Six or seven large pines fell on my mother's house and another eighty are down on her property. Had Horace and mama not moved my car Snarl to an open lot at the front of Canebrake that morning, he would have been smooshed by three trees. I awoke to one landing on the roof above my head, which prompted me to go downstairs where it was safer.
We lost power and water and telephone lines first. I called zordac on my cell to check in while I could. Then we finally lost cell phone service, too, which was our last line out to my sister Kelli at the bowling alley with its back-up generator, my father's family across town holed up at the farm, and my mother's family in Tylertown. From then on, I only knew about the people in the house with me: Mama, Horace, and Grandma.
We watched the trees, lithe pines and fuller hardwoods, bend like recurve bows. The wind would swirl their tops about in wide spirals then with each prolonged gust, they'd take deep bows in unison and slam their heads unwillingly to the ground. An almost uncountable number of times each hour, a rippled, cracking sound peeled like lightening and I would stand rigidly, waiting to hear if or where it hit the roof. Some trees split in half while others were wrenched up by their roots, then knocked down smaller trees in their path, domino style.
I reluctantly lay down for a nap. When I awoke, the wind was quieter but accompanied with the hum and grind of chainsaws. I walked outside in a borrowed yellow raincoat to survey the damage. The rain plastered my hair to my face and dripped down my nose. I breathed through my mouth and spit out the water as it ran down my cheeks.
It was a jungle. To reach the street, I literally had to climb over fallen trees every few feet and stoop under tree trunks propped up against the house or against other trees. I picked my way carefully, never touching the leaning and horizontal trees overhead lest I jostle them from their props and they fall the rest of the way onto me. Mama's house escaped all but minor structural damage to the house itself, a smashed air conditioner, and broken trellises but the natural destruction around us was enormous.
I looked across the street then down; the same scene repeated to infinitum as far I could see. Thousands of trees were down in Canebrake, hundreds lying across the road in big patches, walling us in. Chainsaw gangs of dripping, neighborhood men ripped a splintery a path, inch-by-inch, down the road. I've never been so happy that my step-father was a card-carrying member of an elite group of affluent, professional men who lived in Canebrake and developed expensive tastes for redneck toys and tools. Nearly every man on the block had his own pet chainsaw. Horace cut a small swath in the driveway and Mama and I rolled the logs and as much debris aside as we could.
We all slept downstairs that night. It was so sticky and hot, we propped open two of the three sets of french doors flung wide so that wind could flow in from the screened-in porch. I tried sleeping on the porch itself, but despite all my romantic aspirations, I am too much of a city girl. I felt too exposed. So I dragged the wicker chaise lounge inside and listened to the crickets and the new frogs that overnight had moved into Mama's fountain outside.
I lay with a length 1by4 on the table next to me, in case I had to smack a looter upside the head. Even while setting it within hands' reach, I felt ridiculous; a looter would never be able to see in the darkness, climb over the tree fortress surrounding the house and escape with loot. Then one of the neighbors' house security alarms went off and I stopped scolding myself. It blared at us through the open doors the rest of I night, so I begrudingly hauled myself upstairs despite the oppressive heat.
In the morning, I decided to try to make the drive home. Highway 49 was still closed to traffic, but I wanted to make a go of it anyway. Plus, I would be one less person to deplete my family's very limited water supply. Infrastructure damage is so widespread that it will be weeks before water and electricity are returned. I drove into town proper where the damage was bad, too, although not as extensive tree damage as Canebrake. Every single neighborhood was littered with fallen trees with only small holes cut through for cars to pass (apparently they have roaming chainsaw neighbors, too!). I mentally thanked the cops directing traffic at the larger intersections. I found with my step-mother, Rita, who told me that Daddy had made it down to the farm and confirmed that rest of his family was fine. On the way north out of town, I stopped at the bowling alley, and the owner/Kelli's roommate said that Kelli was fine but had just left with his girlfriend to try to get a shower elsewhere.
The drive home was slow going; many parts of the road narrowed to a single lane because of fallen trees. Once I reached Magee, I got a short burst of cell phone service and called zordac for the first time in a couple days. I almost had a head on collision with an F250 hauling a trailer and barreling down the wrong way. Convoys of military trucks and fleets of utility trucks and eighteen wheelers passed at regular intervals. Each time I got really choked up because I knew how badly they would be needed further south and how so many people were depending on them.
It wasn't until I got home that I actually got to see images of the coast. I knew it was bad from the battery-powered radio we had listened to, but...it...I can't talk about it. I grew up knowing those places by heart, down there almost every weekend, like a second home. All gone. All of it. Buildings and families and landmarks and cherished memories and livelihoods that had survived Camille and dozens of storms before her only to be pulverized by a deceptive, upstart meat grinder named Katrina. My family is alive and safe. Hattiesburg is damaged and inconvenienced for a while, but the coast has been laid to waste and New Orleans is sure to follow.
When I got to zordac's office in Oxford, he held me and wouldn't let go. We didn't stop touching at least in one way or another until I put him to bed and snuck away to write this after he fell asleep. I feel so guilty being up here while my family is stuck down there. I feel helpless and enraged, but I have to be practical and keep my life moving. There's nothing I can do for them right now if I stayed down there except deplete their resources. But despite my frustrations with being stuck before the storm started, I'm glad I was there with them during the storm, so I could have the certainty of their survival. It was also selfishly exciting, insofar as it was something I'd never experienced before but such an experience and awareness came with such a great cost, like a writer or a photographer who guiltily observes the devastation around him. I was never scared for my life, not once, and knowing that my family is alive whilst uncomfortable is much better than not knowing at a comfortable distance.
I haven't slept more than a few hours in rough patches for the last few days. I am emotionally exhausted from the last few days and from crying at the CNN footage. Perhaps I can sleep now.