If you don’t remember where you were and what you were doing nine years ago today, you didn’t live here.
Two days into the developing disaster that was to mark as big a milestone as statehood (1812), the Battle of New Orleans (1815), Pearl Harbor (1941), D-Day (1944), Kennedy’s assassination (1963) and 9-11 (2001).
On Aug. 31, 2005, a crew was removing a large water oak tree from one corner of our Baton Rouge home.
There were greater concerns, much greater. Reports confirmed ancestral homes in New Orleans (there was more than one) were being inundated by rising floodwaters.
New Orleans was under siege. Overnight we became a Third World country with the dead and dying, search and rescue, looting, homes burning, gunshots, concerns about family and friends there and on the north shore, and worries about the vanguard of Advocate folks sent into this mess.
Four days later, I was there after following the 4 a.m. relief crew heading from Wildlife and Fisheries headquarters in Baton Rouge down an almost vacant Interstate 10, through a checkpoint, then another, then to the Elmwood command center.
Knowing Lakeview, it was easy to join the LDWF’s Enforcement Division’s search and rescue crew working that residential area.
That was the easiest part of the next four days.
It was just after sunrise that we were standing on the 17th Avenue Canal bridge at Veterans Highway. That’s when the tragedy hit home. The image of floodwater touching the bottom of the Bellaire Drive street sign proved my aunt’s home was underwater.
It was tough to learn that the LDWF agents on our boat lived in Chalmette. These guys were working 10 hours a day in search-and-rescue operations while their families were forced to abandon their flooded homes, and it was easy to know that this day-after-day work in extreme heat went beyond their call of duty.
Later that day, crews working Gentilly confirmed there was at least 10 feet of water on a boulevard in front of mom’s home, the place where we moved in 1952, a home built by my dad, uncles and grandfather. The thought then that the pain of losing dad two years earlier would have been a much worse knowing what could have happened had he lived until past August 2005. He never left his home during a storm, not Betsy, not Camille, not ever.
A month later while passing along our street — and water continued to cover Gentilly — it was tough to learn the markings on the houses indicated that Mrs. Rasmussen, a down-the-street neighbor for more than 50 years, had died in her home, and that someone had found her body there. We weren’t able to get into my mom’s home until the middle of October.
That was Katrina: Nothing after Aug. 29, 2005, will ever be the same as it was the day before this truly tragic day in our state’s history.