Tag Archives: Louisiana

Riding out the storm-don’t try this at home

I moved from sunny Southern California to Louisiana the first time in 1962 when my husband—I’ll call him Bill for privacy reasons—was discharged from the military. I disliked the year-round rains. My first brush with a hurricane three years later churned deeper emotions of fear and hate.

We lived about 300 miles north of the predicted landfall location of Hurricane Betsy in 1965, so I expected heavy rains. I could get through it with Bill’s help. But he was sent to the devastated coastal area to restore electrical utilities. I was home alone. I mopped up water from incessant rain that oozed in around the windows, ran down the walls, and puddled on the floor.

I breathed easy when we moved back to California in the late sixties —nothing to fear but wildfires winds and earthquakes. The Santa Ana winds dropped ashes from the 1970 Laguna Fire in our yard in Irvine, but no sparks. The Sylmar quake the next year shook me out of bed, but no major damage. One evening two years later, Bill said, “It’s getting too crowded here—too many people—we’re going home.”

“Home” was a disappointment. Low-paying jobs, heat, humidity, and unending rains filled my days. We moved to Southeast Louisiana where the pay was better but the rains were worse. Then we met Hurricane Andrew, a projected Category 5 hurricane in 1992. “Don’t worry,” Bill said, “it’ll slow down once it hits Florida. All we’ll get is  rain.”  Andrew swept westward. We were in the direct path.

Andrew strengthened back to a Category 5, then downgraded as he stormed our way. The voluntary evacuation order came to our parish (county to all you who aren’t familiar with Louisiana vocabulary). I left work in Baton Rouge and crept toward home in the outbound traffic. Bill was nailing sheets of plywood over the windows. “Are you almost ready to go?” I asked. “If I don’t stay looters will take all my shop tools. Gonna ride it out,” he said.

I would have felt safer in the truck high above flooded streets, but I tossed my tote and a bag of snacks in my sedan. In case Mississippi hotels were full, I added a sleeping bag, a pillow, and bottled water for shelter survival. Weather news said Andrew had slowed to a Category 4 when it hit the Bahamas. “No sense paying an extra hotel night,” Bill said. “Wait till tomorrow and see what happens.” The next morning, voluntary evacuation was replaced by a shelter-in-place order.

I peeked through silver duct tape crisscrossed on the kitchen door window panes. A neighboring pine bent double in obeisance to Andrew, the 80-foot tall branches touching our gravel driveway before returning upright, only to repeat the same bow. My view of the front yard through the kitchen window showed the ancient oak standing its ground. Between peeks outside, I hovered near the television watching the devastation Andrew had left in his path—until the lights flickered and we were left in the dark.

Without electricity we had no water from the subdivision well. We were campers, so we had prepared. We brought in buckets of rainwater from the wooden barrel for the bathrooms. We turned on the portable radio. We set up the Coleman camp stove. That evening we ate by light of the Coleman lantern. Sleeping in the heat of a boarded-up home was impossible. We soon used the last of the dozen radio batteries and the propane canisters. Then the phone died. We were cut off from everybody—our wise neighbors had evacuated.

The morning after Andrew moved on, we stood on the front porch, sheltered from the heavy rain, accessing the damage. A downed power line entangled in a massive limb severed from the strong oak sprawled across our driveway near the street. Bordered by a deep drainage ditch, we were still captives.

After a frustrating week, the rain stopped, and a utility crew arrived on our street. Their small gas-powered saw was no match for the oak limb. The saw stalled, then the chain broke. They borrowed our chain saw. My husband offered to do the first cuts. “That oak is tough,” he said. They refused citing insurance liability. He stepped back while they powered up his replacement. They made a few cuts before they broke his saw.

There were no looters in our country neighborhood. The chain saw was the only loss.

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Filed under Events, Memoir, Uncategorized

Crossing the Amite

Lightning-storm sepia tone-PixabayOn April 8, 1983, I left home in Livingston Parish and traveled Interstate 12 West to my temp job location in mid-town Baton Rouge. I crossed the Amite River Bridge at Denham Springs as I had done hundreds of times. That morning, the stream had risen several feet. Debris floated faster than usual. In the parking lot at work, wind and rain whipped my umbrella and drenched me before I reached the entrance. Nothing new for Louisiana spring rains, but heavier than usual.

The project was behind schedule. My job—meet the deadline. I couldn’t concentrate on the stacks of data that needed to be typed, copied, faxed, or delivered. How will I get home if the Amite floods over the highway?  

Home-Blue-PixabayTwo years earlier, we had built a home in rural Livingston Parish, twelve road miles from the Amite (A-Meet) River at Denham Springs. A small back portion of our 400-ft. deep acre was in the 100-year flood zone, so we chose elevated Acadian-style construction rather than a concrete slab foundation. That lifted us another three feet above potential flooding. Only three miles south of the I-12 at Walker, we didn’t worry about an evacuation route. Those  precautions melted like winter ice on a warm spring day.

Pixabay tax-consultant-secretaryLong before mobile phones text, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram photos, weather alerts trickled into the business world from a portable radio. Early afternoon news reported that the Denham Spring I-12 Bridge would be closed by nightfall. I’d be marooned with thousands of others in Baton Rouge until the water receded. I asked the office manager to let me go home early. “It’s not as bad as they say,” he replied. “You have to finish this project.”

I returned to my tasks. My fingers flew over the keyboard. I stared at the cascading sheets of rain outside. Thunder rumbled. Lightning flashed. I scurried between my desk to the copier and fax machine, skirting his office like a mouse avoiding a trap. About two hours later, still a long way from finished, I approached the manager, latest efforts in hand. “I have to go,” I said. “With the flooded streets, I may not make it to the bridge before dark.” He insisted the danger was exaggerated and told me to keep working. Caution with a hint of fear said otherwise. I cleared my desk, gathered my purse and umbrella, and headed to my car. My drive through flooded Baton Rouge streets was slow. I relaxed a little when I reached the elevated freeway. Twenty more minutes and I’ll be home.

Flashing lights and a line of vehicles stopped me near the Amite River Bridge. Darkness encroached. I inched forward, headlights pierced the rain, windshield wipers at high speed cleared a semi-circle, until I was the first in line. A State Trooper approached. I lowered my window a few inches. Rain poured from his Smokey-the-Bear-style hat when he leaned down to be heard.

“Water’s over the bridge now, ma’am. We’re gonna escort you across,” he said. “Then, we’re gonna close the road.”

 

Road cosed sign-Pixabay

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Filed under Blogging, Events

Smells wins Pilz

 First Place Ribbon

In writing workshops I’m told that I must paint a picture with words so the reader can hear, touch, taste, or smell what my characters experience. I can’t say my protagonist drank week or strong, hot or cold, coffee. My keyboard paintbrush is permitted to stray and use an occasional word like robust or bold, but even then I must wrap the main character’s hands around the hefty mug, let the steam rise, and watch him sip the brew that’s too hot to gulp.

I shouldn’t say my private investigator stopped and smelled the roses outside a window where she’s hiding, crouched in a garden. I have to turn her head so her eyes see the rosebush and find a way to make the fragrance waft her direction without sneezes that give away her presence. Quite a task for me while tightening the tension and moving the story forward. Smells are why I’m giving this shout out (synonymous with tooting my own horn).

I won a blog contest challenge to describe my favorite or least-favorite smell. I told it like it was, or as I remembered it from long ago. The prize for my blurb is a copy of Pilz, J. K. Royce’s fictional mystery about unscrupulous physicians who profit from illegal prescriptions.

Here’s my winning entry.  What do you see, hear or smell?

New smells assaulted my nostrils when I, the wife of a former sailor, first moved to Monroe, Louisiana. Odors from a brown bag factory floated across the Ouachita (Wash-e-taw) River and permeated our non-airconditioned home. Yellowish-grey spots stuck to my white sheets on the backyard clothesline. I complained about the fetid odor to my neighbor who was employed there. He said, “It smells like bacon and eggs to me.”

Read Julie’s blog here: My Write Place 

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