underwater. NOTE: Later, I would make the connection between the “Okies” of the great Dust Bowl migration and the evacuees of Katrina. Before the first anniversary of the storm I read “The Grapes of Wrath” – made some peace with my past. Some of my fellow evacuees were as wanted as the “Okies.”
- By the time we reached Birmingham, Ala., a gasoline scare was developing in Atlanta. The Louisiana refineries were down and several Gulf oil platforms had been damaged. People in Atlanta were worried about gas.
- We filled up in Birmingham (a very smart move) so we would have to deal with it in Atlanta.
- We got lost a few time in Atlanta looking for the Holiday Inn Select near the seminary’s North Georgia Campus in Decatur, Ga. We finally made it to the Holiday Inn.
- We saw a few seminary people in the lobby, but we weren’t in much of a talking mood. We quickly went to our rooms and began watching the tv news reports – flipping between CNN, FOX News and MSNBC. The reports were confusing and mostly made me angry.
- I was happy to be in a nice clean room with power and a/c, but I didn’t sleep much that night.
Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005
- I went to work at the seminary North Georgia Campus on Thursday morning. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew it would be a busy day.
- * Dr. Kelley, the seminary president, opened the meeting by reading Psalm 46. The group consisted of mainly seminary vice presidents, academic division chairs, faculty members and senior staff.
- * We identified the key questions that needed to be answered for the school to continue and recover.
- Dr. Kelley split the group into two tack forces – one to address student relief and another to address the continuation of classes.
- I had to go purchase a computer cord for my laptop – I already had two – one was at my office in New Orleans; the other was at our apartment in New Orleans. I needed one now to do my work.
- The task forces reported back that afternoon with good, solid plans. I set up an office downstairs and began working on two articles.
- Our lofty goal was to have a major update on the NOBTS website by Friday and to get two articles to the Baptist Press by noon Friday.
Friday, Sept. 2, 2005
- I worked hard between phone calls – there were phone calls from everywhere. People kept calling, seek information.
- I finished the two articles and let the president give his approval to send. I sent the articles to BP, they promptly posted both.
- I worked the rest of the day, but I don’t remember just what I did.
- The afternoon, we were released for the Labor Day weekend. In fact they gave us an extra day off. The administration as wanted us to check out of the Holiday Inn the next morning.
- We really didn’t have anywhere to go. Kimberly’s parents still didn’t have power and we couldn’t go all the way to Oklahoma.
- That night, we watched too much news and looked at too much of the USA Today. We couldn’t believe the horrible images, videos and stories coming out of our city.
- It was hard to sleep that night.
Saturday, Sept. 3, 2005
- We found a place to stay in the Atlanta area. One of Kimberly’s college friends agreed to take us in for the long weekend.
- We got up, packed and headed to Cummin, Ga., to stay with Susan Peugh.
- On the way, we stopped by Kohl’s to purchase some clothes and Wal-Mart for a bunch of much-needed items. We had no clue when New Orleans would reopen for residents.
- We made it to Susan’s in time for part of the Oklahoma Sooners/TCU football game. OU was losing and in the end, they lost the game. I wanted the escape of a good OU win, but it didn’t come.
- We still had no clue about the status of our apartment. Was it dry? Was it looted? How was this all going to turn out? Only questions, no answers.
Sunday, Sept. 4, 2005
- Susan had other commitments on Sunday, so we drove to church we had visited before – Sugar Hill Baptist Church in Buford, Ga. We had visited the church a year earlier. Sugar Hill had supported the church (Crosspoint) we helped start in Gulfport, Miss., from 2001-2005. We helped the pastor at Sugar Hill would have information about how the people at Crosspoint had fared.
- We took Jonathan to the children’s area. We knew he needed to play with other kids. It had been a long 10 days.
- Then we shuffled into the sanctuary and picked a safe place near the back. We were still just overwhelmed.
- My first real moment of release came when the praise band led the congregation in a powerful cover of “Blessed Be Your Name.” The song, performed by the band Tree63, had become a favorite of my before the storm, but now it really meant something. The words “You give and take away,” taken straight from the book of Job, spoke to me. Tears flowed and at that moment, I knew everything was going to be okay. God used that song in a great way. I will always love the song.
- On the way back to Susan’s, we turned to comfort food – Steak ‘n Shake.
- Jonathan is such a great kid. He was only 4 ½ at the time, but he knew something was up. He knew something was wrong, but he acted so good. That’s the one thing I remember about the next few days.
- On Sept. 7th, Kimberly, Jonathan and I moved into a one bedroom unit at the Clairmont Crest Apartments (a senior adult independent living complex in Decatur, Ga.). The seminary set up the arrangements. That one bedroom apartment was home for eight months. Jonathan was a huge hit with the elderly residents.
- The first weekend in October, we were able to go to New Orleans and collect our belongings from our apartment. We lost a car (a 1993 Honda Civic with 186,000 miles), bikes, a grill, a washing machine and a couch. But our losses were nothing compared to the losses of our neighbors. Most lost everything they owned.
- I made seven or eight trips to New Orleans from October 2005 and March 2006. Each trip I feel deeper and deeper in love with the city.
- Work was busy for me, but I put out some of my best work. I earned three writing awards for articles about the aftermath and recovery.
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