’s Hurricane Katrina Story is headquartered on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. While most of the world thinks that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, LA, on August 29, 2005, in fact the eye straddled the state line that Louisiana and Mississippi share. That put us in the northeast quadrant of the storm, the so-called “bad side” for the northern Gulf states. The northeast quadrant gets its reputation by forcing the highest storm surges, spawning the most tornados and generating the highest death counts.

The exception in this case was the fact that New Orleans, much of which lies below sea level, and is usually protected by levees, saw those levees fail under extreme wave action and high storm surge, flooding low-lying homes and trapping people and pets in their homes. Unable to go back over the levees, the water stayed and stagnated for weeks.

At our own home we experienced the maximum flood level of thirty-two feet. Fortunately, the living level of our home is at thirty-three feet, five inches, so we watched as the water rose and rose, inundating our first level and threatening the second. We could do nothing but watch and pray.

The water stopped seventeen inches from our living level floor.

We were some of the fortunate Katrina victims. We lost a lot. An awful lot.

We didn’t lose our lives. We didn’t lose our home. And our pets were safe.

As we lost both of our vehicles to the floodwaters, we were unable to visit our small animal practice until the following day, Tuesday, August 30th. Our sainted neighbors, Gary and Jan, transported us to the clinic. We had no idea what to expect, but we knew from word-of-mouth reports that things were bad all over.

In 2005 we were still boarding pets for hurricanes, a policy that Katrina caused to be changed.

Trees and power lines were down everywhere we went, and some areas still were under water. Our usual route to the office was impassable, as were several more routes we tried, so it took two hours to make what was usually a twenty-five minute trip.

When we finally arrived there was one tiny area of the parking lot visible, and we pulled in there. The rest was covered in downed trees and debris.  I instructed Gary to wait in his pickup, not knowing whether there might be death and destruction in our hospital.

The back door was the only access to the plywood-encased clinic. It took me fifteen minutes to make my way from the parking lot to the back yard, a trip of approximately 100 feet. I climbed over some trees, under others, all the while fighting stiff resistance from Live oak trees’ offensive bark. Limbs were thatched together as if woven by the hand of God.

I could see the chain link fence of the exercise yard. There was color. And movement. “Cindy?” I shouted.

“Dr. Randolph, are you OK?” Cindy shouted back.

“I am, what about the animals?”

“They’re all good. A little hot, and glad to see me!”

“Are you OK, Cindy?” A pang of guilt shot through me that I had asked about the animals before I asked about Cindy. Still, I had been able to speak to Cindy on the phone about 36 hours ago, just before the storm hit. I knew that if she was able to make her way to the clinic from her home about two blocks away that she must be alright.

That didn’t easy my guilt any.

It took another five minutes to travel the sixty feet to the back door. Cindy and I hugged and cried and cried and hugged.

Then it was time to get back to work.

We had no electricity. Fresh water spewed into the air from a broken water pipe. The animals had clean water to drink (I didn’t learn until later that we weren’t supposed to be drinking the water). We had water to clean up with. After 36 hours unable to go outside to use the bathroom there was quite a bit of cleaning to do, too, and baths for all of the dogs.

Cats fared better, they had litterboxes to use.

I made the arduous trip back to the parking lot to let Gary know all of the animals were OK. More hugs. More tears.

We then began to try to get in touch with owners of the boarders to get them into better conditions than we could provide.

Today we start a series on hurricane evacuation and hurricane safety tips. Print them out. Keep them handy. Our prayer is that they grow moldy and never need to be used.

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