Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Nightmares of Katrina 10

The route chosen between the University campus and the Convention Center was mostly straight, but it passed through areas that had been flooded and barricaded until recently. We had heard rumors that it was now passable, but there were a lot of rumors that month.

We turned down one street and found it at least partially flooded. There was no traffic control to tell us not to go that way, indeed we saw no sign of life at all, no occupied vehicles, no workers, no soldiers, no occupants, and stranger than all that, no animals. I didn't see a single bird in New Orleans ever for the whole month we down there.

This street was deadly quiet and still.

The water was clearly not that deep, as we could see where it came to on the houses, barely covering the crawl spaces under the small homes. This was a lower middle class neighborhood, with some fences here and there and mostly two bedrooms on one floor. I don't know if it had been a tidy place or not before nature's savagery, certainly when we went through it was littered with pollutants and flotsam. How much of it was thrown out by the storm and how much from wretches too poor to care, I couldn't tell.

We moved forward cautiously, our knobby hummer tires splashing excessively, despite our creeping pace. The doors were off and we all pulled tighter within the vehicle, wary against the stray splash of the foetid liquid. The smell was not at bad as had been reported very early in the month, but our churning probably brought up some odors that would have been better left to run off as the water level lowered.

Every house we passed had a spray painted X on it. They had all been visited and cleared by the Texas National Guard only recently. None showed hazards, Some had had bodies, some not. No live victims had been found.
Something caught my eye; something in the water. The glint of sun had been glaring up mercilessly and it had suddenly been disturbed. I turned to look, but the brilliance had returned and blinded me. I must have shouted or grunted because the Chief turned in her seat and demanded, "What, sir?" while Brown slammed the brakes.

"Nothing," I said. "I just thought I saw something in the water."


"No, swimming I think. It's gone now, I think." I tried to see it again, whatever it was. I pointed to where I had seen it.

"Was it a dog or cat?" Brown asked.

"I don't think so, it didn't seem the right shape."

"Maybe a rat?" the Private asked, but the Chief said that rats would have been noted on the houses, and none of them showed rats anywhere.

"It could have been a fish," the Chief said and I let the matter rest, but it wasn't a fish. If anything it had been dull, not shiny like the scales of fish, it may have been furry, or mossy, and it had to have been bigger than a rat, far larger.

We made it to the Convention Center without another incident, but I stayed as far inside the vehicle as I could while we traveled. The Center was a cacophony of activity. There were vehicles driving in and out, there were people everywhere, civilian and military. Fortunately or unfortunately the people we were sent there to find found us. I don't know how we would have known where they were in that disturbed ant-hill of a building, but as soon as we pulled inside there were people there waiting for us. They waved us to park near their vehicles.

The Chief never needed to get out of our vehicle. She discussed some thing with the Sergeant who found us and gave him the package we were to deliver. He complained to her about thing, and she to him. I could tell that they didn't get along, but mostly I could tell that the Chief was annoyed at the delay. The Sergeant was the sort of man who could drag out a simple answer or question for several minutes and Chief Mac felt that she had no sort of time for that.

I looked at my watch when we entered the building. I was preoccupied trying to think of what I could have seen in the waters outside. I glanced at my watch again and saw that far less time had passed than I had expected. I chalked it up to boredom and the reassured feeling I was having of being high and dry in a solid building. Finally when the Chief managed to break off the conversation and waved PFC Brown to move out again I glanced down at my watch again. I would have sworn only moments had past, but it had been well over an hour.

Now I was anxious. I jumped out of the vehicle to provide a ground guide through the building's parking garage and back out onto the street. As soon as we had passed the doors I jumped back in. I knew the Chief was determined to find her second warehouse, but now I wondered if we would get back before nightfall. There was something very wrong about the day and the waters still slithering through the half flooded streets.

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