The Conwells believed in levees. They had never run from a hurricane. Marion and her husband, Pat, lived their lives surrounded by mounds of dirt and re-bar in New Orleans, met there, married there, raised their daughter there. With a control canal edging their back yard, they felt as safe as Canaanites inside Jericho. Margaret, Marion’s mother, 80, was a different matter. Mention bad weather, and she stood ready to leave. Pat’s mother Thelma, 78, and her friend Red Satterlee, 82, who has Diabetes 2, will refuse to leave. They always stay. They live in a two-story house in Lakeview, next to Gentilly. Pat’s sister and his nephew will be there. Pat and Marion can spend the night there and come back home to where they have lived for 29 years, 5018 Cardenas in Eastern New Orleans. The option sounds safe enough.
began funneling backwards through the Intercoastal Waterway from Lake Borgne, flooding Eastern New Orleans. A 17th Street Canal levee, at about the same time, began to lean, flooding Lakeview. Twenty minutes later, the back-flowing water topped the floodwalls and levees on both sides of the Industrial Canal. In less than an hour, entire blocks of levees collapsed. Dam-size breaks opened. About 8:30, a mile stretch of floodwall south of Lakefront Airport, next to Lakeview, toppled. Lake Pontchartrain dumped itself into Eastern New Orleans. Marion will not know this until she reads The Times-Picayune weeks later. By 9:45 a.m., the Conwells know something
is horribly wrong. Water invades the house through every crack. Several more 17th Street Canal levees fail. A wall of water the color of soggy grocery sacks pours into Lakeview. Water now rises throughout the first floor faster than Marion can pick things up. Maybe the City shut off pumps. If pumps are off, there is no judging how high the water will rise. With this thought, Marion puts a loaded coffee table on the sofa. She abandons salvation for survival. Wading water inching up her legs, she packs a cooler with sandwich supplies, Vienna sausages, and water. Then behind her, the refrigerator topples. “The first thing that goes is your refrig-
August 28. Reports of flooding in Venetian Isles outside the levee system come in. Marion packs two small bags with clothes, jewelry, her mother’s old coins, a purse and her Bible. Cocoa, her 13-year-old chocolate lab, is too frail for travel. Marion improvises a ladder by pushing a chair next to a metal table against the wall. She puts out several days of food, just a paw and a pull up to the flat patio roof away from any rising water. She sits for a while rubbing her old friend. “See you tomorrow,” she says. She and Pat lock up and leave.
August 29 Pre-dawn hours. Katrina veers east, marching around New Orleans without fanfare or trumpets. Just rain, rising winds. Gentilly. 6:45 a.m. Winds collapse brick walls next door, leaving insulation and studs exposed. A retired engineer, Red does not worry. His generator in the garage provides electricity and time to cook whatever they want. No one realizes this will be their last hot meal for almost 48 hours. Around 9:00 a.m., Marion notices water collecting in the street. She tells Pat who, thinking trash blocked the drain, wades out to clear the opening. Nothing is there. More water rises. Remembering the generator, Pat calls his nephew to help lift it to a table. From inside, Red sees the flooded backyard and freezes. In the sunroom, he stares at brown water as it seeps under the door and around tall windows. Red cannot move. No one knows that, at 6:30 a.m., water
38 Longleaf Style Summer 2010
A member of the National Guard looks over damage with two emergency workers amid piles of rubble at the beach in Bay St. Louis, MS.
Published on Aug 11, 2010