Impressions of a Hurricane: Isaac

A house that didn’t weather the storm, on S. Cortez, behind Mandina’s.

I wanted to finish my series on my train trip from New Orleans to NYC, but Hurricane Isaac had other ideas; and quite frankly, I think this brief live journal of the storm is more compelling than the final 12 or so hours of my trip, which mostly consisted of me trying to sleep and not being able to.  I was never attacked by the druids of the lounge car, nor did anything particularly interesting happen outside of insomnia and the observation of different sleep patterns and temperaments of my coach-mates.  I will say, the man sitting behind me with the mellifluous singing voice found his gift rather unwelcome at 3 AM — hymn or no hymn — no one wanted to hear him at that hour (except possibly yours truly, who hoped that a good Christian spiritual would protect our immediate area from the Wiccan Vampires of lounge car 2).  The snapshot below is basically unedited; I journaled it after being unable to sleep, the undulating frequencies of the wind giving me the fantods.  All italics are post-storm.

It’s 6:35 AM. I’m drinking a surprisingly cold Dixie Beer.  We’ve been without power now since just a little past 7:00 PM of the previous night – right after my neighbor told me that this neighborhood rarely loses power.  “Not even during Gustav” I can hear his voice in my head.  Never jinx Entergy.

It is my first hurricane in New Orleans, coming exactly one year after my last hurricane, which oddly, was in Hoboken, NJ.  First Irene, now Isaac – I guess I have a thing for the I-named hurricanes.

So far our modest Mid-City home seems to be weathering the storm just fine, much better than our loft did Irene a year ago, its leaky old factory roof – the original Wonder Bread factory, and as porous as said bread – leaving us with an inch of standing water on our floors.  Still, that place was a six-story brick and steel fortress.  Despite the cheesecloth roof, I had full confidence that it could withstand almost any storm.  I do not feel the same way about this small, clapboard double shotgun.

My misgivings aside, this house has stood for 105 years and even weathered Katrina, so there has to be something to its construction.  Something substantial that has kept it moored here all these years.  It has a low center of gravity, like a fullback, and even as the winds lash the windows don’t rattle too badly and I can’t “feel” the house.  It is a good house and I’m happy to be in it.

We had the offer to evacuate locally, to the French Quarter, and a 200-year old former bank that is built like Fort Knox.  There is part of me that wishes we had.  They still had power well after midnight, and a stocked fridge, and board games.  And air-conditioning.  I just realized now how hot it’s starting to get in here… humid really.  I wish I had made more ice.  I made all that I could fit in the freezer, gallon jugs and Ziploc bags of it, but it still probably won’t be enough.  I want to kick myself for not asking for more before I left Finn McCool’s Pub last night.

It’s always either midnight or dusk during a hurricane.  If not for the clock on my laptop I’d have no idea at all what time it was.  It’s the brighter time after the darker time.  And time itself is irrelevant yet all consuming: right now I have nothing but time.  It’s literally dripping from my roof and announcing itself in each gust.  There’s nowhere to go and nothing to do except sleep or drink or play cards.  We don’t have any cards, though.

I tried sleeping, but now I’m going to try drinking.  The sibilant wind should have soothed me, like a mother hushing her child.  However, it had the opposite effect, as I listened to each gust as if I could discern something about the storm – its direction or intensity or duration – from the reedy howl of sideways palm trees.  I mimic the sound by blowing lightly across the mouth of my now empty Dixie bottle.  Time for another.  I’ll nurse them though. Only Budweiser cans left after that. And besides, I don’t want to be drunk, in case something arises that I have to respond to… I alternate beer and water.  I really don’t want to run out of water.  When my gallon jugs and Ziplocs thaw, I’ll have plenty more water.

Our street has no standing water on it.  Out of everything I was worried most about flooding.  While we’re not out of the woods yet, by any means, it seems that our landlady, Judy, was right about this street rarely flooding.  I hope her assertion holds up better than my neighbor’s on Entergy.  I keep my cellphone off just in case… I need to save battery.

It’s not a strong storm.   At least that’s what they say: Category 1.  Even so, it’s hard not to be impressed with its power.  There are some tree limbs down, and from time to time I hear a thud against the side of the house that’s probably the garbage can, laid on its side and secured to the fence.  As of yet the oak outside seems to be holding up.  At least I don’t see it lying in the street.

It is light out now… some filtered form of it at any rate.  For some reason this makes the storm less intimidating to me.  I’m not sure why this is.  Intuitively, you would think that being able to see what’s going on would be somehow less comforting; however, this is not the case.  It is in the pitch black of uncertainty when you fear the most, when the wind and water lash relentlessly against the side of the house.  Because not knowing is always worse than knowing.

I think I turned off my computer almost immediately after the last sentence after realizing it had a full battery and would potentially be needed to recharge my cellphone which was doing double duty as my only connection to the outside world.  I was half right about the thud being the garbage can hitting the house’s side — I say half because it couldn’t account for all of the sounds I heard; the neighbor’s roof tiles, littered in our side yard, were most likely what accounted for the other thwacks and thumps.  I am amazed as well that none of our windows were broken considering the amount of detritus surrounding our house: we didn’t have the means to board up.  The picture attached is one I took of a house that collapsed right behind Mandina’s during the storm.  I had no idea this happened at the time.  It was upon reconnoitering the neighborhood that this was discovered.  What is probably more amazing to me is the two blighted houses across the street from me continue to stand, looking even more crooked now as one is leaning imperceptibly more left, the other more right.  

The oak out front still stands, but it lost a few branches.  I usually park under that oak, but had eschewed doing so during the storm, instead parking it down the block.  Initially my foresight seemed fortunate: a large tree limbed was discovered in the spot the next day.  At the very least, it would have done serious and perhaps fatal damage to the car.  However, in hindsight, and with a heavy dose of irony, my prescience was ill-rewarded: the car broke down two days after the storm and will likely cost me thousands to repair.  Had I only left it under the tree… 

The best thing about the storm — can there be a best thing? — was the chance to meet and work alongside my neighbors.  Being new to the block, the storm galvanized us.  We fed each other, looked after each other, got drunk with each other, and cleared the debris together.  I went from being a stranger to getting greeted by name on the street.  And while it’s going to take me awhile to really “belong” here, capital B, I already feel like I belong here in the lowercase sense of my block….  

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