Riding out Isaac, with mac and cheese

August 29, 2012

Keith O’Brien, a former Times-Picayune and Boston Globe reporter, rode out Hurricane Isaac from his home in New Orleans. Between the towel sopping and tray emptying, he sent these dispatches Wednesday:

Late morning: Electricity is overrated

The crisis today is in low-lying Plaquemines Parish, where serious Katrina-like flooding apparently has people awaiting rescue on rooftops. The more common story from New Orleans today, the seventh anniversary of Katrina, is something more like ours:

We’ve had no power for 13 hours. One tree in the yard is half down. One awning over the porch is totally shredded. Water is pouring in from the outside through a door. Towels, plastic bags and cookie sheets have been called upon to stem the tide of Isaac’s endless water beneath said door. Will it work? Maybe. Will the storm ever stop blowing? Feels unlikely at this point. The rain and wind continue outside unabated.

Lunchtime: The kids are all right. Why?

“What’s for lunch?” our kids, ages 4 and 2, ask. “Mac and cheese,” we tell them. “Can we have a special treat?” the kids ask. Sure, we say. Why not? They still think it’s fun as Isaac literally knocks on our door, slamming the brass door-knocker with its fury. “Happy hurricane,” the kids say. Indeed, my children. Indeed.

Early afternoon:

Here’s the thing about residents of Plaquemines: they are real Louisianians — boaters, shrimpers, oystermen, sportsmen in this Sportsman’s Paradise, the sort of folks for whom this storm is just a nuisance, another effort by mother nature to, as the song says, “wash us away.” I guarantee you they didn’t think twice about going out into this storm in those boats. People needed saving — and they went. Just that simple.

Meantime, hour 16 of rain and wind here in New Orleans. Give him credit: Isaac was a disorganized mess from the get-go. Confused, too. The meandering storm made landfall twice. But he has staying power. Our screen door is about to blow away and those cookie sheets collecting water need to be emptied every 15 minutes. It’s quite an operation we’re running here. And all this from a Category 1 storm.

Midafternoon: Cell battery low; water high

A local weather forecaster says New Orleans will see rain through tomorrow afternoon — long after Isaac moves north. “I hope you have your food,” the forecaster says. “I hope you have your water.”

That’s bad news for everyone here — but especially those already experiencing flooding and power outages. It’s going to be a long week here, with days of recovery to follow. There’s no other way around it.

Early evening: Trash bins into projectiles

As rescue operations continue in Plaquemines, locals listening to the radio just received a special bulletin: There will be no garbage collection in New Orleans tomorrow. The sanitation department is worried that the remnants of Isaac will turn the trash bins into “projectiles.” Lovely thought.

Evening: Is the worst over?

The wind is still blowing, the rain still falling. The power is still out and will be for some time. At least another 24 hours, officials say. Maybe Friday. Maybe the weekend. The robo-calls from the power company ask us to be patient.

But people are beginning to emerge from their houses. Survey damage. Commiserate. Talk. Breathe fresh air — wet though it may be.

In years past, the anniversary of Katrina has been marked with moments of silence and tolling bells. There will be no such formal ceremony tonight. We’ll mark it in a different way: being thankful that levees have held in New Orleans for now, helping neighbors, going to sleep in the dark and hoping that tomorrow the rain will stop. In a city surrounded by water, there is little else one can do.

But it is still New Orleans. So the neighbors say come over. Bring your kids and a bottle of wine. There are fridges full of food to eat and stories to tell. In the rain and the wind, we gather.

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