August 28 through August 31, 2005...
Three days that will be argued about, deliberated over, talked about and cried over for years to come. Few events in our lives, no matter where we live in the world, have shaped the mental, emotional, financial, political, moral, physical and maybe even supernatural costs an entire city and possibly an entire country, have experienced as a result of this single catastrophic event: a hurricane named:
As some of you may know, I founded my career within State Farm Insurance and evolved to specialize the handling of catastrophe claims. Together with Gerson and his extensive construction background, we have become a formidable team as "Independent Adjusters".
As Independent Adjusters, we offer our services (through an outside company) to work for State Farm Insurance during catastrophic events. Hurricane Katrina not only met that definition of a catastrophic event, "she" will surely define the word "catastrophe" for years to come.
Before Katrina hit, we edged our way across country and found ourselves scrambling to find a temporary bed just outside of Katrina's wrath. As a result of a few well-placed connections, we were able to slip into immediately-before vacated rooms and wait for the go ahead to enter the damaged areas. Within days of Katrina's wake, we found ourselves driving miles upon endless miles through total devastation and destruction.
I will not bore you with the details because much you have already seen
portrayed (rather annoyingly one-sided) on the news; however, I have collected a
substantial number of photos for your perusal. What you will see is what
we saw intimately, every day for 90 days. And, to keep this tragedy in
perspective, a great majority of these photos were taken within the last two
weeks of November, 2005. A full three months after Hurricane Katrina
became a celebrity, the city of New Orleans and its neighboring communities
remained deeply scarred and tremendously depressed by her momentary tour of the
once glorious Gulf Coast.
Then, some more wind...
Now, let us see what happens when the roofs take the first flight out during a hurricane...
Next, came the 20' - 30' ocean surge along the Gulf Coast...
We start with Biloxi, Mississippi. A well-known and well-enjoyed gambling playground on the Gulf Coast, Biloxi is known for its casinos that float just offshore and are accessible by elaborate ramps, piers, walkways, etc. Unfortunately, the casinos took their architectural status as "floating" buildings a little too seriously and subsequently, floated onto the shore. Ironically, one of the only casinos to stay near its original mooring was a casino designed as a replica of a large sailing galley.
And, continuing west on Mississippi's Gulf Coast...
The ocean surge pursued old and new alike...
And destroyed anything and everything that dared to bar its path...
Seeing as Katrina's surge offspring was not satisfied with only a portion of Mississippi's coast, it demanded nothing but total submission. To quote a favored line from Star Trek: "Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated."
In another sick and ironic twist, Katrina decided to taunt one town about its name: Waveland...
With the surge came the ultimate blow...
Empire, Louisiana and its neighboring communities peacefully existed on an extension of land that was embraced by the Gulf of Mexico. If one ever wanted to walk from the towns that dotted this peninsula to the gulf, one would simply walk uphill a few hundred feet, east or west, and one would have the ocean at their feet. Now, the operable word here is "uphill" as the below sea-level peninsula is nature's way of pointing out that we humans build our communities in the daftest places.
Mile after mile, acre after acre, home after home...it was the same thing. From the northernmost point of the peninsula to the southernmost point the road would allow our truck, the scene did not change. Not a creature was stirring, not even a house...
And oftentimes, we had to stop, back up and shake our heads of what we are sure we saw; however, our rational minds cannot fathom its truth.
Just when you thought Katrina had left the stage, the floodwaters debuted and shockingly awed an international audience.
It was just outside of New Orleans wherein we worked the most. Entire buildings were marked with Katrina graffiti. From wind damage to the roofs and to the exteriors of the buildings, to rain inundating the interiors, flowing down to mingle with the several feet of flood water rising to greet its kin.
Contents within the buildings were rearranged into a jumble of rubble that looked little different from the mounds of debris piled along the streets. The assaulting odors from meat-and-fish-filled refrigerators (that had been without electricity for weeks) would overwhelm your senses and physically throw you out the door in hopes of finding a massive breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, that sought after air was sodden with the rotting debris and the remnants of flood muck that covered virtually every horizontal surface.
Flood water leaves a distinctive footprint when it visits a home. From the highest point the water reached and at its lengthy pauses as the water slowly exits the building, there will be a visible line where the water trod.
So much of what we saw cannot be appreciated by a mere photograph; however, viewing these photos can give you an idea of the sensory overload we experienced on a daily basis.
Working Hurricane Katrina was an experience in extremes. From buildings left virtually untouched to complete obliteration of once happy, loving homes. It also gave us insight to the extremes of the human condition. From the looters that sought to destroy the evidence of their horrid crimes to the heroes who worked tirelessly to start the healing of the injured communities.
And then you start realizing the cold reality: Where do the people go? There is no home to come home to...Now what?
What is left to do is to get out, anyway you can...and to clean out, anyway you can. Unfortunately, many beings never had a chance...while others, flourish in Katrina's aftermath.
The most startling experience for us came at the most unlikely and unexpected time. On a beautiful, warm, sunny mid-morning Saturday, we pulled into a neighborhood and found ourselves in awe of the sight we beheld. The streets were devoid of life, any life, and completely lost of any sound. It was the stillness, a total lack of any sensory stimulation beyond the drab flood colors that gave you a sense of what solitary confinement would feel like. There was not a person, not a dog, not a bird and not even an insect - just long, tree-lined streets left as they were, as though frozen in time.
Yet, amidst all of the devastation, we found brief bursts of bright spots in our otherwise dismal days. We were fortunate to work with an outstanding group of people and always knew we had an empathetic ear when needed. We also were able to snatch an hour here and there to enjoy a portion of New Orleans that was not destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and rather, only bruised. The French Quarter quickly rebounded and was serving its famous beignets and playing is treasured jazz in no time.
Needless to say, we are very appreciative of what we have and we are happy to be home. Oh, and we will take California and earthquakes over Louisiana and hurricanes anytime...