Thursday, August 26, 2010

Katrina Remembrance (Revised)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

My new travel business

After much rumination about my financial future (which always seems precarious!), I have embarked on something really exciting that permits me to indulge two of my passions: travel and photography. So I have started my own online travel business. My travel booking website is www.ytbtravel.com/hartandsol . I would appreciate it if you would do me a favor and check it out. Please place it in your favorites list.
I am offering the same great values and conveniences as the highly advertised sites, 24/7 booking, travel insurance, online check-in etc. Your confirmations come from the same travel vendors. Therefore, there is absolutely no risk in booking through my travel business.
You’ll really love my site! It is one of the best travel and vacation websites on the Internet today. And, you’ll be doing me a huge favor. Anytime you book vacations or travel on my site, you’ll get the same or better deals, and I earn a commission. If you book through the highly advertised sites, you merely help them pay for their advertising. When you go through me, I get paid for my word-of-mouth advertising.
I know I can count on you to use my site and to spread the word! If you could forward this info to your contacts, I would be very appreciative.
If any of you are interested in the business opportunity aspect (own your own travel website--get agent discounts on flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, etc.) go to www.travellinghart.com for information.

Friday, September 08, 2006

We need a horse!

Nathaniel Dawsey lost two horses (and a home, which goes without saying) in Katrina. I met him through Wendy. Wendy's text about the Dawseys is below. We are now trying to find someone to donate a horse for us to deliver to Nat. If you can help, e-mail me at virginia@virginiahart.com.



The Dawseys: (Wendy's text) Let me tell you about my boys.. My new friends that quickly became good friends. The guy on the left is Kizer, also known as Black and the blonde is Nathanial. We are standing in front of what used to be Nathanial's house. Katrina did some remodeling, as you can see and like everyone else in Pearlington - the boys lost everything.
I met the boys while I was looking for their grandmother Miss Elsie. Miss Elsie is a diabetic and since the storm she had been without a glucometer so I was going to check on her and to give her some medical supplies. As I walked up to her FEMA trailer (one of the few in town at that time) I heard some little voices yelling "sh'ain't home". Looking over I saw the boys in the back of a red pickup truck. They were getting a rope. I asked when she would be home and the one I would come to know as Nat told me that I had to talk to his Daddy. So I did. Nat's parents are Wendy and Joseph (aka Ticker - but pronounced Tigger!)
Ticker told me that Miss Elsie was doing ok and that she had managed to get a ride to the store. As we talked I noticed the boys yelling and carrying on in the woods near the house. When I asked Ticker what they were doing he said they were "roping Hawgs". As you can imagine that just tickled me to no end and I had to ask "so, are ya catching any?" "Oh yes Mam!!" was the rapid response. This of course led to another must be answered question... "what do you do with 'em when you catch them?" They both answered "we wrastle 'em!". "This I got to see" I said, and that was it. My fate was sealed. Those boys were determined to catch me a hawg to wrastle before I left Mississippi.
I stopped a visited with Nathanial everyday. He was always outside, amusing himself with rocks, ropes, trees and snakes. Most things that little boys enjoyed. His mom told me that he went off in the woods everyday, I thought he was playing and sometimes he was, but mostly he was looking. Nat and his family had evacuated prior to the storm, but they couldn't take their animals including two horses that were Nathanials pride and joy. And every day, Nat would go out looking for those horses. He still looks. That little guy had lost everything. Everyone in Pearlington had, but for the kids it was especially hard. They wanted to go to school, but their school was gone. No television, no game-boys, no board games - everything except some ruined bits of nature and their imagination, all gone. I would play with him for a short while everyday. There was so much work to be done that a little while was all I could manage, but it was important. He needed to know he was important. He needed to be a kid and to have a grown-up let him just be an ordinary kid and see things from his point of view.
One day we went off in search of the "hawgs" that were real close, too close to wait for a better day. I still had on my scrubs, but we went off into the swamp. I learned the difference between a bog and a wallow and how to tell if a track was fresh, and that a very large hoof meant a very large hog was nearby. After half an hour of traipsing through the woods I told him that I would have to turn back for the day as I still had work to do. I was informed that I was making a mistake, and Nat knew this because "it's still fresh" (the hog poop he squished in his fingers). In fact there was a tunnel through the underbrush that the hog had probably just gone through! But, I had work to do. I did make a promise that I would spend my last afternoon in Pearlington with Nathanial and his friends and we would wrastle a hog.
The last day came sooner than I wanted. It was so hard to know that I was leaving and while I had been absent from my life for 3 weeks, I didn't feel like I was done in Mississippi. But on that last day Nathanial and Donovan his cousin were waiting for me. Nat said that the hog was just down the road - and I could even ride his new bicycle! Well his new bicycle was an old bike that had been rescued from someones debris pile. It had two flat tires and the seat was bent. I told him he could ride and I would run along beside. We got to the area were the hog was and those boys were ready. There was a small dirt road with thick underbrush and woods around it. And what do you do with two boys in the woods?... you go over trees, crawl under brush, climb over piles of debris, etc... for a good fifteen minutes. But it was worth it, there she was, sleeping under a canapy of low branches. She yawned and the boys giggled and I thought oh my God I'm looking at the jaws of Satan. Its mouth was huge! Thankfully, as we were 4 foot away, it went back to sleep. However, as you may recall that wasn't the plan. We weren't to merely watch the hog sleep. "We'll poke her in the butt and wake her up and she'll run and you can wrastle her", was the grand plan. I told them to at least let me get into a cleared place where I could run, before they woke her up. "Ok" said Nat, "but be sure and get a big stick and if that hawg tries to bite you club it!" "she could take your arm off". So I went to the road, and got a big stick, and waited. After much rustling of the brush, giggles from the boys and loud snorts it emerged from the brush - and took off. With the three of us hot on its short, curly tail.
I didn't get to "wrastle a hawg", because I couldn't catch it. But I don't feel too bad about that because they couldn't either. But we had an excellent adventure. For a little while they were just kids, on a grand adventure and it was good to be able to give them that. Time was all I had to give.
I've been back twice, and both times I have "played" with Nathanial and the other children. Once Ticker even had to haul us out of the swamp with a four-wheeler. We were in it up to our waists, but having a blast. Guess I didn't think about the snakes..
Nat has a special place in my heart. He just turned 10 and he is all boy. He likes to hunt, to help feed the family (when he has bullets), in fact he got his first deer when he was six. A Mr. Gene Butterfield, a contractor out of Virginia (someone will correct me if I am wrong) is building them a new house. The kids are back in school and Nat has braces, and a girlfriend. But he still looks for those horses. I want to give him a horse. If anyone has a nice horse for a great kid I will pick it up and deliver it!

Couldn't resist posting this


This photo still tickles me. Can't say that Mississippians have no sense of humor!

Grandma duty

I am in Boston with the Grandbaby Esther, whom I am now calling the Contessa (Princess being far too overused) but will return to SF on Tues 9/12. Pix tomorrow or so. (Yeah yeah, I know I take too long to upload the pix.... I need my own website!)

Got several E-mails and calls on 8/29, the anniversary of Katrina, and we all agreed on two things (a) those who weren't there and didn't see it can't relate; and (b) none of us ever cried while we were deployed but were crying on the phone together a year later. So, we either all have PTSD (Wendy says "ya think???") or as my very sensitive teenage son said to me, you guys all need your meds adjusted!
This little girl in the supply tent in Pearlington still captures my heart.













In any event, I was disappointed that Ernesto took a turn to the East, because there was a chance I would be going back to Mississippi. And whoever knows where to get that T-Shirt "I (heart graphic) Mississippi, I need to get one still.


Barbara Hall has on the shirt I want in this photo taken 10/6/2005 at the check disbursement center in Gulfport.










Wendy and I need a horse. Nathaniel Dawsey, one of the Pearlington boys, lost two horses in Katrina, and, after a year long search of all the animal rescue agencies, no one can find his horses. So Wendy and I are looking for a horse ( or donations to buy one). Since I know nothing about horses, some advice might be good too. But no jokes about "bleep you and the horse you rode in on...." I know you were thinking that Wendy when we talked about riding horses into Pearlington to give to the boys. I never saw Nathanial laugh while we were there.




This is Kizer Dawsey. He never smiled much either.




















The Bellos finally have a church group that is going to build them a house. Wendy and I are going down to Pearlington to pound a few nails into that thing ourselves. Certainly no one is more deserving than Claude and Cookie.

That's it for today.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Back Tracking - Can't believe I haven't posted in soooo long

What's new since April??? Jeez, where to start. Jesse and I drove back across country to SF about a week after Esther was born. We were both homesick for that wonderful fog! There IS a reason why we all pay so much to live here. Not to mention the politics differ greatly from the South.

Jesse enrolled at Balboa High School for the remainder of the semester and then decided in August he wanted to go back to Marine Military Academy (go figure!), so I am on my own again (translation: free to travel). He is a junior this year (how the time flys by....).

For all you burners getting ready for this year's burning man, this photo is from last year.












We did our usual chaotic, crazy and wonderful Fourth of July at Donner Lake with friends and I have spent a couple of months trying to pull together a book of Katrina images (one year anniversary next week) and photographing a couple of weddings along the way.

Book excerpt: Note: This book is mostly photographic, but uploading the photos is taking a bleeping awfully long time. So keep in mind that for each descriptive paragraph there are at least 60 photos to go with, which will replace the descreptive text.

ALL YOU REDCROSS PEOPLE I WORKED WITH: SEND ME YOUR STORIES! I will include them in the text as appropriate.

Cities destroyed – Waveland, Pearlington, Bay St. Louis, Ocean Springs, Pass Christian, Diamondhead, Pascagoula, Gulfport/Biloxi – cities I had never heard of before, and had certainly never visited, had been flattened by Katrina. After watching CNN wall to wall coverage for several days, I got up off the couch and went to the Red Cross office in Oakland to volunteer. Four weeks after the storm, on October 3, 2005, I was on a plane to Gulfport.

As I collected my baggage, I met some other volunteers who had just arrived and who would become lifelong friends: Wendy Frost and Maureen Crispell. Little did we know then that we would later be on the Oprah Show together.

We boarded a shuttle to the Red Cross staging area, which was at the Navy Seebee Base in Gulfport, where we would eat and sleep during our deployment.

It was hot and muggy in Gulfport and the scene was surreal. Hundreds of volunteers, cots huddled together, reading, talking, sleeping, in what appeared to be an airplane hangar. One hangar housed the Red Cross workers, the next one over, military personnel, and the next, firefighters and local police volunteers. We stood in line for the mobile shower facility, and ate from a mobile kitchen.

Wendy, Maureen and I took a shuttle bus to the PX. The driver told us to watch out for the “rowdy” recruits. “We middle aged white women don't get in too much trouble,” I said. Wendy said, “don't count on that.”

We gathered our sundries at the PX and stood in line to check out behind two young guys in camouflage uniforms. “I want a ride in a humvee,” Wendy whispered to me. “Good luck,” I replied.

“Are you guys together?” I asked, wondering if they would be rung up separately or not. Both guys turned and looked at me as if they didn't understand. “Don't ask, don't tell,” Wendy said wryly. One of the guys flushed bright red and the other laughed. “Hey, I'm from San Francisco, I really don't care,” I laughed.

“I bet they would've given us a humvee ride,” Wendy said as we went back to the bus. “And then what???” I asked. Maureen shook her head. All three of us had children their age or older. “I think I'm having a midlife crisis,” I said. “There's nothing worse than having a crisis in a disaster area,” Wendy replied, “it's so common.”

“Are we stuck in an episode of Mash,” I wondered out loud. Wendy says, “yeah, and you get to be Hotlips Houlihan.” “Well, I guess that makes you Radar, doesn't it?” I shot back.. “We'll see...” Wendy laughed. And so we would. Don't ask don't tell would become our watchwords whenever Wendy procured some item for one of her "peeps". I would say "how (or where) did you get that for the Rev?" She would say "Don't ask, don't tell."

I couldn't sleep that first night, so many sights and sounds, so much unknown. Just showing up had been a leap of faith for me. While I'm fairly well-traveled, I had never traveled alone, let alone to a disaster area. A couple of weeks earlier, I had put my youngest son on a plane for school, and I realized I hadn't been on my own in almost thirty years. My fifty something body was eyeing those cots with trepidation. And here I was in Mississippi, my only (negative) opinion of which comes from the Civil Rights era.

The next day everyone was up around 6:00 a.m. Buses transported us to Red Cross headquarters in Biloxi, where we would be “in-processed” and given our assignments. My assignment was supposed to be in client services. But when I entered the building, the first table I came to was labeled “Public Affairs.” “Client Services” was across the room.

I took a chance. “Do you guys need a photographer?” Chris D'Ionno, the young man working at the desk, said he didn't know, but could I come back in a half an hour when his supervisor returned. I said okay and then spent that half hour stalling, hoping that “client services” wasn't looking for me.

Mary Lee Conwell is the epitome of Southern women at their best, a combination of charm, wit, intelligence and savoir faire with good looks to boot. “Do we need a photographer?” she drawled, “why honey, bless your heart, let me get your assignment transferred.” When she came back from the client services desk, she informed me that they didn't want photographers anyway, too moody." “It's that artist tragic flaw thing,” I said.

I was issued a car, a cell phone, and my housing was transferred to the Ramada Inn in Ocean Springs, where the rest of the PA team was housed. I said goodbye to the 1500 cots at the base, most notably my own.

The Ramada Inn was home to about 50 Bell South service trucks and their operators, some insurance adjusters and us--no tourists, no vacancy, just rebuilding personnel rotating in and out from different organizations.

The next day Mary Lee paired me up with Robert Dincau, and we were to visit a couple of shelters and “get the lay of the land”. Robert drove me to downtown Biloxi, where we cleared the military checkpoints. We avoided police cars so as not to be mistaken for looters and drove from Biloxi to Pass Christian where the bridge was out, a route we were to take several times in the next couple of weeks.

All of the levity of the past two days dissipated with the jaw-dropping magnitude of the damage. Debris and piles of rubble replaced the stately homes that had once stood proudly along the coast. Some homes and businesses had been swept away leaving nothing but the foundations. Casino barges that had been on the coast had been lifted and landed on the inland side of the highway crashing into buildings in their path. Grand old oak trees lay uprooted in submission and those still standing were draped in the debris from the receding storm surge. In a fit of symbolism, the flagpole at the Hurricane Camille Memorial had bowed in the face of Katrina. (Note: this part of the narrative will be significantly broken up by various photos of what's described above)







As we walked through some of the coastside neighborhoods, the smell of death and despair was still hanging in the air a month after the storm. Other than sporadic patrol vehicles, we saw no one, no sign of life, in what had been a thriving area. The injured homes still standing appeared desolate and forlorn, and I could see straight through them as if the flood waters had stolen their souls. Semi trailers from the port were overturned and miles away from their point of origin.

Most infrastructure had been ripped away—no power, no water, no phone, no medical facilities, hazardous roadways. Warnings to looters were everywhere, but I couldn't figure out what was left to be looted. Katrina had already taken everything. Only the shells of peoples' former lives survived.

We backtracked up to Highway 10, and drove towards Bay St. Louis on Hwy 405. The sides of the road were littered with abandoned vehicles, mud-clad and haphazardly placed along the highway, some upright, some on their sides, some upside down. What I called Wizard of Oz homes, the ones that had been picked up and dropped down away from their foundations, lined the roads.

All structures still standing along Katrina's path bore the evidence of search and rescue teams – a circle spray-painted on the front with four quadrants: date searched, searching agency, number of survivors present, number of dead discovered inside. Only God knows the actual number of people who perished in the storm.

These spray-painted homefronts would become billboards for frustration:
“FEMA forgot Waveland” “Katrina took all we had, State Farm took the rest” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and also for personal messages: “Thank you Anderson Cooper” “You Loot We Shoot” “We Will Be Back” and my personal favorite “We are Alive”. (Note: This text will be replaced with photos)

American flags hung defiantly on almost every homesite, some battered and torn by the storm and some obviously recently purchased, a symbol of intent to rebuild. Six months later, those flags too, would look tired and frustrated, their defiance fading in the face of monumental bureaucratic snafus and red tape.

Robert and I had lunch in Picayune. Outside the diner was a bent up sign that read “Jesus is Lord over Picayune”. All I could think was, “so where was He on August 29, 2005”, as if He needed an alibi.

We criss-crossed the State of Mississippi that day, from Gulport to Bay St. Louis to Picayune and then all the way east to Lucedale. Even well inland, evidence of Katrina was imprinted on the landscape—trees snapped in half, vegetation wilting in places where streams and lakes had overrun their banks and homes in every kind of disrepair.

But it wasn't the catastrophic damage that touched me the most, it was the heart and soul of the people I met along the way, survivors and rescue/relief personnel.

WENDY'S STORY (her text unedited)
I first met Pearlington, and it's people on October 5th of last year - five weeks after the storm.
I was sent down from Ohio with the Red Cross and had been on the coast for two days. I was deeply saddened and moved by the destruction of the Gulf Coast, but what I found in Pearlington made me speechless. They were weeks behind everyone else in recovery.
My job with the Red Cross was Staff Health. As an RN I was to travel to the shelters, kitchens and distribution centers and make sure that the volunteers were safe and physically and emotionally well.

I first got to Pearlington in the afternoon hours of October 5th. It was miles from anywhere but seemed to be worlds away. Many of the houses were still standing, but what the wind didn't carry away the water ruined. Like a bully holding onto a small child, the trees kept the homes in place while the water beat them relentlessly.

As I said, my "job" was Staff Health, but I found my mission in Pearlington. I would spend my mornings doing my official assignments, then all my afternoons in Pearlington. I would load up my assigned van and travel the dusty roads looking for people who could not come to the center. People too old, too depressed, or just unable to get to the help they needed. Many of the people I encountered just needed to tell their stories. They had wonderful stories of survival and courage, and a lot of pride.

The Reverend: When I first met him he sitting under the big oak tree on the corner by his half-demolished house, his cousin James sitting nearby. His clothes were worn and dirty,and his face was lined with wrinkles, but his eyes were sparkling. I introduced myself and we talked awhile. I asked if he needed anything, a tarp, blankets, food, but he politely declined. He did accept a bottle of cold water, "James here is an ole man, he might could use a drink." I believe James was 86. "Someone down the road probably needs it worse than I do, I'm doing fine."

As we sat there making polite conversation a car pulled up and a tall man with a gun strapped to his leg got out. He had some Ensure with him and he took it over and placed it in the old black truck parked across the street. He introduced himself, and asked the Reverend if he had told us about his tree. He hadn't yet as we had only just met, "Now you know they don't want to hear that ole story Benny" he said, but it was obvious that the Reverend had a story to tell.
Benny just smiled, "sure they do" and that was all the encouragement Reverend Burton needed.

"Walk with me child, you see that tree?" and with that, the story began. "I was in my house with my nephew and we was a looking down the road and I says to him, you see that stop sign down there?" "that water gets to that sign and its going to flood out Pearlington" "that water ain't never got that high." And they watched as the water crept past the stop sign and towards the house. "we was sitting in the house, just a watching and the water got up to the floor and my nephew he says "Unc we better get on up out of here." As they went out the front door the water swept the Reverend off of his feet and his nephew had to help him up. They were headed down the street, trying to make their way to Reverend Burtons daughter's house when the water gushed towards them. As they were swept down the street the Reverend grabbed a vine that was hanging from a tree "take my hand son, he said, don't fight the water" "that water is going to raise us up and when it does we are going to get up in the fork of that tree" "The wind was just a blowing, and the trees were shaking, but the water done raised us up and we got in that tree." Reverend Burton's dog floated by and they managed to grab her and get her in the tree with them. As they looked towards the west they could see Reverend Burton's daughter and grandchildren huddled on the roof of the church across from his flooded house. "I knew they was trying to get to me and I yelled that I was alright, just stay up on that roof"For hours they stayed in that tree with the wind and rain beating on them. "The wind was a howling, and the water hit so hard it burned and the trees all around me were shaking and bending."I asked if he was afraid."No child, I sang, and the more the wind blowed the louder I sang and I just talked to the Lord. I said "Lord you know I am your servant and I done everything you ever asked me to do and I know that if I asked you for something you will do it, I'm asking you now... please don't touch this tree I'm in." "You can take all these trees around me, just don't touch this tree I'm in." "And one by one the trees around me just split, they was breaking and popping like twigs, but the Lord left my tree alone - and there it stands"

He had walked me down the road and I looked to the wooded area he pointed out. There stood a lone forked tree in the midst of a cleared area. The trees were snapped off near the ground in a complete circle around that tree. It didn't look sturdy enough to have even held the dog, yet it held two grown men in a rough wooden embrace, for hours.And that was the first of many visits with Reverend Burton.

It took a week of daily visits before he would accept anything other than my friendship. And another few visits before he really started to talk. I remember the first time I asked him about his house. He had tried to salvage a few things, but hadn't found much. He wasn't upset about the house though."That house, was just a house, it wasn't home. I've been building me a new home, been working on it most of my life. One stick at a time, one good deed at a time, oohh is it going to be fine. It will be a glorious place with rooms for all my family, but it ain't ready yet. I'm not done. The Lord will tell me when my home is done."

We talked of many things on my visits with the Reverend. He is wise, beyond his years. The lines on his face a testament to his character, and the constant sparkle in his eyes a sign of his faith. He was always my last visit of the day. Even though he was long since retired, he still held court at the base of that old oak tree. People would stop to ask for directions and end up lingering for hours.Some would just see an old man, in dirty tattered clothes with a baseball cap pulled down over his unruly curly gray hair and not look beyond that. He knew what they were thinking and it didn't bother him. I would watch as his eyes would start twinkling and he would say "I only went to school three days, the first day et' lunch, the second day I had recess and the third day I played hookie but I can count to ten and I can write my name." The people who only saw the outward appearance, those who missed the twinkle in his eye, missed alot.

Reverend Burton is an Alumni of Emory University in Atlanta Georgia.

For those of us who looked deeper, who took the time to listen, he would sing. He sang for us as he did for the Lord while he was up in that tree. And we listened and for a little while, our hearts were lighter.

The Bellos: Claude and Cookie Bello lost everything. The trailer on the right is home now, and a church group built them a shed. The trailer is small and cramped and though they dream of a home of their own they don't complain. They are just happy to be alive. Take a good look at Claude, you may not realize it but you are looking at a hero. His story will break your heart.

Before the storm Claude and Cookie were content. They owned a small piece of land near the river that Claude loved. His income from crabbing supplemented Cookies pay from her job answering phones 10 hours a day. Claude and Cookie had a nice little trailer with three bedrooms that they had bought with Claude's aunt. They had moved her in so they could take care of her. When she needed a handicapped accessible home she moved on and they kept the trailer. It was still in the Aunt's name, she had found out that if it was in her name only they wouldn't have to pay property taxes because the aunt was elderly so Claude's name was taken off the title.

And then came Katrina....

Claude and Cookie did not evacuate and soon they were joined by family members who couldn't leave. They went to Mr. Russ's place. It was a beautiful old place directly behind and to the left of Claude and Cookies place. It had survived Camille and Mr. Russ offered it to them as shelter from the storm. Mr. Russ and his family had evacuated because his wife was ill and his son handicapped.

They stood in the living room and watched the Pearl River, directly across the road from Mr. Russ's house. They watched as the river crossed the road, knowing that Camille had not crossed the road. Soon the water was even with the porch. They watched as it crept towards the glass doors and started seeping into the house. As they stood in ankle deep water the cellphone rang, it was Mr. Russ. He wanted to know how close the water was to the road. "It is ankle deep in your living room Mr. Russ" Cookie replied. He seemed not to understand and asked again "how close is it to the road?" Cookie handed the phone to Claude. "Cookie doesn't understand me Claude", Mr. Russ said, "I asked how close is the water to the road?" Claude replied "we are now knee deep in water at your dining room table."

"My God, Claude get your family to the attic, that river is going to wash away Pearlington" yelled Mr. Russ. At that same time an announcement came over the battery powered radio. "Thank God for miracles, the storm has turned north" "it is now headed up the coast of Mississippi along the Pearl River".

Dear God, thought Claude it is headed right for us, we have got to get higher. He forced open the door in the rapidly flooding living room and got everyone else headed upstairs. Just as he was turning to go up himself the glass doors burst inward and he went under. He could feel himself pushed into first one wall and then another. He wanted badly to breath but knew if he did he would die. He fought the current and pulled himself back towards the entrance to the attic, under water all the way, his body bouncing against the ceiling of the flooded house. When he felt the corner that would take him to the attic he pulled himself around it and the current shot him upward. He came out of the water gasping for breath and weak, and needed help standing.
The rafters shook and heaved with the force of the water and they knew that even then they were not safe. The only possible exit, a small window. Claude kicked out the window and pushed everyone out. The roof was metal, and the women could not hang on. Only one of the women could swim, and they had the baby in a plastic tote. After shoving the women back into the flooding attic Claude knew their only hope was a boat. The water was at the roof line now and the house was being battered by the current and debris. Claude scanned the horizon for a boat and when he spotted one he left the relative safety of the roof and jumped into the water. Somehow even though the wind and current were strong, he managed to get that boat back to the house. There was no rope or anything to tie it to the house, but there was a metal pole at the end of the house that had been in place since before Katrina. One of the other men got in and helped hold the boat in place for the women.

Frankie sent the baby down to Claude in the tote, and Claude put him in the boat. A strong wind picked up the tote and lifted it out of the boat and the water started to carry the baby away. "I thought we had lost him", Claude said, "and I jumped in again and grabbed him saying God help me, help me save that baby." After everyone was loaded into the leaky boat it was very heavy. The wind was blowing hard, the current lifting them up only to smash them back down, and Claude held onto that metal pole. They had nowhere to escape to, and as the full force of the hurricane hit they huddled in that boat, secured near the house only by the strength of Claude's arms. It lasted for hours, though there was a brief period of calmness while the eye passed and still Claude hung on. "I knew after the eye passed we would get the other side of the storm and we had no place to go". Then it hit again, with even more force. They could yell, but the wind was howling so loud that you couldn't even hear the person sitting next to them. Claude looked at Cookie and she was screaming.

Claude said "I couldn't hear her, but I understood her. She was saying don't let go baby, please don't let go." "I looked down and my arms were bleeding from scraping on the pole, but I didn't let go. " "I knew if I did we would all die." And so they hung there in the driving stinging rain, held in place only by Claude's arms, until the storm had passed.

When the storm passed they made their way to what was left of the firestation. Claude said "I knew that the pump truck had just been filled and we could use it to clear of a piece of concrete so we would have somewhere to rest." They had no food and no water, only the clothes on their backs. After getting the women settled the men went out looking for survivors. They pulled some people from the rubble of their homes and got them back to the station. Others straggled in until there were 12. And they waited for help. "After three days with no food I knew we had to feed the women, and I told Frankie that if we could find someones freezer with a good seal there may be food in it that we can use," said Claude. And they got lucky. "When I opened that freezer and the cool air came out I yelled" "there was hamburger and some shrimp in it". They managed to make a grill out of things they found and used sticks to turn the meat. "Lord was that food good."Claude remembered.

They woke to the sound of chainsaws on the fifth day. Forestry Rangers were out by the main road trying to cut their way in. Help was finally coming.

Claude is my hero, he saved those people. He only has one lung, he lost the other to Cancer some years ago. And he is diabetic. But he is a survivor and he is strong when he needs to be. His strength let others live when they would have died.

Because they didn't own their trailer Claude and Cookie are not getting compensated for it. They were able to collect for contents only. They had to use what little money they got for a car so Cookie could get to work, and that car needed tires. Claude's boat is gone, and he got nothing for it. They applied and were turned down for a SBA loan to repair the boat.

Now it is six months later and they are living in a cramped FEMA trailer. They have used old cars, some clothes and a shed. Cookie still works 10 hour days and they get by. Claude has cancer again, they cut it off his ear and it was so large he had to have a skin graft. Their cheerful optimism is starting to fade. The twisted steel frame of their old home lays mangled in front of their property as a constant reminder of all that they lost. They are not bitter, but depression is beginning to get hold of them.











The Dawseys:
The Bennetts:


The Oprah Show:



Thursday, April 06, 2006

more grandbaby pix

Little feets and little hands





The "before" picture.....My son the doctor???

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I'm a grandma!


Baby girl born! After a hellish and emotional roller coaster of a day, Esther Iris Hart was born on April 4, 2006 at 6:12 p.m. after a ceasarian section at Wellesley Newton Hospital. She is beautiful and perfect at 8 lbs 1 oz as you can see
!








And mom, dad and baby (and grandmas) are all exhausted but healthy and happy.



Even uncle Jesse got into the act....

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ash Wednesday






these are my favorite Mardi Gras photos :









Thank god this madness is over.... Way too many (drunken) people all over the place.