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Our first e-mail:  Sept 10th  -  Saturday
Sent from a friend's house in Madisonville, LA to family & friends:

Hellos from Hurricane Country!

          Thank goodness we were able to convince my Mother that a "drive-all-night" straight-thru 26-hour drive to Covington, Louisiana was not the thing an 80 year old grandmother should do. My Mother is safe in Cumberland, Maryland while Jan and I take care of things in Louisiana.

          First order of business: BIG THANKS to everyone that sent along best wishes! It must've worked because we got down into Hurricane Country in one piece. And yes, our home is also in one piece, although a corner of the roof received a bad crunching by one of the trees that blew over in the yard.  Not too bad, though - it could've been much worse.  I know, because we've been seeing "much worse" all day.

          Before leaving on this trip, the last word we got from friends and family in Louisiana was that they needed generators. Desperately. And gasoline. New Orleans, only 25 miles south of Covington, was in a terrible mess, and no one was sure when disaster relief efforts might reach Covington. (Slidell, only 15 minutes to our east, also suffered terribly and would need attention before Covington.)

          A trip that began as a simple "check on the house, and bring down a couple generators" became far more involved as we realized how bad things were. We wound up bringing six generators - as many as we could fit in the truck and trailer. We left as soon as we could, but packed carefully since we did not want to become an additional burden on an already strained situation. We carried enough food, water and gasoline to survive at least a week, we hoped, along with additional supplies for friends and family.

          Knowing people were waiting for the generators and supplies, we drove all night to get here - in Jan's 1/2 ton pick-up truck (with no air conditioning). We took turns driving. Once here, we "snaked" our way down the neighborhood streets, which had been roughly cleared by first response personnel.

FYI:  By the time I thought to take a picture of the damage, it was already the afternoon of the third day.  When we first arrived, we had little time before dark to deliver the generators we'd brought, and then return to clear a path to get our own generator close enough to the house to use extension cords.  The second day was just a blur of activity.  By the third day we finished clearing the driveway, including a path to the rear of the house to unload and properly set-up the generator next to our home's electrical service box.  (Thank you, Jimmy, for the use of your generator!)  I took this picture toward the end of the third day:  We had already piled most of the branches together and finished clearing the driveway, so I could get my more-gas-efficient Toyota Corolla out of the garage.  Many people thought I was overly-fussy for SWEEPING the driveway, too - but you'd be surprised at the number of nails hidden amongst the pine needles and small twigs.

          We entered the tree-clogged driveway a little past 2:00 in the afternoon.  Jan and I were visited by at least a dozen contractors, tree trimmers, roofers and the sort within the first three hours of our arrival. They drive up and down the streets, collecting work. This area is a contractor's dream. Unfortunately, homeowners have no way of knowing if a group is professional or semi-skilled; honest worker or scam artist. Phones and/or internet are not available to verify any credentials, insurance or bonding information. Jan and I have decided to wait-and-see the work done on other houses, and make choices based upon the work we see them doing, and on the type of equipment they use for a job. This means our work won't be completed as soon as we'd like, but we have a better chance of having it done correctly, and for a fair price.

          Being a farmer, Jan is skilled in many areas - and once we could get close enough to the house, he hooked one of the generators into my home's electrical system. That eliminated the mess and bother of running multiple extension cords from the generator. It also allows us to "light up" the house at night (at least, as long as the generator is running) so the place looks like someone is home. I've had two people tell me about neighborhood looting, so we tend to stay alert. My sister lives in the next subdivision, and has only been aware of "generators walking away" - so we are sure to chain ours to something substantial every night (usually the truck).

          Fortunately, we have running water. So do the other families we came to help. THAT was a huge relief, even with the "Boil Water" order. But phone lines are down, and cell towers are overloaded. It is hard to "call out" without trying a few dozen times. Waiting until late at night or early in the morning doesn't seem to help.

          Today is the first time I've had access to an internet line, so I'm writing as much (and as fast) as possible. I don't know when we'll get access again. Louisiana has become a very different world. For most of the day (and much of the night) Army helicopters and transport planes can be heard overhead, shuttling people, supplies and equipment into, or away from, New Orleans.  All day and all night.  At times it's a Coast Guard chopper, and there's the occasional "Eye in the Sky" television news 'copter.  We are under a curfew, and there are no liquor sales in this region of the state.  That last part makes Jan very unhappy.

          I've never experienced anything like this. The whole picture is so overwhelming that I start to wonder if this is something beyond my abilities.  And in a way, alot of it is.  But Jan and I started to break things up into "biddy-projects" and we just don't try to tackle too many at once.  Slowly but surely...

          Work started as soon as we arrived, and after generators and supplies were delivered, we faced our first task: Clear our own driveway. There were several tree trunks, thousands of branches and at least one entire tree top blocking our access.  Even at the drive's entrance, we could barely pull in before we had to stop.

The Army's transport planes were shuttling the Superdome and Convention Center evacuees away as fast as possible.  I can't imagine how many hundreds of flights must've flown overhead in the first week.  Because there were no refueling facilities in New Orleans, the flights were serviced by helicopters in-flight.  Usually there were two helicopters accompanying the planes when they flew over our area.

Even after the parish was officially re-opened, there was a curfew imposed.  When we arrived, the curfew was from 9 pm to 7 am.  Later, the curfew was reduced:  11 pm to 6 am.  But there were no alcohol sales at any time in St. Tammany parish.  Some thought it was worth the time and gas to travel to Baton Rouge for it, and that's also where many could makes calls to loved ones and internet service was available.

          I looked at the debris and chaos in awe. The yard looked like someone emptied a box of life-sized "Lincoln Logs" onto it - the trunks were so large! Most of the trees were somewhere close to 50 years old, and had considerable girth - some with a 60 inch or more circumference. I sometimes catch Jan "patting" the trunks, and wishing out loud how he'd LOVE to take "this one" or "that one" back to Maryland to run through his sawmill. It is unusual to find such straight, large and long pine trunks in Maryland, and Jan whimpers just a little at the thought these magnificent logs will only be put out with the rest of the yard trash (along the side of the road, for FEMA to haul away).

          It's hard to plan for what will be needed in an emergency. Jan and I knew generators were the biggest items, and at the time, we were told there wasn't a generator to be found south of Memphis. Today is Saturday, and it's been nearly two weeks since Katrina hit, and generators aren't quite as scarce - but for the first week they were like gold. But the generators weren't worth a thing with no gas to run them, so we also delivered 20 gallons of gas with each generator (if needed), to get everyone off to a good start.

Jan just hates knowing
these nice logs will likely
be turned into mulch.

          It seems everybody has a generator now - you can tell by the low roar of their collective hum in the evening (after the contractor's Bobcats and chainsaws have turned off for the day). But now that just about everyone has a generator (and many have never owned or used a generator before), there is a steady broadcast of public announcements and cautions on the radio about the proper use of generators: Lots of reminders about NOT running them indoors, using the proper accessories, and NOT connecting them to your household electric system (so you don't shock the workers by backfeeding current).

          What I haven't heard as a precaution?  Be careful how you set-up the generator!  The exhaust coming from them is extremely HOT! and will quickly kill and dry-out any nearby bush, and then, possibly catch it on fire.  The influx of so many generators has "generated" three new semi-unexpected shortages, though:

Gasoline cans!  Gas is not an unexpected shortage, but finding the gas cans to feed hundreds (thousands?) of generators is putting an additional burden on an already taxed situation.  And then finding enough gas to fill the cars AND generators complicates things more.  Most homes only have a single gas can for the family lawnmower, and new generator owners didn't realize how thirsty these engines can be.  My sister and brother-in-law borrowed a real hum-dinger of a generator until the one I was bringing arrived. They were so proud of how much power it could produce - but the borrowed generator drank nearly 20 gallons of gas each day - and they weren't running it all the time. They had to stop using it on the second day. Now, with more people returning to their homes, it's becoming more common to see vehicles with 5-gallon gas cans strapped to the roof rack. The car's tank is filled for errands and work, and gas cans are for generators and chain saws (unless the car's tank runs dry before the generator does.

Funnels. This was really unexpected (at least, to me). But everyone is scrambling for funnels to help pour the gasoline into their generators and cars.  Many of the new "safety" gas cans are designed  NOT to fit into a car's gas tank for refueling.  So, if you need to fuel your car, a funnel is needed - usually requiring a second person to hold things while refueling from a gas can. Also, funnels help to not spill gasoline all over the generator that needs to be fed each day.

Extension Cords.  It's hard to find the 50' or 100' heavy-gauge extension cords for the different appliances serviced by the generator. The "more common" little 18 gauge cords used for lamp extensions won't (or shouldn't) handle the load of a refrigerator or even a small air conditioner. And since generators are run outside, the cords also need to be rated for outdoor use.   

Oh, another strange shortage?  Baking soda. When the electricity went out during the hurricane, refrigerators became crock pots as they sat in the southern heat, and they began "slow cooking" the items left inside. Spoiled meat and dairy products caused the most problems, and greatest odors. My Mother was lucky, since she'd left on a planned trip to visit me in Maryland, and little was left behind - and none of it was meat. Even so, we are on our second course of baking soda, and I believe we've just about licked the funny smell we encountered when we first opened Mom's refrigerator. My neighbors were not so lucky - whew! - their 'fridge will need to go to the dump.

          Somehow Jan and I anticipated these things (except the baking powder), and came prepared. We drove down with a 100 gallon refueling tank (mounted in the bed of our truck), brought along additional gas cans, and the generators came with a "bonus" extension cord kit. We had ten additional outdoor rated, heavy gauge 100' extension cords, and an electric winch.  I even bought a funnel the night before we left - but didn't tell Jan because I thought he'd laugh at me for being so fussy about wanting to minimize gas splashing. (Yes, I tend to be the overly-cautious one.)  But he was SO PLEASED when I pulled out the funnel when we were forced to refuel behind a closed business in Mississippi.  We were close to empty and could find no gas, and we needed to use some of the gas intended for the generators.

          We can't afford to keep our generator running 24 hours, so we've had to give up trying to make our own ice with the freezer.  It costs too much, takes too long, and we use too much. Louisiana is known for its HAZY, HOT & HUMID climate, and the temperatures have been in the 90s since we arrived. (I capitalized those words for a reason!)  So yes, we use alot of ice.  But ice is worth the effort of looking.

          Driving down neighborhood streets is like driving though a canyon:  Streets are bordered on each side with long piles of pine trunks and yard debris, stacked along the side of the road by the contractors.  FEMA is supposed to remove all yard debris placed within 15 feet of the road's edge.  Sometimes the homeowner can handle the job if they have smaller yards, but most everyone in this neighborhood lost at least two or more trees (I'd guess 5 was average) , and would not be able to handle the huge burden of cutting much large logs and then moving them to the street. Especially if those trees landed on a house - which happened to about 80% of the homes in this neighborhood.

          My house was one of the lucky ones. A tree landed on the garage, and messed up the corner section.  The yard took a pretty big hit, with 16 trees down, and at least the same number still need to be felled because their limbs are so trashed and mangled. Two other trees look okay, but are leaning too much to be safe. My Mother's home, known for its many trees, will suddenly be devoid of that distinction.  Even with replanting, the property will never look the same in my lifetime.  But with so many people loosing cars, jobs and homes - and for some, their lives - it seems insensitive to make a big deal about loosing trees in a yard.  I'll keep that in mind as the tree cutters do their job.

          Jan and I have contracted with ProLine Tree Experts to have the work done. We came down with four Stihl chain saws and extra chains, thinking we would handle the job ourselves - but after it took an entire day to clear the driveway, we knew it was too big for us to handle. How would we even get these huge logs to the curb?  And with so many of the damaged trees close to the property lines (and within reach of neighbor's homes), we decided a bonded/insured "tree guy" needed to take over felling the damaged trees.

          That's not to say Jan and I haven't been busy with our saws... We've gotten a reduced price for the tree cutting work because we will be "prepping the field" and assisting the workers. Plus, there were lots of logs and branches that needed trimming before work began, just so we can gain access to different parts of the yard. There is so much limb and leaf clutter that we still haven't been able to reach the back corner of the property, where my CraigCat powerboat and a canoe are kept. It's SO congested with debris, I can't even tell if there's a tree on anything (though I suspect there is).

          Jan and I expect to be here until the tree cutting crew is finished, or until we get electric service back. We don't know when that will be, exactly, but I'll let you know as soon as we know.

Even ten days after Katrina, it's hard to find perishable things like fresh eggs, milk and meat - - but Jan and I didn't try looking that hard. It wasn't worth the gas of looking for them.  Ice also takes some effort, but mostly because it must be purchased everyday.

Driving down neighborhood streets is like driving though a canyon: Streets are bordered on each side with long piles of pine trunks and yard debris, stacked along the side of the road.

Daytime temps stayed in the
  90s for our visit.  Sometimes it
    cooled enough in the evening
  to be comfortable - but only
by comparison's sake.

A tree landed on the house and crunched a corner section of the garage.  It also cracked the bricks for several courses. The wind took its toll on the shingles, too, wedging pine needles and debris under large sections of them.

...the same tree also severed the electric service for the house, and even ripped the meter box right off the house.

Grass can barely be seen under all the pine needles, tree tips, twigs and branches.  Our hired crew will remove logs and the larger branches, but we are responsible for everything else.  Mom's yard is an acre and a third.

My neighbor, Scot, came home to find
3 trees through his roof.  His problems were compounded by a severed water-line that flowed unchecked inside his house for several days.

            Joanie & Jan

Continue to the next page for more photos >

We are a few days into the job in this picture:  Trees still need to be removed, but Jan and I have raked
much of the lawn debris into piles, and are about to try and mow sections of the yard
to make it easier to get around AND to help dry out the lawn.