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This blog exists only as an archive. It is a journal that serves as a window into my life as a Marine combat veteran serving in Iraq and Afghanistan; it was written with no filter, no politics and no agenda. Please feel free to follow my journey from beginning to end. Welcome to my life.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Hurricane Katrina Trip

I've been thinking of some things that I could write about for my first real blog entry. Although I'm out of school, presently unemployed and living with my parents, my life has actually been kind of exciting. I decided that the coolest thing that I've done since leaving school (that's actually worth writing and reading about) was a trip I made to Louisiana with one of my best high school friends, Matt Hall.

Matt called me out of the blue one night about a week after the hurricane hit. While we were best friends in high school, we rarely called each other unless we knew we were both home, so for some reason I knew that he was calling me to do something about Katrina. Even though he was in the middle of class at Iowa State, he was determined to get down there and help, that's just the kind of guy he is. So I told that I would drive to Iowa State the next day and that we would go down together.

The next day, I packed up my car with a tent, sleeping bags, a chainsaw, some shovels, hammers and saws, along with some bottled water and one loaf of bread and jar of peanut butter. I picked him up and 17 hours later we were in Baton Rouge, LA. We had been in contact with our hometown's sister city, Thibideau, LA, and the councilmen that we talked to there said that we could not get into the city without registering with the Red Cross. So, there we were in Baton Rouge, walking around the Red Cross volunteer headquarters. A man approached us and asked if he could help us thinking we were refugees (didn't realize we looked that bad), we explained what we were doing and found out that he was actually from our hometown as well. He basically grandfathered us to the front of the registration line and left us there, wishing us luck. A woman approached us and gave us papers to begin filling out. For some reason, she suspected that we weren't supposed to be there (which we weren't) and started asking us about our confirmation numbers and Red Cross credentials. I immediately went into BS mode. Feeling overwhelmed, she dumped us off on a sweet old lady who was busy making ID badges. We somehow talked our way into getting our hands on Red Cross badges, and we ducked out the back door and we were on our way to Thibideau.

A couple hours later, exactly 24 after I had started driving, we arrived in Thibideau. It should be noted that when Thibideau was googled right after the storm, there were reports of total devastation and looting. So we were expecting a war zone. We got there and it looked like Vegas. We realized that the Red Cross was going to assign us to hand out water cups, so we kept driving that night, determined to find families that had been truly devastated by the hurricane.

Our random travels eventually landed us in Paradis, about 20 miles west of New Orleans. This place looked bad. We ended up stopping and helping the Hebert family pull two giant pecan trees off the roof of their barn. We spent alot of time that second day with the Hebert family talking about the hurricane and its effects on everyone in the area. It was weird because it made everyone resort to a somewhat primitive state. Every male Hebert was within 50 feet of a loaded handgun, and they each spoke of how they were willing to use it to protect their family and property. To you that might sound redneck, but you could really see the concern with these people. The looting was real. One of the Hebert's neighbors had seen Matt and I driving through the neighborhood earlier in the day, and when we were walking around with the Heberts later that evening we ran into him. His name was Peacock, and he showed us where he had written down my license plate number. He then told me how he had called the police about us, thinking we were looters, and how he had been prepared to shoot us on sight if he saw us again, then he showed us the guns. All three of them. Loaded.

The next day, we decided to get in close to New Orleans. We drove on the outskirts of the city, on the interstate above the Superdome. It was incredible, the stench was even worse. After that, we drove to the north shore of the lake, where the eye of the hurricane had passed and hovered for several hours. In a neighborhood right on the shore, we found an old man named Bruce. Bruce was standing on his lawn, looking at a giant pine tree that had crashed through the roof of his home, branches literally coming through the ceiling into the kitchen. We helped Bruce that day, spending about 9 hours pulling this tree from out of his roof. Near the end of the day, Bruce had to leave to go back to where he was staying, so that he could protect his 81 year old mother with his 357 magnum. He offered to let us sleep in the home that night, even though he had just met us.

The house was missing half its roof, there was no electricity, and the water had a sulfur content so high that it smelled like rotten eggs. It was better than the tent though. Matt and I had a romantic dinner of peanut butter sandwiches by candlelight, and then we went to bed around 8 pm. About an hour after Matt fell asleep, I heard branches snapping in the backyard. Knowing that looting had occurred in this neighborhood, my heart started racing about 200 beats per minute. Instantaneously, a thousand scenarios went through my head. I somehow immediately calculated the odds of it being a looter that was going to enter the home. The chance according to those scientific calculations? 15%. Which doesn't sound like much until you are sitting against a wall in someone else's house, armed only with a Maglite and a large knife. I didn't wake up Matt, because I just wasn't sure, and I figured he'd wake up if I was being brutally murdered anyway. I sat against that wall for about an hour, breathing heavily, amplying every sound that came in through the windows. Eventually I crawled back to my sleeping bag, but I didn't sleep for a single minute that night. (ps, I lived)

We continued along the shore into Slidell, which of all the cities in Louisiana, may have sustained the worst damage from the hurricane itself. Words can't even describe the things we saw in Slidell. The devastation was complete, and it didn't discriminate. EVERYTHING was destroyed. There were no light poles. There were no windows. Trees were not left standing. Boats were lying on their side, miles from the nearest body of water. We drove around in near silence, just kind of taking it in. Eventually, we saw an elderly man loading bottles of water into a wheelchair to take into his home. We asked him if he needed help. With a painful look, he tentatively asked if it was free. We told him of course, we were with the Red Cross. Relieved, he said that he needed more than he could get, his name was Carl. He told us about how he had tried to leave the house for cover, and unable to take his dog, had tied him up with lots of food and water. However, somehow the dog had gotten loose and jumped the fence by using a tree that had fallen from the other side of the road and crushed it. It then jumped on the hood of his car as he had driven away. Carl had been unable to keep the dog at home since then, and he told us that if we could do anything, he needed that tree removed and the fence fixed, so his dog could come home and be with him. Nobody ever needed more motivation to help someone. We sawed the tree, fixed his fence, pulled all his flooded carpets to the street, dismantled a few more trees and got on our way. The best thing about Carl? The whole time we were there, he simply sat on a lawnchair and listened to the Saints game. If his dog had been there, you would never have known that his home was sitting behind him, destroyed.

After Carl, Matt and I drove to Memphis to stay the night with my aunt and uncle. The next morning we woke up and came back to Iowa. The trip was one of the best experiences of my life.

If you have any questions about it, write a comment for on the blog.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Jake,

    Well, how does it feel to be thrust into the limelight of blogdom? *grin* Unlike many others that have generously written comments, I did not read about your blog in the New York Daily News. Heck, I'm no where even CLOSE to NY! I live on the Great Plains of eastern Montana. No, Jake, I found a link to your blog on another blog, 'An Angeleno's View of the World'(http://autone.wordpress.com/). I've been reading autone's blog since December of '06, and sometimes comment there by the username of freevolition. Well, when I saw you on the blog roll as a Marine in Iraq I just had to check it out. You see, both my husband and son are former Marines. My husband in the late 60's (basic in Parris Island) and my son in the early 90's (basic in San Diego). My son actually graduated from basic on the day of the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.

    Because of my curious nature I wanted to go back to the beginning of your blog and see how your life has evolved since you began posting on the worldwide web. I got this far and decided to comment on this blog entry. In case you're wondering why I'll enlighten you. It's another coincidental thing. Before Katrina, Camille was the hurricane to top all hurricanes to ever hit the Gulf Coast. That was in 1969. I was there. So was my husband-to-be. I actually met my future husband in Ocean Springs, MS in the summer of '69 (love the song of that title, by the way!). We both have quite a few family members that were impacted by Katrina, the worst being my husband's aunt's house in Gulfport which was totally destroyed by floodwaters. Only property damage, thankfully. After the storm telephone communications was nonexistent for several days so it was a pretty tense time for us until we were able to make contact with family members. There was one loss. A cousin of my husband's died as a result of downed electrical wires. He was on a rescue mission when it happened.

    Anyway, I wanted to thank you for what you and your friend did for the victims of Katrina. And I also wanted to thank you for your service to our nation. We have a good friend currently serving in Iraq (Top Sgt) and another friend serving in Afghanistan in a civilian capacity training police officers. Take care and keep your head down. We will remember you in our prayers. I don't know if you'll even read this comment since it is so far back in your archives, but I was compelled to write here anyway.

    Cheryl (aka freevolition)