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.

First, came the wind...

Gerson surveying what is left of
the roof and wall

Air conditioning and skylight all in one

Compliments of Katrina-the-can-opener

Another skylight

As though one tree was not enough

An entirely different meaning to "finding
shade under a tree"

With difficult divorces, couples find
unique ways of splitting up the house

Gerson was actually talking to his sister
in Brasil while we were inspecting a roof

Then, some more wind...

Let me see, which way did the wind blow

A new marketing approach - billboards
advertising to airplanes flying over
(and yes, those are structural steel posts)

When good roofs go bad (or south
in these cases)

So much for privacy

Our method of transport between
two-story apartment buildings

Now, let us see what happens when the roofs take the first flight out during a hurricane...

Mold, mold and more mold

Rain water 1, ceilings 0

What a lot of water can do to
many layers of strong enamel

Katrina's signature wallpaper

and for the record, neither of us ever
got sick from the mold - now, the smell
of the rotting food is another story!

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.

Look closely at the first two pictures:  What appears
to be one building are actually a hotel and a floating,
yes, floating casino that moved from the white-pillar in
the far-right distance, to where it nestled in with the hotel. 

You will gamble losing a lot more than money on this
casino ship

Katrina did not discriminate or play favorites

Katrina, like the typical
tourist, visited the
souvenir shop and a
popular hangout

Not too bad, they only
have to rebuild half of
the buildings...

And, continuing west on Mississippi's Gulf Coast...

Hey, this building is only a "Dollar"

That is one way to get an unobstructed

Safest room in the bank...the vault

And you wonder why we had difficulty
getting gasoline

Before you ask "Why would anyone
live here?"...this was their view
and their landscape

Wait!  Does anyone live here?

They will again - new housing compliments of FEMA

The ocean surge pursued old and new alike...

How many wonderful years
were spent in these homes...


Homes, apartments, it made
no difference


One family still retained their
patriotic pride and faith in the
most daunting of times

And destroyed anything and everything that dared to bar its path...

I wonder how Consumer's Union
will rate these vehicles for
Hurricane safety?
But then, where would you
drive to anyway?  That is, if you
had a road...

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."

What were the architects smoking?

Katrina has a sick sense
of humor

At least there is some house left

because as you can see, many
people had a difficult time finding

In another sick and ironic twist, Katrina decided to taunt one town about its name:  Waveland...

A massive pier structure is no more

Stairways to nowhere

You know, one big truck and a
good pull to the left...hmmmm

Let's see, the surge was about 20' high
and about 20' of building was ripped away...

Sometimes, in the midst of deeply depressing
times, a small act of kindness lets you realize
that you are actually doing some good and
your efforts are appreciated and are worthwhile.

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.

When water races through
with no regard of anything that
is along the way


Houses or vehicles, it made
no difference. 

The residents were close, but not
THIS close

The infamous truck-eating tree

Mile after mile, acre after acre, home after 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...

Look closely, and you can see
the sign:
"Caution: House Crossing ahead"

And, not to be outdone, the wind
left its mark

Being a State Farm insured means
being a good neighbor, or a really
close one

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.

An alternate way of
building a two-story home

Just adding on some
storage space


Gerson looking for his beer
Seriously, you figure out how the refrigerator
got into that tree.  The water was not that

And, no, we did not take this picture, but I
received this from a friend with the caption:

"When the cows come home"

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.

The infamous water lines

Flood engulfed car and the typical
flood-chips left behind - the only
sound to be heard was the crunch
of the "chips" as we stepped on them

Cars became boats and boats
wanted to become cars

The green truck was parked down
the street and tried a new way to
park in the garage

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.

Where did all the water come from?
Look closely at the first picture - We are on the dry
side of the 17th St. levee that broke and bored through
the houses.

The London St. levee break and a house that
floated into the street

And the small bayous/canals that overflowed
captured their share of victims

Houses on raised foundations
were especially vulnerable to
being lifted and moved right
off their piers.

A typical sight - a house with a
"broken back".  The building is
lifted, the piers/blocks washed
away, and then the house is
dropped with little support.

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.

Again, Katrina-the-can-opener

The power of the flood water
scours away the lower portions
of the insignificant buildings

I guess this is one way to clean
and dry out your refrigerator

Things that float...

Boats in the darnedest places

A fuel tank floated from across a major
street and wedged between two buildings.  (Look closely at how it snagged on the electrical wire).   Now the question:
How do you get it out?

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.

Looters conveniently cleaned
out this convenience store and
then added salt to the wound
by lighting it on fire to hide
their tracks - or perhaps, just
for the "fun" of it.

Which came first?  The looters
or the flood or the rain through
the roof or...?

Here to save the day and to seal
the breached levees.  Hours upon
hours they flew back and forth to
place the huge sandbags

And then you start realizing the cold reality:  Where do the people go?  There is no home to come home to...Now what?

The stark and dark reality
of flood water that remains
in the buildings for weeks.

Where do you start?

How do you go on?

Why in the heck did I
collect so much junk?

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.

One of several roof openings cut out by
desperate people in order to escape water that was rising a foot every 10 minutes

Debris-lined streets clearly marked
flood neighborhoods

The air conditioner graveyard from a
flooded apartment complex

A rat thought it found a safe place
to escape from the storm

A dog's life cut cruelly short

and those critters that flourish in the
wake of death and decomposition
A whole new meaning to "M&M's"
Maggots and More maggots.

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.

A whole lot of nothing

Cars parked at odd angles
and all just seems "wrong"

Even Fort Jackson got bombed in the storm

And you wonder why New Orleans has a problem
with flooding and why people would still live there
Lake Ponchatrain dominates a diminutive New Orleans

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. 

Gerson enjoying a delicious beignet

Just buildings that show what New
Orleans was like in its heyday

The oldest U.S. Mint has
a now-famous "blue roof"

The Plaza de Armas was still
picture perfect after the hurricane

Celebrity watch: Lenny Kravitz's home

Sunset over New Orleans and a
befitting close to our pictorial

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...


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