Life After Katrina

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In the first days after the storm we dug on our lots like archeologists, searching for scraps and pieces of our past. My most treasured possession dug from the bayou is a lamp I bought from a Biloxi estate five years ago. My youngest stepson found it in the marsh behind my house, completely intact. The next day, search and rescue crews found the body of another neighbor nearby.

The first few days were a struggle for water, the next a struggle for ice. I stood in line with a woman who was on her way to Biloxi to identify her dead daughter, but she needed water first.

There have been no funerals, and we are wondering why. My sister-in-law, who works at the hospital, says the morgue is full and they are using refrigerator trucks. But why are there no funerals? The newspaper does not have obits. Why? Are we denying that people died, or are we saving up all this grief to torment ourselves with after we begin to truly recover? Why would we not begin to bury the dead?

But don't think for a second we don't know about New Orleans. We have all listened to WWL radio. We have a saying here: "We may be in Purgatory on the Gulf Coast, but those poor souls in New Orleans are in the inner ring of Hell." I can't fully convey how poorly the officials both here and there failed in getting the word out to people who did not know how to handle themselves in a Category 4/5. I've lived here long enough and interviewed enough Hurricane Camille victims that when I battened down the hatches I made sure I had axes, an extension ladder and boat flares, all in preparation for going into the attic if rising floodwaters made it necessary. As it turned out, my house was completely destroyed. Around the corner from there, an entire young family died. I watched them pull their bodies from the rubble last Saturday.

And the looters. I carried a rifle for almost a week until the National Guard arrived. My sister-in-law found two pieces of her great-grandmother's china. She set them on the slab of their house while she walked to my house to get a drink of water. When she returned looters had gotten them. Granted, my rifle was old, rusty and useless if a looter got too close, but from a distance I appeared lethal. A group of National Guardsmen tried to talk it away from me late last week, and I told them they could have it when they could pry it from my cold, dead hands. Strange how a storm changes you.

I have at least two friends who have obviously flipped out. These women are sitting in half blown out houses trying to live life in a normal way, even down to wearing make-up, dressing and using the good china and crystal since the everyday stuff is now up around Jackson or some similar locale. Yesterday one of them made the mistake of telling me how embarrassing my rifle was and I how needed to get dressed up and just pretend it was not happening. What came out of my mouth was not printable, but it was something akin to getting off your ass and helping someone besides your sorry, f-ing self.

Now that phones are back up and life is returning to normal, my family is hunting for a place to live. My brother, his family and my mother will likely rent a house in this neighborhood until they rebuild. Me, I still get a little edgy when I hear water running in the bathtub. And I believe this storm will create one of the great migrations of Americans on a par with the Dust Bowl and the blacks moving out of the South in the 40s, 50s and 60s to the urban areas of the north.

I will not rebuild on the beach. It is a graveyard now. I'm leaving as soon as I get my insurance settlement.