I sat under the carport at my brother's house Saturday, watching as he fried fish and onion rings for a family get-together. At one time, about 25 of my relatives from New Orleans and its surrounding areas had been quartered at various houses around Shreveport and Bossier City, but, today, we'd be entertaining the 15 or so who were still with us.
I began to get hot, so I went into the house to cool off and found two of my sisters talking with my Uncle Tony. Tony, his wife, Pat, and their son, David, had to be rescued from their neighborhood after Hurricane Katrina's storm surge flooded their house. They managed to hunker down with neighbors in the second story of the neighbors' house until help came. David had to be taken to a hospital in Lake Charles because he suffers from seizures if he doesn't have his medicine (he didn't) and my aunt went with him. My uncle was taken to St. Bernard High School and was later bussed to McAlister, Oklahoma. We managed to retrieve them from their various locations and bring them to stay with family.
As I was listening to my uncle describe the horror of the storm, I noticed that this was not the same uncle I had known and loved all of my life. He was a changed man, and not for the better. The Uncle Tony I knew was full of fun, always joking, always building, planning, teaching. This man, the ghost of my uncle, was subdued and depressed. My brother told me that he and my aunt had been sleeping almost all day, every day and that David didn't have a clue about what happened. I'm not surprised.
My uncle said that he had survived Betsy and Camille, so he figured he could survive this. But I think he learned his lesson. When the next storm hits, and there will be one, I hope he heads north as soon as the call goes out.
My uncle drifted off into conversation with my younger sister, and I turned my attention to my oldest sister right at the time when she said, "We're pretty sure Janice and Harold didn't make it."
Janice, my (great)cousin, and Harold, my great-uncle, were both probably in their eighties or nineties, and they were both "mentally-challenged"; I haven't seen either of them for many, many years--the last time I saw Janice was when I was a kid. Her mother, my great-aunt, was the "black sheep" of her family and, at some point, we lost track of both of them, until Janice's mother died and Janice was put in the nursing home.
When my great-grandmother was forceably removed from her house by her oldest son, Harold, who lived with her, went into the same nursing home that Janice was in, not that he knew who she was (or vice-versa, I'm sure). For Harold, this was liberation. My great-grandmother was a tyrant; she kept the cupboards and the refrigerator locked so Harold couldn't eat what he wanted when he wanted (she was afraid he'd eat everything, all at once). Of course, her idea of dinner was tea with bread and butter, which wouldn't even be substantial enough for me, and I don't eat much.
Harold and Janice were both victims of Katrina. He was in a wheelchair and she had a bad hip, so when the time came to get the patients out or leave them to die, the people, the administrators of that nursing home, who should have been looking out for them, who were paid to look out for them, didn't; they elected to save themselves and their families, rationalizing that these infirm, mental "deficients" would probably die anyway, so why bother?
They were warned, just as my uncle was warned. They had time to call for emergency help, and they didn't.
I'm just sick in my heart when I think about my cousin and my great-uncle facing the terror of the rising water. Listening to my my Uncle Tony describe what he, my aunt, and my cousin experienced when the water broke into their house, I can only pray that the end came swiftly and that they didn't suffer too much.
Hindsight is 20/20. Maybe if the rest of us would have taken this seriously, we could have rescued more people, including my great-uncle and my cousin. But, I know my relatives didn't believe this hurricane was going to be so devastating; and hearing them talk about it, I'm sure they have enough heartache without piling guilt on top of them, too.