Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Nightmares of Katrina 7

As threats of Hurricane Rita approached so did the choas and the strangeness. Rita herself did not bring nor cause the problems, she was merely the harbinger, the bellwether.

We did not know it then. We feared the worst, that Rita would kick the already down city of New Orleans and be her final death blow.

As I said, we were camped out on the lawn outside our office building. As the storm grew in the gulf and slowly swung her massive power in our direction we scrambled to strike camp and move inside.

The weather service predicted that the worst of the storm, the eye, would pass to the west of us, but we didn't know how far, how much damage would be wrought further out, how much more could New Orleans take.

My unit put together a plan to send a team out west, to be ready to assess the needs and what we could do logistically. I was one of those chosen to go with the team, but this was our third week down there and I had only brought two weeks of blood pressure medicine. I would need more and jumping into a team that would be mobile in an area where pharmacies were not reliable open let alone would reliably have my particular medication was worrisome to me.

Oddly enough this sent me into a rage. Normally I'm contemplative and very difficult to rattle. For some reason my nerve was brittle. It could have been the horrifying dreams, or lack of sleep, or the heat, but somehow I don't think it was. I had been through similar discomforts in Afghanistan and never got that unhinged. It only took a few words from my boss to calm me down, talk me off the ledge, but I couldn't do it myself, I had to have help which isn't like me at all.

Instead of leaving with the team I took a different trip, ultimately a far more dangerous and bizarre one. Our satellite phones were really acting up and I needed to go into the city to find out why, and how to fix it. We would need the best communications we could get in the coming storm. I hitched a ride into New Orleans with a vehicle going that way.

I had been in the city earlier and was, I thought prepared for the sight. What touched me right away was something I saw as we drove over the crest of the tollway and could spy the superdome. The arena itself was the same as I had seen it before, but where only a few days before there had been a cruise ship an aircraft carrier and other navy vessels moored in the river, it was empty. They had fled to open water to ride out the storm.

It took me by surprise and shook me. It presaged the other startling events that would transpire that fateful eve of the equinox of September 2005.

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