Saturday, September 17, 2005

Part 3: The End of the Storm Was Really Only the Beginning.

Recap: The storm was winding down. Garland was broadcasting in the hallway, bringing the news and a comforting voice to the people of New Orleans during a very scary time, despite the fact that the building was seemingly about to collapse on us.

I woke up from my nap to see that so much chaos had broken out. I was able to text people until about 1 p.m. I last spoke to my mother around 10 a.m. as the windows were shattering, the two of us crying like babies. I was sure I was never going to see them again. I honestly thought that we would die in that building. Sobbing hysterically, my mother told me goodbye, saying, "I will hold you again, my baby. I will." I lost it. I was far from consolation. Then my parents set off in tropical storm force winds from Pensacola. Yes, the storm was that large. I had no idea where they were headed. Neither did they. I knew they would have a long, hard road ahead of them.

That was the last phone call I was able to make on my phone. Landlines went out sometime around then. Texting was the only form of communication. Until 1. Suddenly, I was cut off from the world. With one exception: the Internet. I posted like a madwoman to MySpace. I sent out e-mail after e-mail. A lot of people posted that they were glad New Orleans had seemingly done so well. All of them were ready to come home. I shot off e-mails telling them what we were going through, and how the surroundings, mainly the now-naked Superdome, looked. Everyone was shocked. No one else was in the city, all were posting from Texas and other places. I kept telling the truth and trying to keep them from thinking they would be home that evening. Until 4 p.m.

One of the last e-mails I recieved was from my brother-in-law, telling me that my parents had made it to Auburn, Ala., and had gotten the last available room in the Microtel. He gave the phone and room numbers. I tried my cell one last time, and got nothing. But I didn't write down the room number. Remember this.

The last e-mail I sent was to male Blake (female Blake comes to play later), warning him not to try to make it back to St. Charles Parish. I had just seen the story about the lower 9th Ward, how 200,000 people were on their rooftops, surrounded by floodwaters. They waited to be rescued. People away from New Orleans weren't getting that. National media made it seem as though we'd made it out okay.

Coincidentally, we lost the Internet around the time the storm subsided. We couldn't believe our eyes as we looked at the carnage that was the studios. We couldn't believe the naked Dome. We just couldn't believe it. But we seemed to be okay. People were out walking around Monday afternoon, looking at the downed trees, the broken windows. Mark and I strolled carefully through the New Orleans Center. We tried to get in the garage to check on his car, but the doors were locked. I brought the camera and took pictures of the topless Dome, the splintered atrium windows in the N.O.C., the water stains on the ceiling, the flooded Café du Monde, the shattered trees. We wondered how our house looked, but figured we'd be home in a day or so. Our plan was to ride around to Geoff's house, my parents' house, my dad's BP station....and to call people and let them know the status. We were the only ones who had stayed and were even remotely close to the city. Everyone else was in Dallas, Houston, Baton Rouge, Arkansas, Florida...we figured we'd do a courtesy while I had the next day off of school and work.

The sun was coming out. People were walking pets around the Dome. We learned that the Dome had two holes in the roof, and sky was visible. It was being used as a shelter for medical needs, followed by low-income families and people without means to escape in a timely manner. Thousands of people were crammed in there. That evening, some of the FM people and news reporters walked over to the Dome for coverage. They came back, reporting that relief and boredom were settling in, and so everyone was singing Gospel music. Remember this, too.

At midnight, Mark went back on air. Spud McConnell was hosting. Spud is a local actor who was on "Roseanne" in the '80s, who gets a lot of roles in local films and commercials, and is THE definitive portrayer of Ignatius J. Reilly and Huey Long. He's also a graduate of Nicholls State University and a former member of the Nicholls Players. Mark and I are both of those. So, through these commonalities, and work, a shared acquaintance of a former mass communication teacher named Chuck, and Spud's all-around niceness, he and Mark struck up a good working relationship. I sat in the booth with Mark while he worked. The shift started out pretty predictably.

It was weird. Only WWL was broadcasting, out of all of the stations in the city. We lost TV the night before, cell phones that morning, texting that afternoon, and then Internet. Past sundown, reporters couldn't do much, because the city was without power. The National Guard had been stationed around the Dome since either Saturday or Sunday. So we were safe, especially with the storm over. They were predicting us spending a few more days at the station, so that WWL could bring news and comfort to the people. However, we had no way of getting information. The land lines were down, so calling out was not an option. But for some reason, people could usually call in to the WWL studios. Go figure. WWL actually began to rely, basically, on hearsay. If someone called in with a neighborhood report, we had to take him at his word. Callers called in with these reports, with questions about restoration of power and when they would be able to return. Then it got weird.

We heard about the 9th Ward earlier. Then, we learned that a canal had breached in St. Bernard Parish, and that "Da Parish" was under. We felt awful upon hearing this news. My teaching partner, Melissa, is from Violet in St. Bernard. I felt for her. I hoped she'd made it out alright.

Then, we heard a rumor that the Southern Yacht Club, where our wedding reception was held just under 3 1/2 years ago, was on fire.

Next, North Kenner, including the Esplanade Mall, was supposedly under water. That didn't sound good at all, since my parents live in North Metairie towards the Kenner line.

After that, we started getting a lot of calls from Mid-City. Frantic calls. All saying something like this: "I'm in Mid-City, and we didn't have any water from the storm until a few mintues ago. Now it's coming into my house. I'm on my second floor, but I may have to go to my attic, and maybe even my roof." The calls got more and more desperate. Mid-City residents were getting hysterical. "I'm on my roof. My house is on this street near this landmark. I'm on my roof. Water is rising. Help me!" "I'm watching the water from my roof. There's an old lady/single mother across the street. I hear them yelling. Someone come help! We live on this street near this street." On a lot of these calls, you could hear crickets and frogs, with cries for help in the background.

The mood in the Entercom suites changed. It went from mild relief about the storm to confusion. Why was the water rising now, between midnight and 4 a.m. Tuesday, when the storm was over for almost 12 hours? Theories were posed: Broken water lines. Clogged drains. It wasn't raining, so it couldn't be that. But what was it? Confusion led to fear.

A man called in, telling us that he'd seen a Tulane Hospital doctor on a national news channel who said that the 17th Street Canal had breached. The Canal stretches from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain and divides Metairie from New Orleans. We were a little worried at first, because there's only one street between the canal and our cross street. But since the water was coming up in Mid-City, which was the only place we'd recieved panicky phone calls, we figured the breach had to be somewhere up that way. We worried that our neighborhood might have flooded. We live in Lakeview, and it has been around forever, through Betsy, Camille, and countless other hurricanes, with no trouble. Our house was over 50 years old. It sits off the street a good ways. We'd probably be okay.

Other people called in, confirming what the man reported. But no one knew where the breach was or how big it was. We were a little nervous. But it had to be up by Mid-City. We had Veterans Blvd. in the way of that area. We'd be fine.

They announced that Jefferson Parish, where my parents live, was not allowed home until Labor Day at 6 a.m. That didn't sound too good for my parents. Or my brother, who'd moved to Old Metairie earlier in the year.

Tierza Simmons, an FM personality on B97, had a Cingular phone. If you stood near the blown-out windows of the Conference Room, you could get reception. She offered to let us use her phone to call our families and let them know we were okay. Mark got through to his parents. I called Microtel next.

I got through on my first try. I asked the desk guy for my parents' room number, because I had it in my e-mail, which I could no longer access. I thought they were in room 109. But I wasn't positive, and at 4:15 a.m., I didn't think it would be polite to call the wrong room. The guy told me there was no one by that name. I spelled it, since it's a good ole Louisiana surname, and this Alabaman probably couldn't spell it. Nothing. "Well, there were some people who were supposed to check in at 3 and never made it. Could they be one of those?" Oh GOD. Don't say those words to me. Then it dawned on me. I said that they hadn't made reservations, that they'd evacuated from New Orleans, and checked in that afternoon sometime before 4 p.m. Central time. Maybe they were listed somewhere else. The guy said no. There was one list. I said they checked in, that they had to be there. He insisted that they weren't. I grew frantic.

I tried the desperation card. I told him about the helicopters swarming around me that made me keep asking him to repaat everything. I told him how I was in New Orleans still and just wanted to let my parents know that I was okay. I told him about the military and Wildlife and Fisheries trucks bringing the airlifted 9th Ward residents from their rooftops to the Dome. I told him about the horrible storm and our busted windows. I told him how my parents were kicked out of a hotel in Pensacola in TS winds and found refuge in his hotel. I said all this on the verge of tears. His response?

"That's nice."

WHAT!?!?! EXCUSE YOU!?!?!?!? Then he informed me that they were not on the current guest list, a former guest list, a future guest list, or the all-time guest list. I stopped being desperate and started being pissed. I told him that I thought they were in room 109, but didn't want to dial it in case I was wrong, could he see who was in room 109 please?

"There's no one even in that room."

I got angrier and angrier I spelled and respelled my father's name, but the guy bsically kept insisting that I was an idiot. I asked him if they were, in fact, the Microtel in Auburn, Alabama. He said yes. I said, "I got this number from an e-mail my in-laws sent me before we lost the Internet. I could NOT have obtained this number, or the name of your hotel, which I've NEVER even HEARD of, and so I KNOW for a FACT that they are there. Check that list again!"

He asked if it could be under a different name. I said the only three people in the room have the same last name. It would only be Stanley, Stan, Kathleen, Kathy, Geoffrey, or Geoff. He said, "Could it be Joseph?" That's my father's middle name. I told him that, and said, "Well, what room is that person in?"

"109." ASSSSSSSSSSHOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLLLLE!!!!!!! That was the room I thought they were in in the first place. The room he said was empty. "CONNECT ME!"

My father answered the phone. I told him that he wasn't allowed home, that the news didn't sound good for his neighborhood or my brother's, and that mine was iffy. I asked if they'd heard about the breach, which they had, but nothing definite. I asked about the Yacht Club. It had burned to the ground. I asked about the Esplanade Mall. Under water. Target at Clearview? The front fell off. Things looked bleak all around.

I talked to the three members of my family, and we cried together. My dad told me that they only had their hotel room until Friday, because Auburn had a home game, and the rooms were already rented out. We didn't know what they were going to do. They weren't allowed back in JP. They would be nomads the following weekend.

In the meantime, someone came up to Mark and said we were starting to take on water. Security was letting them loot the Sundries shop again. Again, they were inventorying and purchasing everything we took. He went down 5 flights of stairs to help out. When I got off the phone, around 4:45, someone asked me to help out. I was glad to. For two hours, we carried boxes and bags of food, drinks, and medicinal supplies up to the second level. We had to avoid broken glass and work under the cover of darkness. We didn't want passersby to see what we were doing and join in. We finished just as day was breaking. Tired, hot, sweaty, and sore, we went back up the five flights of stairs to our production room. I got Shazzy to use the litter box the night before, and Lily went right before we had our sanctioned looting experience. We were about to get some long-overdue sleep when someone opened the door. "They're having a meeting up front, and everyone, staff or not, is required to attend."

We went to the lobby, and all of the refugees were there. The Entercom bigwigs told us something chilling:

"Water is rising, and it's rising quickly. We do not think we can keep you here. We are running out of generator fuel. We will lose water and electricity soon, and we will not be able to broadcast any more. Everyone must leave. We have two options, and we cannot tell you which one is better. You have to decide what is best for you. You can go to the Dome, or you can try your luck in an SUV. We don't know which is better or which is worse. That is for you to decide. But you have to decide NOW. The water is rising quickly, and you must leave in the next ten minutes."

Stay tuned for Part 4: "Where do we go now, where do we go now, ahhhahhhahhhahhahhhahh..."

1 comment:

Misti said...

I can't believe the asshole guy at the hotel. GRRR!