Where were you and what were you doing when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast 10 years ago?
When Katrina hit Louisiana, Mississippi and the other Gulf States with immense fury, catastrophic impact and devastating effects 10 years ago, my small, RV rental business was also affected.
Happy Trails RV Rental in Mattoon, Ill., offered motorhomes and pull trailers for rent. Our location is central Illinois assured us that we would not have hurricane damage to our small fleet of rentals. However, the location also assured our customers that we would have RVs to rent in response to the dire need for housing and offices in the deep south during the aftermath of the storm.
Almost immediately, as the terrible storm abated and small pictures of the devastation were seen, the phone began to ring. Diverse companies and individuals across the Midwest were suddenly in need of living quarters and offices that could be relocated into the midst of the destruction. Motorhomes with generators were in great demand because the electrical systems had been destroyed. Trailers with portable generators were also needed.
We were able to supply RVs to partially meet the demand. Many renters came to Happy Trails and drove or towed a rented RV to Louisiana or Mississippi. Other renters called and asked us to deliver one or more RVs to a selected location, often an area which had been directly hit by the more than 100 mph winds.
My first few trips were taken to deliver RVs to the less impacted, but damaged, small towns north of New Orleans. Later, as the roads were cleared, I transported RVs to Port Sulfur, a small town about 50 miles southeast of New Orleans , along a narrow delta strip reaching far out into the Gulf.
It was at Port Sulfur where there was extreme damage to virtually every building in town. Several houses were off their foundations and a few were stranded in the middle of the only highway. Several weeks later, when I returned to retrieve the RVs, there was little evidence of reconstruction or repair. Driving through the city of New Orleans enabled me to see the hundreds of houses that had been flooded and abandoned in various sections of the city. What I did not see or ever anticipate were the immediate and long-term effects on the residents who were displaced. That story continues 10 years later.
Insurance adjusters, construction workers, office workers, property owners and a variety of other citizens and companies rented RVs for varying lengths of time. Many of our RVs were parked in the driveways and yards of the renters so that the owners could protect their property. Some of the RVs were rented and parked in the New Orleans city or region for as long as two months.
My deliveries and, later, retrieval of RVs took me northeast of Sidell, along I-59, where it appeared that the strong winds had followed the interstate for more than 50 miles, clearing trees and houses from the path.
Along the Gulf Coast, near Gulfport, large shrimp boats and other vessels were blown or washed hundreds of feet inland on dry land and left stranded. Abita Springs, north of Lake Pontchartrain, was surprisingly hard hit. However, most memorable for me was the extreme damage to the area in and southeast of New Orleans where towns were totally wiped away.
The vivid memories of damage and devastation that I saw have remained with me for 10 years. Undoubtedly, the horrible memories of their struggle to survive will remain forever in the minds of tens of thousands of the residents of New Orleans who were fortunate to survive the power of Katrina.