A Hard Rain

My Experience in Hurricane Katrina

We heard the news.

On this night, my mother was in Los Angeles at a “quit smoking” resort (she still smokes.) My brother, Franz, had come to join us. Pointer, our family friend, also decided to enjoy an evening of wine and debauchery. We had two dogs, Rosy and Wahoo, a German Shepard and a Golden-Retriever respectively. My father was there too, of course. He owned the house, after all. It was a lovely two-story home in Old Metairie, an affluent neighborhood. We spent the majority of the evening watching television, and I had fallen asleep on the couch.

I woke up to my father, he was yelling, “Water, water is coming from underneath the door!” He told me to put his clothes upstairs so they wouldn’t get ruined. I did so, and made sure to get the Xbox, my iPod, and a few mementos. All of these little souvenirs of my childhood would be lost anyway, along with most of our family photos and records.

We were up there for five days. The bottom floor was flooded. Our hardwood furniture was floating around the swampy murk, and would bump into you with surprising violence. It smelled horrible; the stink of New Orleans had managed to be swept in the house along with the Mississippi River. We had plenty of bottled water, and canned food. The dogs, being living creatures, had to poop, so we took them on the roof.

I don’t remember what exactly we did on each day; I don’t remember the chronology very much neither. I do, however, remember a few moments rather vividly. Even then, there were a few things I recognized as important. These moments generally took place on our roof at night.

One night, they were drinking wine. My father was somewhat of a wine enthusiast, and stored a great deal of fancy red wine. No use in letting in waste. I was too young to drink, which led to me being incredibly bored. I played a bit with my flashlight. It was a yellow, shitty flashlight of average size, probably a half-foot long.

I didn’t know a lot of Morse code. I was never in boy scouts, nor did I strive to join. I did, however, know the sequence for SOS. Three short blips, three long blips, and another three short blips. In my boredom and quiet desperation, I flashed the sequence into the sky above us.

Without much warning, a helicopter flew over our house. They must’ve seen the signal. Now, it’s worth mentioning how strong a helicopter’s winds are. They sweep everything around you. This helicopter wasn't too far above us, and the strong winds swept the wine bottles off the roof and blew our hair every which way.

Then, they lowered a seat on a rope, which was intended for us to sit down and be rescued. However, in this situation, the term “rescue” is something of a misnomer. In an ideal situation, when you’re rescued, you are taken out of a bad situation and dropped into another, preferably one less bad than the one you’re in. Had we decided to be rescued, we would have been taken to the Superdome. This would have been a mistake.

You know who else was taken to the Superdome? People from New Orleans who didn’t evacuate. People who couldn’t afford to evacuate. Some – not all – of those people are members of the various gangs of New Orleans. In case you’ve never been to New Orleans, you should know that it’s an incredibly violent place with an incredibly high murder rate – for a long time, the highest. We knew that those people would be in the Superdome. We knew this, and we didn’t get on that seat. We, with the exception of Pointer, tried to signal to them that we don’t want to be rescued. They left, leaving us feeling quiet and guilty.

Pointer was confused. “Why didn’t we get on? What the hell were we thinking?” He thought that we would probably die. That we would starve, be attacked by looters, or something along those lines. He was frantic. We told him our reasons, about how awful it would probably be. He eventually calmed down, but I don’t think he was truly convinced.

Another night, we managed to cook spaghetti. Our gas stove, despite being partially submerged in swamp water, still worked. We had enough bottled water to spare to boil the pasta in, too. I remember it being particularly delicious, and did wonders for our morale. That same night, I believe, my father’s cell phone picked up a signal. I called my mother, she didn’t pick up the phone. Probably busy, doing whatever they do at "quit smoking" retreats. I called my grandmother, and she answered. I told her that we were fine, and that we would be home before she knew it.

Each day, the water rose a few inches. It showed no signs of stopping.

So, we made a plan. We would leave and try to get to Baton Rouge. My father knew someone who lived there, so we could probably seek refuge at his rather spacious abode. Then, we would get a plane to Los Angeles – where we would live until, well, we didn’t know. But it was imperative for us to leave as soon as we could. The water was rising, and it would soon be difficult for us to leave.

What would we do with the dogs? They couldn’t swim, and they would probably make it impossible to leave. You can't hitchhike with a snarling German Shepard with you. We filled up the tub with bottled water and left and great deal of food, and made sure to separate them from each other – they would likely kill each other. Hopefully we could figure out something to do about it, but we didn’t have a choice. We swam out. It was something of an odyssey. We swam out of her house, and managed to make it to dry land. We met some men in a pickup truck. They gave us some beef jerky and a ride to somewhere else to hitch another ride. We eventually ran out of water.

I remember, distinctly, encountering some government convoy driving down the street. I didn’t know what they were up to – maybe saving someone, but probably not. On the sidewalk, there was a man. He was in uniform – so, a soldier of some kind. I don’t exactly what his reasons were for standing on the side of the street. He was sipping a bottle of water. My father asked him if we can get some water, or where we could get some water. The man shook his head. He didn’t say a word to us. My father was quite livid, but didn’t make too much of scene. We just walked away. I believe that this encounter was forever etched into my father’s memory.

We hitched a ride from somebody with a pickup truck heading to Baton Rouge. We sat in the truck bed. On the sides of the highway were countless abandoned cars – probably ran out of a gas and wanted to get out of New Orleans. I saw a few families walking. It was very sad, and we were quite lucky to have gotten out of that awful situation. Things could have been a lot worse, and they were for a whole lot of people.

My father’s friend was very kind, and was hosting over a dozen Katrina refugees – we were the only ones from after the storm hit. He was a neural anesthesiologist. I believe his name was Billy. We stayed there for about two weeks until we could procure some tickets to L.A.

After Katrina, my family and I relocated to Los Angeles. My father, my mother, and my brothers Franz and Nick moved up there. My mother hired a couple Cajuns to retrieve the dogs – they survived, thank the Almighty.

My father’s ex-wife – her name is Marcy, and she’s the mother to Franz and Nick – was also in LA. She had contacted a friend for us to be on her TV show to talk about our experience. It would be my first time on television. Well, it would have, had our segment not been cut.

That show was the Ellen Show, and Marcy’s friend was Ellen DeGeneres. Marcy had known Ellen since she was just starting out as a comedian. Ellen, I believe, thought it would be an excellent idea to have us on there. Some white people for the primary audience of the Ellen Show would relate too. She didn’t say that outright, but it’s the truth.

Anyway, we ended up onstage, as guests sometimes do. It was Marcy (who wasn’t even in New Orleans at the time,) my father, and my brothers. Kanye West and Hillary Duff were also guests, but they were backstage.

Ellen went around the room and asked us, one by one, what our experiences were. What we thought about it, how it affected our perspective, and so on. I said, “It fills you with a sense of awe.” I was mad at myself for quite some time afterwards. There’s a lot I could’ve said, but I didn’t. Kids, you know, they don’t know what to say on TV.

My father said, “I was amazed by how little help we got.” He went on a rather long rant about it. It was angry and passionate. It was aired on the NBC News, along with a montage of volunteers helping people in New Orleans. I’ll leave this up to the reader to develop their own interpretation.

Katrina was a long time ago, about thirteen years since the levees broke. A lot has changed, and a lot hasn’t. The levee has been repaired and reinforced. Then again, the Corps of Engineers were behind it, so maybe they’ll fuck it up again. The mayor – who said he wanted New Orleans to become a “chocolate city” – was recently convicted and found guilty for corruption charges. He stole a bunch of money from the tax payers and spent it on improving his rich neighborhood, which isn’t a surprise given the crumbling infrastructure. It seems New Orleans is started to get better finally. A lot of cool, smart young people have been moving there. Cheap housing, job opportunities, and the astounding loveliness of New Orleans have brought them there. There’s a huge counter culture scene there, and I hope they make a difference. There’s still a lot of crime there, and it’ll be that way for a long time. But, baby steps. Things that are the worst can only get better. 

But, then again, I’m an outsider now. New Orleans isn’t my hometown anymore – Pensacola is, although sometimes I’ll tell northerners that I’m from New Orleans so I sound more interesting. Going back and looking forward, these memories of Katrina are all I have left. My father and Franz have died since then, and I haven't talked to Pointer in years. I've looked all across the internet for our appearance on the Ellen Show, but it seems to have vanished from the Earth. Now, this article is the only evidence of my experience, save the pink Ellen Show lanyard hanging in my closet. 

Layne Radlauer
Layne Radlauer

Heyo, I'm Layne. I write poems, short stories, and creative nonfiction. I'm a fan of science-fiction, horror, and all of that type of thing. I've got a BA in English from Penn State, and I live in State College, PA (until my lease is up.)

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A Hard Rain