Wednesday, November 30, 2005

It Pulls Me In

I have never meant for this to be a blog about NOLA and Hurricane Katrina but I have done quite a few posts on that. And just when I think it will be my last there is another story that pulls me back in to it again. There has been just such complete devestation and such horror that it is beyond compelling. It reaches my humanity to the core and I feel such empathy for victims and survivors. I wonder what would I have done in their place? How would I cope in the aftermath?

The story of St. Rita's Nursing Home touches all of that. In the initial aftermath of the storm it was believed that the owners had abandoned the residents. Now it is found that this is not true. Though they must face consequences for not evacuating we learn that the owners and staff were present among others and fought to save lives as a wall of water came crashing down on them. Here is how some experienced that.....

Alonzo recalls the floodwaters flowing from the direction of the lake, a few miles north of St. Rita's.

Trishka Stevens, Jodi Hanson's grandmother, says that when the water burst into the building, it cascaded through air-conditioning vents "like Niagara Falls." Stevens, 75, who has not walked in five years, was in her bed in Room 407 as water rose around her.

"It was up to my chin," she says.

In the pandemonium that followed, nurses and aides waded and then swam through the halls, unhooking the straps that held the wheelchair-bound upright and pushing them onto mattresses. They then shoved the mattresses outside so the evacuees could be taken to higher ground by boat.

Alonzo, 55, says he put his 52-year-old brother onto a mattress, then grabbed Carlos' roommate, Harold Kurz. Alonzo recounts the frantic effort by nurses and others to save as many as possible:

"You can't get out a door, so they're kicking out windows to float the residents out on mattresses to put them on the roof. In every room, people were hollering. They were screaming like somebody was murdering them (and) ... for God to help them. It was a horror scene."

Stevens was saved by Steve Snyder, 29, an offshore oil rig worker who had motored past St. Rita's in a boat while fleeing his own flooded house nearby. By then, Snyder says, rescuers at St. Rita's were chopping holes in the roof to pull out residents who were floating just below the ceiling.

Snyder says he and his brother-in-law swam from room to room, searching for survivors. They gave up, he says, when "we just didn't hear no more screaming, no more people calling for help."

I doubt one gets those screams out of their mind perhaps ever. That's trauma. Alonzo faced another......

Alonzo returned to St. Rita's a month after Katrina to get belongings from his ruined car. He calls the place haunted, and says he will never go back.

"Can you imagine being in your wheelchair ... and that water came up over your head? I guess that's why people are so mad."

He tears up, and then says quietly he wasn't strong enough to hold onto both his brother and Kurz. "You can't swim with two people. I had to let Harold go. I still think about that when I fall asleep."

Maybe I can't let go because people like Alonzo had to.

No comments: