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One Catawba Alumna's Hurricane Rita Account

November 15, 2005

Category: Alumni


Having a destroyed home and a family to manage, the following was sent to us by Catawba College graduate Amy Douglas Gay '98 of Cameron Parish, LA. Her home is 20 miles north of Creole, south of Lake Charles. With husband Paul, they are the parents to Gabrielle (Gabby), 3 years old and Katherine (Wren) 5 months old.

Her story:

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Wednesday the 21st
Rita DamageSomething doesn't look right about that storm. I've watched it for about a week now, and I just don't feel right about it. Paul has worked out-of-town for 2 weeks, so it's just me and the girls. I have no idea when he'll come home, so I start to pack.  Just the little things like Pictures. A small bag with 3 days of clothes for us. House things. Paul is allowed to come home now, but he's worked all day, and had to drive home. He crashes in bed. By the time he wakes up, I have a few things loaded in the car already. The storm is still supposed to hit Galveston, so he doesn't want to leave. Choir practice is still on, so I head to church. No one there is planning on leaving either so we decided to sing on Sunday. While I was gone, the storm moved a little. That's when we decided to leave. 

Thursday the 22nd
Holy cow, that storm is now a 5, and headed right toward Cameron. Mandatory evacuation. Oh dear. Paul heads into town for some gas, and a few other things. In the 2 hours he's gone I pack like a maniac. Thankfully the girls are good for me. I even managed to grab the girls christening gowns and my wedding dress. We have a DVD player in the mini van, so I grab all the DVDs from the cases. Dog and cat food, litter pans and leashes.  Computer hard drive, every album and scrapbook I can find. Grab some food and water--who know what the traffic will look like. Just random things now. I can barely think straight.  Paul came home and we put tin on all the windows. My hummingbirds are still here (we're in the migratory path - I get 40 at a time) so I leave up the feeders. One last goodbye, and we're on the road at noon.  It actually only took us about 5 1/2 hours for a usual 4 hour drive. Mom lives just outside New Orleans, where Katrina hit. Not many people were headed East--there was nothing left there. Now North, oh boy. I have friends who sat for 2 hours to go about 10 miles. My Aunt and Uncle in Houston couldn't even make it to the Highway, so they turned around and stayed in their home.  


Friday the 23rd
Rita DamageNot much sleep last night. We're too worried. The girls seem to know something big is up. Wren has been sleeping through the night, but not now (and she doesn't for the next 2 weeks).  The weather channel is on all day. Jeff Santores is kind of cute! We stay up until about 1 am, waiting for land fall. Why-we have no idea. It doesn’t change the outcome. It's hitting our house anyway. When we went to bed, the eye itself was predicted to go directly over Cameron and Lake Charles.  

Saturday the 24th 
Rita DamageThe storm turned just a bit in the night.  My house itself was spared the eye, but we don't know this yet. All we know is what we see on TV. They show Lake Charles in shambles.  No pictures at all of Cameron Parish. We find out later why.  The entire lower part of the parish is inaccessible.  From the Intercoastal canal south is nothing but the Gulf of Mexico. We stay glued to the TV looking for any sign of what happened in our tiny corner. Nothing.


Sunday the 25th
Rita DamageSome friends are on the Relief Team, so they head back into Grand Lake. They call on a cell phone which, strangely enough, is still working. The water is so high that they can't get anywhere near our house. I'm only 2 miles north of that Intercoastal Canal, and there's a smaller canal cut off of it that ends only a few hundred feet from my house. I pull out my flood insurance and homeowners policies.  Hmm. We bought the house on September 24th, 2001, four years ago. Sure hope my Escrow account paid my insurance bills!!!! 

The rest of the days are a bit foggy, but the water in Grand Lake and Sweet Lake will not go down, so they blow a few levees. The intercoastal has receded, and they hope our water will drain back into it. Still, the area south of us is completely underwater. Our friends made it down our street later in the week. Water was still in the house, but none of our trees were down. The roof appeared to be intact.  


Saturday October the 1st
Rita DamageThe evacuation is lifted, but we are instructed to "look and leave" We leave the girls with mom and make the 4 hour drive home. We notice a few things the closer we get. A roof damaged, a billboard down. Some trees. Nothing major. Then we turn south. Power poles everywhere. Someone’s porch is ON TOP of the roof. Huge stands of pine trees are snapped in two. I'm getting nervous. We pull onto our street and look at all the water still in the yards.  We can't see the house — a huge tree is down and in our view. Water everywhere.  There's the house. We can only park on the road. Still too much water in the yard.  Resigned, we pull on some boots and try not to fall in the water.  We usually have 4 steps.  You can only see three. The water line on the door gives us a hint of what's to come. Paul has to kick in the door, since it's swollen shut. MUD EVERYWHERE is my first thought.  And the musty odor is not pleasant. Mold all over the couch and chair. We bought that only six months ago. Paul notices the rat tracks in the mold. I find peanuts on the couch.  The bag is on the kitchen table. All the toys in the girls room floated around. Wren's dresser is face down on the floor. My house, humble as it is, is wrecked. The bathroom is worse than a porta-potty on Mardi Gras day. Rita DamageMold growing on walls, Paul's desk is ruined.  My broken-keyed, out-of-tune piano!! Given to me by a friend who has since succumbed to brain cancer, the loss is purely sentimental, but still. We don't do much. Take some pictures, save as much dry clothing as possible and get the heck out. We check on our friends. The next door neighbor is already trying to save his house. He's on a slab, and is much higher, so he only got about 4 inches. Enough to make a mess, but he can save his home.  No one else is home yet. Some still have water in the house. I'm glad ours was up on pilings, or we would have lost everything. Two to three feet is bad enough. Four to five, even worse. We check on some more friends. The ones who checked on our house were okay. They lost some siding, and the meter base. Her parents however, lived in Cameron Proper. When they finally get home a week later, they discover the doors and windows blown out, the carpet ripped up, and the kitchen un-painted. The water must have been very powerful. The only thing intact is the metal roof. Today, Oct 1, is their 50th anniversary. We were supposed to be enjoying a wonderful "wedding" ceremony by now.  Instead, we're all forcing ourselves to be cheerful. The ride home feels like a wake.  


Saturday October 8th
Rita DamageWe venture back to save a few more things. Blankets, sheets and towels that were in the cabinet. Any books that were high. We're hoping to save things before the mold starts to grow on that too. We're probably just in time. My upper cabinets had mold on them, and they didn't get wet. We grab a few treasures that we know were wet, but we're hoping a few good washings will save them. We leave the dishes, silverware, and those sorts of things.  We've filled the back of my mini van, and mom's suburban, and I can always soak all that in bleach later. The mold growth in just a week is impressive! We take a trip west to see the "town" of Grandlake (keep in mind how tiny our population is!) We can see evidence of the eye wall now. More damage. The wind ripped right through some things. Some houses have no roofs left--no joist or anything, and the trailer right next to it is unscathed. Weird.

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Thursday October 20th

Rita DamageWe've told Gabby that her house is broken, and we showed her some pictures. She seems to understand. We're allowing her to plan her new bedroom. Apparently it'll be Strawberry Shortcake!! Wren has no opinion. FEMA already did an inspection, and the guy said they'll probably total it.  We see the Flood and Homeowners guys this coming Saturday. We're already on a list for a FEMA trailer but they've lost two of our applications for it already.  That could take months. Living with mom is not a hardship at all. It's easier than I thought it would be. Now that I'm a parent, we see eye-to-eye on just about everything. She enjoys having the girls, and I enjoy her company. I'll miss that when we move out. Of course, that could be months!! 

Rita DamageRed tape with filing claims? YES! And I've barely started. FEMA doesn't have a clue, for one. The right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. Every phone conversation gives me a different answer. And I haven't even started fighting with Homeowners Insurance yet. The first insurance adjuster they assigned didn't show up and now we've been reassigned to a new adjustor who will be calling us to make an appointment so we can drive another eight hours round trip with hopes that someone will show up next time. The flood insurance adjustor said we'd probably get the entire policy.

I now have two kids screaming so I need to go.

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Tuesday October 25th

Adrian Whitley Gannt of Catawba who's been in Pascagoula, Mississippi on a college hurricane relief trip paid us a visit today. She and I were students together. She and some students delivered a care package that the Catawba choirs had put together for us. Wren is already attached to a stuffed Blue (from Blue's Clues) and Gabby loves the puzzles. I'm writing Mrs. (Rosemary) Kindard next to thank her and the choirs. Everyone has just been so wonderful to us. I knew I made the right choice by going to Catawba! Got a great husband, friends for life, and people who honestly care for me. I hope I can convince my daughter to attend one day.