Wow – It’s amazing how much life can change in one week! I offer the following narrative, not to complain or vent, but to express to those of you in other parts of the world what life has been like for the typical person in Baton Rouge for the last seven days. Some are my experiences, while some are those of my friends, family, and neighbors:
As I begin writing this post at 10 am on September 8, it was one week ago right now that the winds swirling around my home in Baton Rouge became strong enough that large limbs began to weaken and fall. Within three hours of this time, hurricane force winds of 90 mph would take down huge trees by the hundreds all around town, including one right outside my front windows, and I would be wondering if it was really such a good idea to ride it out at my house. No power in the oppressive muggy nights of early September in Baton Rouge would have us sleeping as a family in our dining room where the open windows created the best cross-draft for slightly bearable sleeping conditions. Of course, my son’s and my allergies went berserk from sleeping with the windows open after Gustav had infused the air with more allergens than you could shake a live oak at.
A whole city out of power and covered with downed trees brings with it many challenges. Whose got ice? Know where I can find some ice? I’m trying to keep a weird assortment of food items just cold enough for several days to think I can still eat it, only to discover I didn’t salvage it after all. Please, I need some ice here! How about gas? I heard there was a station on the other side of town running on a generator. No matter that to get there you’ll have to go through umpteen intersections where the traffic lights are out of commission, and half the citizens of Baton Rouge seem to be incapable of following a simple system of four way stop traffic, while all of Baton Rouge seems to be unaware of the difference between a flashing amber (yellow) light and a flashing red light. Maybe it’s not even worth it to go on a gas run, when my truck still has a quarter of a tank. Oh, that was when I left the house. Now, the light is blinking because I’ve been out here hunting for gas so long. But, I’ve got to get gas anyway to refill the large gas cans I had to drive to Lafayette to purchase to operate the generator I borrowed from my cousin up in Lake Village who may need it back any day now.
Of course the generator itself is a mixed blessing. Sure, you can power up a few items off it. But not nearly as much as you might think, and then there is the obnoxious noise all night that nearly counteracts any benefit of running the window unit in the room you are now sharing with the rest of your family to sleep. That’s not to mention the threat of death if you don’t ventilate it properly or fail to let it cool long enough before refilling the tank. And sometimes even obvious instructions are hard to remember when you have been hot, sleep-deprived, hungry and stressed for days on end. Almost forgot – does anyone have a chainsaw I can borrow, or do you know of a tree service that is available anywhere between here and North Carolina so I can get my neighbor’s gum tree out of my attic, and my oak tree out of the driveway and road? And does anyone know where they are actually giving out BLUE TARPS? Everyone seems to be an authority, but they don’t seem to be at any of the places that are sure to have them. What’s up with that?!! At least I’ve got folks available to help haul the limbs and wood to the street, since all my family from the coast evacuated to my house in Baton Rouge for a safe haven. Family togetherness is great, especially in these conditions!
And everywhere I go around Baton Rouge, I am bombarded with views of ravaged trees, many of them older than my great, great grandparents. Only on the back side of Tiger Stadium, where the great home of the Bayou Bengals shielded them from the fury of the winds, do I find a stretch of beautiful trees still standing more than a dozen together. Out of curiosity, we stop to see if Mike the tiger is still in his on-campus habitat, or has been evacuated. We are so thankful to find him napping in the corner, and our family is able to forget for a few minutes that the Baton Rouge of today is a broken and battered version of the Baton Rouge of last week. Yes, life does go on, even after something so unexpectedly devastating comes our way. Our town and our state will rebuild, recover, and get life back on track.
Did someone say Hurricane Ike is on the way?!!
Okay, some points of clarification. My family and I were able to spend nights three through five at my office downtown with air conditioner, a shower, and hot meals. Thank you First Presbyterian Church, host church of the counseling center where I work! We did not go the generator route, because of our opportunity to stay at my office. Our power was restored in time for us to spend night six at home. My family that was in town from Houma was wonderful during this time, and are now facing a much more difficult challenge picking up the pieces of their lives back home. My house was not damaged in the storm – only my trees and back fence. I now find myself in the strange place of having power back on at my home, while a little less than half of Baton Rouge is still without, and may be for a couple more weeks. Many gas stations are now back open, and many traffic signals are again working. I am proud of my family, my neighbors, my community, our churches, our mayor, our governor, and the rest of the folks (many from other parts of the country) who have worked together beautifully to recover from this shocking blow. Please keep praying for us. We need it! Our community and our state are making it, but still struggling mightily. Please pray for God to snuff out Ike in gulf!!!
With Hope and Gratitude,