Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hurricane Gustav / Part Two

Hurricane season in south Louisiana is always a time of nagging worry that weather patterns will align and a path will open up through the Gulf of Mexico, sending a storm of destruction that changes people’s lives. Hurricane Gustav in 2008 was one such storm.

And when the worse of it has passed, but still the gusts scary enough to walk with back flattened against the outside walls of the house, it is like emerging into a wartime battlefield. Nothing is left untouched. It is like those views of Vietnam, seen from bombers dropping so many close-patterned bombs, carpet bombing, and then the view up close, at ground level. Even after going through it, seeing a small portion of it happen through rain-streaked windows, it is still difficult to wrap my mind around what has happened.

Later reports state it is the worse storm ever for Baton Rouge. Gusts of 90 mph with sustained hurricane force winds for nearly 5 hours, the result of Gustav's eye coming close to the city, putting it on the northeast quadrant, the strongest area of destruction. And every neighborhood is the same: 20% of the trees in Baton Rouge down, every third or fourth house with a tree on it or in it. Streets blocked by huge oaks, trunks as big around as cars, street signs found miles away from the actual streets.

Now comes a long week. No power. Move everything from refrigerator into the freezer, eating sandwiches, Shredded Wheat before the milk goes bad. Trees across the driveway blocking in cars. No stores open even if there is a means of escape by automobile. No streetlights or traffic signals working in the entire city. At night it is like being in the country: no ambient light from any source. Only the sound of a few generators running, powering someone's refrigerator, a fan, radio, a lamp. It is eerily similar to those end of the world movies. And for the first two days the wind continues to blow, bands of rain falling, the weather cool enough to get some exhausted sleep. It is Wednesday before a crew is hired to cut a path through the trees across the driveway. And the crews like Carpetbaggers after the Civil War, from North Carolina, Alabama, Ocean Springs, all seeking work in the devastation. Thursday the sun comes out, the humidity rising and the nights miserable, sitting in the dark with as few clothes on as possible, candles, hurricane lamps aglow, reading (because there is nothing else to do) by booklight and flashlight, finishing three books in as many days. And every day, start that day by burying two or three koi, ten-pounders each floating in the water pitch black from the undisolved oxygen, beautiful fish, raised from thumb-sized specimens for six years. Like burying pets each day.

When the lightless nights are becoming the norm, when it is second nature to light candles and lamps at dusk to keep from entering totally dark rooms, the lights come on at Sunday dusk, the light over the kitchen sink suddenly lighting a small area on the patio, the sound of the pond pump with its first surge of water through the hose into the waterfall basin. Finally back to work after a week off, coming home into air conditioning, watching off-air TV because the cable is still out, and feeling for months to come somehow still disconnected, disgruntled, discovering it is the aftermath shock of driving home along a street no longer the same, a stranger street, not the same neighborhood of so many years before.

1 comment:

  1. A very tactile description of pandemonium and the dark calm that follows; the soured milk, the barricaded cars, the beating back of darkness with candles. I say again, it was a bad time and I was fortunate to miss it.