Back by popular demand, I’m reposting this account of hurricane survival from Jerry Semerad, my father-in-law. It’s amazing he and Mary escaped the storms. They now live in the Top of the World Community in Ocala, FL.
August 29, 2005
September 23, 2005
Mary and I had evacuated to the New Orleans Hilton Hotel two times in the last 12 months because of threatening hurricanes (IVAN on September 14, 2004 and DENNIS on July 9, 2005). Both times New Orleans escaped without damage, and we had a mini vacation at the Hilton. So, when hurricane KATRINA entered the Gulf of Mexico we decided to reserve the Hilton again and avoid the grid lock traffic of everyone evacuating the city. BIG MISTAKE !
We checked in the Hilton Sunday afternoon, August 28, as the wind picked up with the hope that KATRINA would miss us. We spent the night watching TV. About 3 AM Monday as the wind picked up and the hotel began to sway (we were on the 7th floor) there was an emergency announcement for all guests to move to the corridors. Windows began to blow out. The roar of the wind was frightening as was the sound of metal crashing below in the streets. After about an hour of this with no further announcements we went back to the room and tried to sleep listening to the roaring wind and driving rain. Our window with heavy drapes faced a parking garage which afforded some protection but we stayed away from it. KATRINA came ashore about 7 AM near Buras, LA and blasted our city all day Monday, 8/29, with catastrophic damage. Besides the rocking sensation felt on the 7th floor, similar to being on a large cruise ship in the Caribbean, the hotel lost power. No air conditioning, no lights except emergency hall and fire exit lights, no elevators, and no running water. We brought our own bottled drinking water and the night before KATRINA filled the bathtub while the Hilton still had running water in case we needed it for flushing the toilet. We sure did need it and used it all.
For breakfast during the storm I walked down 7 floors using the fire exit to the lowest floor, then up one floor, through dark tunnels dripping water to a large dark room where I got breakfast on trays to carry back to room 705. During that journey back the same way I came I was bumping into people (and dogs on leashes) going both ways on the stairs and through the tunnels while the hotel shook. Same thing for lunch, supper and breakfast Tuesday morning. There was no circulation in the rooms and the temperature was rising making it intolerable . On Tuesday we decided we had to get outside to breath air. Temperature was in the 90’s outside. During the entire time people were orderly, no panic, and as courteous as can be expected considering the horrible situation. Everyone was exhausted.
The hotel left a message on our room voice mail that all guests had to vacate their rooms and those who had no place to go could stay in one of the large convention rooms (still no AC, lights, phone service or water). We had made up our minds to get out earlier but were not sure where or how to get out of the city. During our stay there was only one radio station (WWL) operating which I picked up with my portable radio. But there was not a lot of information available which is understandable. We didn’t know how bad the damage was. So, I made 3 more trips down 7 floors carrying our luggage then across debris in the street to the parking garage, up 3 floors to the car. The car started, thankfully. Mary maneuvered down 7 fleets and sat on the curb waiting for me to pick her up.
After the horrible Monday we were very glad Tuesday, 8/30, arrived with sunshine. We were exhausted. A local policeman at the hotel told me that Algiers was dry and told me the open route to the bridge. We didn’t know about the 17thStreet canal levee breaking and the water coming down Canal Street. We left before the water came and went past the Convention Center before the mob got there.
We were able to travel Gen. DeGaulle to the Bocage entrance but had to dodge downed poles, trees and debris. All telephone and power poles were either down or half way down on DeGaulle. Carlise Court entrance was blocked by down power lines and trees. Brunswick Court entrance was also blocked so we went down Eton, riding on the wrong side of the street or on the median to get within two blocks of our house. Mary stayed in the car. There was no one on the streets. Temperature was now in the 90’s. I climbed over branches, reaching 3527 Rue Colette and was greatly relieved to find the roof still on and only minor damage to the siding. Our beautiful red maple in the back yard was down, but none of the trees appear to have hit our house.
I made 2 trips getting some clothes, ice and what was left of the ice cream bars. After slipping and falling in the mud I made it to the car and we made our way back to DeGaulle. We wanted to stop at Rally’s to make peanut butter sandwiches on the outdoor tables before continuing our escape but did a u-turn when we saw the looters climbing out Rally’s windows with pillow cases full of loot. We stopped at another deserted spot on DeGaulle and left quickly after Mary made sandwiches to eat on the way.
Deciding to travel to Jackson, MS, I crossed the Crescent City Connection but there was a road block at the Camp Street exit. No travel on I-10 West or East. Roads were underwater and the Twin Span over Lake Ponchartrain was down. So back across the bridge to Westbank Expressway to the Lulling bridge across the Mississippi River to !-55 to Jackson. There was very little traffic.
However, Jackson had no rooms, no power. But Mary begged the manager of one of the motels to find us lodging for the night which she did in Granada, MS, 100 miles north. Thankfully, I had filled the Buick gas tank the Friday before the hurricane and had the car serviced with new tires, etc. 2 weeks before. We settled in about 9 pm.
We planned to go to Mary Ann and Marvin’s home in Marietta but I didn’t want to travel the direct route (I-20) because of reports of power and gasoline shortages, so we headed for Memphis and Nashville. We stayed in Nashville at the Radisson for 2 nights and then moved to the beautiful Opryland Hotel for 2 nights. While there we saw our first Grand Ole Opry and had very good meals at the Cascade Restaurant and excellent Veal Marsala at Macaroni Grill in the mall, where a man from St. Louis heard about our evacuation and paid for one of our dinners and left before we knew he did. We were treated royally there.
Finally made it to Marietta and Mary Ann’s on Labor Day, September 6th and greatly relieved. What a nice surprise when we saw the large bedroom they prepared for us (about 25′ x 25′) with queen size bed, desk, chairs. We spent 22 beautiful days relaxing with and being comforted by the Fishers after our ordeal.
We felt completely at home there. Our activities included many baseball games watching our grandsons perform. Max (11), Ray (9) and Sam (7) do well on the ballfield. Mary played the Old Maid card game almost daily with Sam mostly but all 3 boys enjoyed the games. I helped the boys with some of their homework. Mary and I heard them recite their homework. All of them are doing exceptionally well. Max was invited to join an accelerated program because of his high IQ Max and I practiced the trombone together. He was excited about playing a concert in his school band in the near future. I bought Max a new music stand while in Marietta. The OLDS horn I gave him has decent slide action since it was serviced and I am glad he is using cream instead of oil on the slide. This is the horn I bought from the Navy in Pearl Harbor while I was stationed there and used for years including the first 5 or so years when I came to New Orleans.
I did some work around the house and got Marvin’s lawn mower fixed. Marvin treated us to dinner with the family at Maggiano’s Little Italy to celebrate Mary’s 80th birthday (9/11). We took them to Houlihan’s to celebrate Mary Ann’s 47thbirthday. I enjoyed shopping at Publix, particularly for the seeded rye and Taylor’s Pork Roll. Love that store. Also went to the movies.
Mary Ann made delicious barbequed shrimp one night. We were invited to two parties at the neighbors – Robin’s birthday party and a dinner party at Patti and George. Went for a swim at Patti and George’s outdoor heated pool. Patti and George really made us feel at home.
Mary and I went shopping, I got a haircut, Mary went shopping with Mary Ann, got her nails done and also got an appointment with Dr. Ho, Ophthalmologist, for an eye irritation. He wrote a prescription and did not charge a copayment .
Jim decided to go to New Orleans while we were in Marietta and clean up our home. He flew to Baton Rouge from Detroit on 9/15 and stayed there until 9/21, when hurricane RITA was closing in on Louisiana. While there Jim moved the refrigerator outside to the patio, cleaned out the stinking, ugly mess of rotten meats, fish, etc. washed it repeatedly, scrubbed, bleached, baking soda, etc. and moved it back inside by himself. Amazing! He cut up and removed the red maple tree, cleaned up all debris and even cut the lawn. And he found time to help the neighbors clean up debris, cut up downed trees and assembled neighbors in our yard to explain where they could get water, shop, etc. His U.S. Navy Commander credentials and uniform helped him past check points and into National Guard stations. What a guy! And all this while we were in Georgia.
He left before RITA devastated Lake Charles area and flooded New Orleans areas again from the Industrial Canal levee breach-again.
We left Marietta on Tuesday, 9/27, for home, stopping overnight in Greenville, AL. Arrived about 3 pm Wednesday, 9/28. Streets were passable but debris 8′ high in some places on lawns. 3527 Rue Colette was clear with a cut lawn. Some siding off and possible water damage to the kitchen tile.
We are so fortunate to have children who came to our rescue during this terrible storm. After the first 3 days of the hell we went through it was like we were on an extended vacation. A very happy ending for us but not so for the thousands who lost homes and possessions and those who died in the flood. Many of our friends are homeless, living out of town and not knowing what they are going to do. Algiers did not flood. We were very lucky. Many parts of New Orleans are in ruin and the future is uncertain.
By Jerry and Mary Semerad