How a Hurricane and a Little Girl Changed my Life..
Something about the power of a storm overwhelms me, and I feel the need to help people. The night that Hurricane Katrina was moving toward landfall in New Orleans, LA, I made the decision to head south. I had already been working in Picayune, MS, doing storm clean-up work. I was monitoring the storm and had a feeling it was going to be dangerous. So, I loaded up all the gear and jumped into one of the service trucks. At this point, I was tired and not thinking very clearly.
Even so, I continued the voyage I would never forget, driving across the longest bridge I have ever been on, the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge. The wind started blowing, and the truck began to shake. I continued to drive, although I slowed down a bit. I remember thinking that I needed to hurry and get across that bridge. At that very moment, I heard one of the loudest sounds I’d ever experienced. It was deafening. The wind sounded like it was possessed. It seemed to be almost evil. I slowed down even more, and when I did, the truck began to shake all the more. It felt as if the truck was only crawling across the bridge. I reached over and woke my friend who had accompanied me. We were both terrified.
I stopped the truck, and it began to move across the bridge. Pushed by the wind, the truck started sliding sideways. I gained control, managed to turn the truck, and then tried to drive, but the wind took control. I started to think about everything in my life, particularly my family and my son. I knew I had to get off the bridge, but I could not move. The storm pinned our service truck against the barrier, along with our trailer and Bobcat. The sound is something that I still dream about to this day. Things that were not chained down were flying out of the truck. I started to pray.
After what seemed an eternity of listening to the loud, deafening wind, I decided just to drive. I was not going to die that night. After an hour or so on the bridge, I was finally on land and stopped the truck. I realized this was the closest I had ever come to death. Now, however, there was another problem. The water. It was so bad that we had nowhere to stay. Our clothing was ruined. All we had to live on was whatever was in the back seat of the truck. I found high ground, where we parked and slept.
Waking up a few hours later, I begin to see military personnel everywhere. I pulled up to an exit, where the military waved us off and told us to leave. I got out of the truck and told them I was there to help. The soldier told me, “There is nothing you can do.” I argued with him. One of the soldiers finally relented and let us in as First Responders. As they let us through the barrier, I started to think to myself that what I had done was pretty dumb. I had just argued with a soldier, who had a machine gun in his hand. What was I thinking?
I found the area to get through and what I saw next shocked me. Everything was destroyed. It was either flooded or leveled. I saw more emergency services than I had ever seen in my life. My friend and I took the Bobcat off the trailer, and I pushed trees out of the way to get into the community areas. We had not even been there ten minutes, and we were already working. The damage was unbelievable.
We got into a neighborhood where the people were scared. We tried to calm people down, but we were unaware of the magnitude of death that surrounded us. For the first time in my life, I found a deceased person. Cell phone communications were down, so we used a walkie-talkie and radioed for help. At this point, I was overwhelmed and still trying to focus. I prayed again and moved forward, continuing down the road with the Bobcat, pushing more stuff out of the way. We stopped as people ran up to us.
Trying to make a trail was the most important part of our plan at this point. I decided to move forward to make a path. As I cut off the saw, I realized something was happening to me. We had been working fourteen hour days for what seemed like forever, but I made up my mind that, even though I was scared, I had to stay and help.
We worked and worked and worked. I cannot stress how hard we worked. About an hour or so passed, and I thought I heard a child cry out for help. I panicked when I could not find the child. I ran around a damaged home, listening for the sounds of the child. I finally located where the sounds were coming from. I was horrified and trembling as I began digging through the rubble. I found her! I had taken Red Cross training and knew that I could potentially cause more damage by moving her. I did not want her to get hurt, so I removed the debris around her by hand. I continued to dig for fifteen minutes or so. She was crying, but she reached up and grabbed me. She got up on her own power but was bleeding everywhere. I held her and tried to calm her. In my entire life, I had never felt this way. I was beyond my emotional capacity.
The little girl was holding on to me for dear life. She started screaming for "Mommy" I was scared to death. I realized that her mother must be in the leveled house. I sat her down and asked her where her Mommy was. She just pointed. I started to dig where she pointed. It felt as if I had been digging forever, but I was going to find that baby's mother. After about 20 minutes, other people started showing up to help. The emergency services crew listened as I explained about the little girl and her mother. I showed them what I was doing. About 30-40 minutes later, we located the mother.
It was at this point that I realized my calling was to help people. I told the little girl we found her mommy. She just grabbed me and gave me a huge hug. I sat there with a feeling of accomplishment. I had saved two people. I was there to save someone, and I did it.
Thank you to all of the emergency personnel who helped during Hurricane Katrina. Thank you, God, for letting me find my purpose.
To this day, I often wonder what became of that little girl and her mommy.