I’d been very upset at how long it took for the people in New Orleans who lost their homes to be taken care of, and in my opinion it became a major national embarrassment. Where I live in the San Francisco Bay Area it was the main thing on the news during the time hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and coastal areas of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, and continued to be in the news three years later. It's so frustrating that it’s still taking so long for people in New Orleans to get funding to rebuild their homes, and that even today things are still not organized like they should have been right at the beginning.
As we watched this disaster happen and the aftermath unfold during late August and through September of 2005, we discussed it in my 11th grade AP U.S. History class. We were experiencing U.S. History as it happened, and as a 15 year old high school student I found it riveting.
We went to newspaper and TV web sites from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Texas to get the local stories that we never saw in our local newspapers or on TV. We watched CNN and MSNBC on TV in class, and one of the stories made me so mad and frustrated and sad that I actually had tears running down my cheeks in class. I was embarrassed, but when I looked around most of the kids, girls and boys too, also had tears. The story was about a 16 year old boy who couldn't be taken in the boat with the rest of his family when they were rescued and was told there was another boat coming right away that would pick him up. It never came, and he was on his own, alone, for four days. Finally he ran out of water and food and walked and swam through that filthy water to a friend's house but there was no one home, and he was stuck there without food or water for another day. He was finally picked up, but they didn't know where his family had been taken and because he was a kid he was told that they didn't know when he'd find his folks. It seemed like there was no one to help him because he was a kid.
There was also a story about a 20 year-old guy who took an abandoned school bus and picked up 70 strangers who were stranded in New Orleans and drove them to Houston to the Astrodome. When they arrived they weren’t allowed to enter because they weren’t an “official” rescue bus. He was accused of being a looter by a Federal Government spokesperson, and that was reported in the media. The full story is still available on the Houston Chronicle web site at www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/topstory2/3334317.
Things are slowly improving in New Orleans and the other locations impacted by Hurricane Katrina, but the Federal Government relief efforts are still, as I write this Prologue three years later, so disorganized and mismanaged that it is embarrassing and infuriating. There's an excellent documentary produced by Spike Lee on HBO titled When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. You can find out more about this outstanding documentary on HBO's web site at www.hbo.com/documentaries/when-the-levees-broke-a-requiem-in-four-acts/index.html. It was released on DVD in mid-December, 2006. While things are improving, much of what you’ll see in this documentary is unfortunately still valid today in New Orleans. This is a documentary that provides a period in our history that everyone in the United States should see, especially high school and college students.
These stories made me furious when I thought about them. So I decided to write Escaping Katrina as a extra-credit project for my AP U.S. History class. While the story is loosely based on the real incidents that I saw on TV in my class and read in the newspaper and on-line, it is a work of fiction. The events I depict did not happen, and the people are completely the product of my imagination.
My name is Cody Williams. This is my story about my life up to, through, and immediately following hurricane Katrina.
My story starts when I was 10 years old and living with my parents in Oak Park, Illinois. I had a good life, my parents loved me and I loved them, I had friends, did well in school, and was happy. Then, exactly 2 weeks after my tenth birthday, my life came crashing down that night when my folks’ car was hit by a tanker truck carrying gasoline and they and the truck driver were all killed instantly, and due to the resulting fire there were no bodies to recover for the funerals.
None of this made any sense to me. I guess I was too young.
My father didn’t have any relatives. He had been an orphan and didn’t know anything about his family. He had lived with foster parents, who were very kind to him and raised him as their own, but they had passed away before I was born. My mother’s parents and grandparents had passed away as well, but she had a great aunt in New Orleans who was her only living relative. Everyone called her Granny, I guess because she was so old. Granny was finally contacted by the authorities and she sent a friend to Oak Park because at her age she was not able to travel. Ms. Luciana spent a week letting me get acquainted with her, and she told me all about Granny and New Orleans. By the time the week was up I was ready to go to Louisiana.
I was sad to leave Oak Park and my friends to live with Granny in New Orleans, but it was exciting, too. Where we lived in Oak Park was sort of dull and boring, and New Orleans was the Big Easy, an exciting place with lots of exciting things for a boy to do!
Granny lived in an old house, but it was kept up nice and it had a great garden. Ms. Luciana came in three times a week to clean and prepare meals that she put in the refrigerator for Granny to take out and heat, and Mr. Luciana came once a week to take care of the yard.
I had my own bedroom and bathroom on the second floor. Granny lived alone and was glad that I was moving in with her. She was a very funny old lady, and we became close right away. After I settled in, Ms. Luciana took Granny and me downtown and to the French Quarter and to other interesting parts of New Orleans. That was a real eye-opener for a kid from Chicagoland, I’ll tell you!
There were lots of kids who lived in Granny’s neighborhood, so I had a great time while I was growing up. Granny taught me how to cook and bake, how to play cards, and to draw and paint, and I loved doing that. She was an artist, and I loved to just sit and watch her paint. She bought me a bicycle and Mr. Luciana taught me to ride.
I went to elementary school and made friends quickly. The kids thought my Midwest accent was funny, and I thought their Southern accents were funny, and we got along famously.
Life was very happy for me. I had mostly forgotten about my parents deaths, but sometimes I’d have a nightmare about the police telling me that they had died and I’d wake up crying, and Granny would hold me and comfort me.
When I was 11, I was enrolled in the seventh grade at a Catholic school. Granny said that I’d get a better education. The kids were different than what I was used to, maybe because they were going to a Catholic school. They weren’t as outgoing and there seemed to be more cliques. But I was a friendly kid so after a little while I made friends and things seemed to be okay.
One day during the summer between seventh and eighth grades Granny said she had a big surprise for me. I asked her what, but she said to wait until I heard the doorbell. I sat around all morning and through lunch and after lunch waiting. At about 2:30 the doorbell rang, and it was the UPS deliveryman and he had three boxes for me. From Dell Computer! He said an adult would have to sign for them, so Granny did that, and we brought the boxes into the house. “This is an early birthday present, Cody. Mr. Luciana helped me pick it out!”
I couldn’t believe it. It was a Dell laptop computer in one box, a computer backpack and a router in another box, and an inkjet printer in the third box. I hugged Granny until she said “Gracious, you’ll squeeze me all out like toothpaste out of a tube!” and laughed. I took the computer up to my room and unpacked it and set it up. I asked Granny what the router was for, and she grinned and said, “The cable TV man will be here tomorrow to install you on the Internet. I don’t know what that means, but Mr. Luciana said that’s what was needed so I had him arrange it.” Even though my birthday was still about a month away it was already the best one I’d ever had!
The next day the cable guy came and set up my Internet connection. Turned out we didn’t use the router Granny got me because the cable company installed their own. The cable guy was real nice, and made sure that everything worked and showed me how to get on the Internet and use my new email address and use IM. He must have spent over two hours with me, a lot longer than it took to just install the Internet!
I entered the email and IM addresses of my school friends, and then sent each of them an email message telling about my new Dell laptop and printer, and so they’d have my email and IM addresses. Then I checked to see if anyone was on, and about five of my friends were, so we messaged back and forth. They were real excited that I finally had a computer.
When eighth grade ended Granny decided I should go to an all-boys Catholic high school. That made me happy. I’d discovered that I liked to look at the naked boys in the shower room! Maybe I was gay, I didn’t know for certain and I didn’t really care or even think about it, I just liked what I saw. I never did anything about it because you don’t want to be branded as gay in a Catholic all-boys high school, that’s for sure!
When I was in the eleventh grade we heard about Hurricane Katrina. No one thought too much about it at first, but then it looked like it was going to hit New Orleans directly, and everyone was told to evacuate the city. Lots of people did, but lots didn’t including Granny and me. Granny said she wasn’t going to leave her house to looters, and that she’d stay there unless it looked like the storm was going to be a real problem. Well, as you know, it was a real problem! The levies broke, and almost the entire city was under water. We didn’t have it as bad as some places, but Granny’s house was surrounded by about 5 feet of water, so high that it covered the porch about an inch deep, and out at the curb it was about 8 feet deep.
We decided to move upstairs to get away from the water. There was no electricity, no running water, and we couldn’t flush the toilets. It was very hot and very humid, but without electricity we couldn’t run the air conditioner, so it was real miserable and especially hard on Granny. We couldn’t cook because I turned off the gas, afraid that it would cause a fire or explosion. We tried to eat up the food in the refrigerator first, as much as we could before it started spoiling. We had a case of bottled water, but we knew that wouldn’t last long. But we held on, hoping that someone would come to rescue us. Once in a while we’d hear helicopters, but never saw them.
By the fifth day the water had started to recede a little, but it seemed hotter and Granny looked real sick. She was coughing a lot, and I wanted to use some of the bottled water to cool her off but we only had three one-liter size bottles left and we’d need that to drink.
I heard someone shout “anyone there” from outside, and ran to the window. There was a boat with a couple of firemen and a bunch of people who looked like they had been rescued. I shouted at them that Granny was there and needed to be taken to a hospital. One of the firemen came into the house and helped me get Granny ready to go, and got all of her pills and two of the bottles of water. I helped him carry her to the front porch and into the boat. There was room for her in the boat, but there wasn’t room for me.
“Don’t worry son, there’s a boat coming just behind us and they’ll have room for you. Hurry and get your stuff, and wait here on the porch for them.”
Granny argued with the fireman, but I could see that there wasn’t room for me in the boat. I hugged Granny and kissed her. “You take care, Granny, and I’ll see you a little later.”
“Oh, Cody, don’t leave me! Come with us! Mister, you gotta make room for Cody, I need him.” Granny started to cry.
“Granny, there’ll be another boat in a few minutes and then I’ll be with you.” I turned to the fireman at the front of the boat. “Where are you taking her?”
“There’s a staging area about a mile from here. When we get there these people will be taken to the Superdome or the Convention Center. We gotta go, kid. Wait out here for the next boat. It shouldn’t be too long, probably just a few minutes.” With that the boat pulled out and I watched it until it turned at the next corner and disappeared from sight.
I ran back inside and got some clothes and put them, my laptop computer, my pictures of my mom and dad and Granny and some of my friends, my address book, some stamps in case I needed to mail something, some paperback books, all the cash that I could find which was about $255, and the last bottle of water, all in my new computer backpack. It probably took me about 10 or 15 minutes to do all this, but I kept looking out the window so I wouldn’t miss the boat.
I sat on a chair on the front porch with my feet up on the railing, and waited until it got dark, but no boat came to rescue me. I figured they wouldn’t come when it was dark, and the mosquitoes were starting to bite, so I went back in the house to the second floor. There was still some canned food left, so I ate that and drank a little of the water.
The next day there were no boats. I heard helicopters in the distance, but none around my house. The day after that was the same. I had almost completely run out of water. I decided to see if I could get to a friend’s house about a mile from Granny’s. Just as I got to the front porch I heard a shout. “Hey, kid!” I looked down the street and there was a boat coming! And there was room for me and my backpack!
|Story Index||Chapter 2|
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