As Hurricane Katrina churned through the Gulf of Mexico, Kimberly, Jonathan and I drove to Hickory, Miss., to Kimberly’s parent’s home for “safety.” Hickory is a three-hour drive north of New Orleans (209 miles). It seemed like a great evacuation spot.

The morning of Aug. 29, 2005 (Monday), I got up early and monitored the TV and Internet – I was looking for news about New Orleans and the hurricane. I was worried about the city.

Reports said the storm hit near Pearlington, Miss. (where Kimberly taught school during my time in graduate school). It sounded really bad for the Mississippi Coast – huge storm surge. At the time, things didn’t look too bad in New Orleans. Lots of trees down, wind damage to buildings. We saw the horrifying footage from inside the Superdome.

Before too long our worries about the coast and New Orleans were put on hold. Power failed in Hickory sometime around noon. We were in for a long day riding out the storm.

I don’t remember exactly when the storm began in Hickory. It started really slow. The sky grew dark and the wind started to blow. First, it was breezy, then blustery. Before we knew it we were experiencing gale-force winds.

Hurricane Katrina was still a Category One hurricane when it passed directly over Hickory — three hours inland. The wind whipped and sheets of rain came down. I’ll never forget the sounds of the wind and the water. The sustained wind speeds were well above hurricane strength for hours – wind gusts hit 109 MPH.

Most of the shingles blew off the east side of the house early on – the whipping rain began leaking through the roof, through the ceiling and onto the floor of every room on the east side of the house.

We gathered as many bowls, pans, empty coffee cans, trash cans, empty margarine tubs and buckets we could find in the house and in the storage shed. We tried to catch as much water as possible. Water leaked from hundreds of holes. We mopped and mopped with towels and emptied container after container of water.

Meanwhile Jonathan, just four-years-old at the time, “bounced off the walls.” He couldn’t handle all the noise and excitement and indoor rain. It was very hot because there was no power and we couldn’t open the windows. He was in a frenzy.

Trees swayed, snapped and uprooted. Debris filled the air – leaves, grass, shingles, paper, you name it. I watched out the window as a giant pecan tree fell across the driveway.

We began to think the storm would never end. Finally, after about three hours, the wind died down and the rain slowed. An eerie calm settled in. I won’t pretend that we experienced the storm’s full fury, but it was scary. I can’t imagine what it was like in New Orleans, Gulfport, Picayune or even Hattiesburg.

When the storm died down, we felt nothing but relief and exhaustion. No power, no cell signal and finally, no storm.

All this time, we thought New Orleans was okay.

Next up “The Storm — Round Two”

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