I now consider the phrase "the storm will be 100 miles away, what can happen all the way over here?" to be in the same league as "Hey Bubba, watch this!" As posted in my last diary, my wife and I decided to stay in Gautier, but with friends living on higher ground one mile south of our home.
I woke up at 5:00 Monday morning. We still had power and cable TV, and watched the weather people showing the storm just off the coast. We realized the track had moved a little closer to the east, but also seemed to have weakened, so we were not too concerned still. Outside, the water of the bayou next to the house had risen about 12 feet (already higher than from any previous storm), but the waters were still safely away from the house. The wind was howling and trees already leaning way over.
We lost power at about 6:00 AM. We had a battery-powered TV so we could still follow the news, and saw the TV projections of the storm beginning to make landfall.
Occasionally We went outside under the porch and watched the bayou waters. They would rise, then settle a bit. The wind picked up strength and large objects began to fly around. We thought the storm surge waters had crested.
At 7:30 the flood waters began to rise like a slow moving wave coming in. About now, we heard the weather people report that the storm's eastern eyewall would pass over Gautier with a 20 foot storm surge, and I began to think we might be in trouble.
At 8:30 the water reached the bottom of the garage (half a floor lower elevation) and trickle inside. We began to pick things off the floor.
By 10:00 the flood waters reached the top of the front steps. Inside the garage, a car was already floating and I could smell gas fumes entering the house through the inside door. We started stuffing towels and blankets around the bottoms of the doors in an attempt to keep out the water. By now, we all knew we were in big trouble and would be flooded. Outside, our cars parked in the front yard were submerged up to the floorboards, and we knew there was no way out.
Water started entering the house by 10:30 (I think, my timeline gets a bit hazy after this). We tried to keep out the water, and succeeded in keeping the water inside the house 6 inches lower than outside. But the water kept rising. The weather people (we still had a working TV) reported that the eyewall would pass over Gautier in about another hour so the storm would
continue to intensify.
When the water inside the house got over my ankles, a few of the women in our group began to "lose it." One woman turned to me and asked "Are we going to die?" and I just gave my most confident sounding "NO!" answer. My wife began to cry. All I could do was give her a hug and say "I'm sorry we didn't leave."
Gas fumes from the garaged car began to get stronger. We didn't want to open the windows (and kick out plywood coverings) as the storm winds were intense. We were still keeping the water inside six inches lower than outside, but the water was already over the bottom of the lower windows.
In an effort to get some ventilation inside the house, the house owner propped me up on a window ledge and I busted out a top window using a heavy meat pounder. That got some ventilation inside, along with wind and rain waters.
The homeowners had six cats, one dog of their own and a "guest" dog all inside the house. At this point five of the cats were on top of the highest furniture anxiously watching the rising waters. The sixth cat panicked, jumped into the water and
started to swim away - I don't know where it thought it was planning on going. I chased the stupid thing down, pulled it out of the water (getting scratched for my efforts) and tossed it to it's owner. The two dogs were just sitting on the best couch in the house, watching things float by.
The oldest woman in our group called time out for a group prayer. We stood holding hands in the living room as she prayed for us being too arrogant to have left town when we had the chance.
The gas fumes from the garaged car were getting stronger even with the broken window providing ventilation, so the home owner opened windows on the side of the house in the lee of the winds and kicked out the plywood covers. The winds were so intense by now that pine trees were leaning over almost to where their tops touched the ground. I thought it was incredible that more trees were not being uprooted or broken off.
When the waters reached my thighs, two young boys and two of the smaller women in our group (including my wife) were already dangerously deep. We had used an air mattress the night before as a guest bed in a back bedroom and it was still inflated.
I pulled it into the living room (a 12 foot ceiling), threw a sheet of plywood from one of the opened windows on it and helped get the two boys, their mother, and my wife on it. One boy started to cry and his mother and my wife tried to calm him.
At this point, the home owner waded over to me and said "We need to get my boat ready." He had an 18 foot boat strapped onto a trailer on the side of his house next to the garage door. His plan was to swim out the window we had already opened, get his boat off the trailer and bring it back ready to evacuate.
We went through the windows and swam around the side of the house. I now believe this was the strongest point of the storm, about 12:00 noon.
The winds were so strong there were white caps in the flood water over his front lawn. We got to his boat where it had been pushed against his house by the wind, still hooked to the trailer.
He got the boat's stern disconnected, I got the bow. We cimbed on and had to cut off the boat cover - the straps were too tight due to winds. We motored the boat around to the open windows and tied it off to the porch columns, ready to start bringing people onboard. At this point, the homeowner's wife leaned out the window called out that the waters appeared to have stopped rising.
This would have been about 12:30PM. We watched for a bit, and saw that in fact the waters had stopped rising, three feet deep inside the house.
An hour later we motored the boat back over to the side of the house, and got it back reconnected to the trailer. During this process I lost my eye glasses "over the Side" in flood waters about 8 feet deep, leaving me mostly blind.
I was able to help get the boat hooked back to the trailer, and we spent an hour dragging floating debrie away from the house. We pulled out a very large (half full) propane bottle, a large three door commercial freezer, two small boats not belonging to the homeowners, and a large number of pallets, chunks of fencing, tree limbs and boards.
The winds were dying down but there were still strong gusts. I had to be careful to keep my face turned away from the winds as a strong gust could shoot water spray in my face that felt as if I was shot with BBs. We saw fish jumping around us.
The flood waters rapidly receeded, and by 4:30PM the road in front of the house was uncovered. We were able to get to our cars and tried to start them. Of the six cars we had at the house (including the one floating in the garage) only one would start, a full sized pickup that had had the highest ground clearance. The rest, including my venerable old Isuzu pickup, had been ruined by the flood waters.
At 5:30 PM, althought the winds were still strong, we drove back to my home in the one working truck. I needed to get my spare glasses and had an overwelming urge to see what had happened to my home.
We discovered my home had also been flooded three feet deep. The interior was complete chaos, furniture overturned and soaked, papers and mementos lying everywhere. There was a layer of foul smelling mud whereever water had been.
I found my spare glasses, put them on and realized that being able to see clearly only made the house look worse. I went back outside, saw roofing shingles missing and debrie everywhere. It appeared that every house in my neighborhood (as well as all the houses in neighborhood where we had stayed during the storm) had been flooded.
I sat down on the driveway with my wife, looked at our wrecked home, and started to cry.
As I have more computer time I will continue to post Katrina aftermath diaries. From what I have been able to see of the outside news, people outside the coast are seeing only a small sliver of what the reality is here.
I am just one of the fortunate ones who survived, still have a standing house, and a job. The reality here is that many, many people do not have a home or job or food or even basic clothing and transportation. They need our help.
And my small part of the coast is relatively well off compared to Biloxi, Gulfport and towns further west.