as I write this, the massive hurricane, Katrina, is battering a beautiful city that is very dear to my heart.
I've been to New Orleans several times, for Mardi Gras, to visit my friends who grew up in Louisiana and for a few weddings there. it is a truly unique city. the buildings have stunning architecture. the area is rich in history. I've taken walking tours of the French Quarter, the Garden District and the cemeteries. I've been to many locals hang-outs as well. it is one of my favorite cities.
on the cemetery tour my friend J and I took a few years ago, we stopped by the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. the tour guide was talking about the hurricanes and tropical storms that have hit the area. describing that part of the reason they bury people in tombs in NO is because the city is below sea level. and during these storms, the water table would rise enough to cause caskets to float. creepy. and intriguing.
being an engineer I found this incredibly interesting. the city now has huge pumps to keep the water table low enough to alleviate these problems. the city is protected from the waters of the Mississippi River by large levees. the guide then specifically mentioned tropical storm Frances. the last major storm that hit the area. a nervous laugh escaped me. he asked why I thought it was funny. I explained that it wasn't funny, but that I was in this very cathedral when Frances was abusing the city.
in 1998 when Frances paid a visit to New Orleans, I was there. luckily that hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm before it hit the beautiful city. many of my close friends were in NO for the wedding of my best friend and roommate in college. many of us got into town on Thursday for bachelor and bachelorette activities. those that waited to drive in on I-10 on Saturday didn't make it to the wedding. the highway was closed by then.
we had an amazing bachelorette party, with dinner, other typical events, and meeting the guys on the bachelor party out on Bourbon Street that Thursday, despite the somewhat rainy weather. and the rehearsal dinner was extremely fun on Friday, even if we did get a little wet from the light rain. no one in NO seemed to be worried in the least about the storm. so we weren't either.
on Saturday, our other roommate and I got up very early, showered and headed to the salon to get our hair done. the rain continued. the stylist insisted on using a can and a half of hairspray on my hair, despite my pleas not to. apparently she was the only one truly worried about the storm and was trying to make my hair hurricane-proof.
after getting our hair done, we stopped for a quick sandwich on the way to the bride's parents' house to finish our wedding preparations. the person behind the deli counter said something wholly inappropriate about the deluge of rain on a wedding day. we ignored her, grabbed our sandwiches and continued on. luckily the bride wasn't with us.
at the house, we all got dressed and the photographer was there to take some photos. however, there were a few snafus. the flowers were late in getting to the house. but they finally arrived. the organ player and other musicians couldn't get to the church. someone found a portable cd player and some cds. we were waiting for the vans to take us to the cathedral. they were late.
we couldn't get in touch with the boys to let them know we were indeed coming. the phones were down. the photographer had a cell. but there was no one to call. one van arrived. between that, the bride's brother's and the photographer's SUVs there was enough room to get us to the cathedral.
despite the fact that some roads were closed and people were being urged to not drive, we began the slow drive to the Quarter. back roads were taken to avoid closures. alternate routes were taken when roads were too flooded. when we finally arrived, the bride was carried into the church to keep her dry. all of us bridesmaids had our skirts hiked up past our thighs and were carrying our shoes to avoid getting soaked in the water that was higher than our knees.
finally, when we were inside, the bride shed a few tears. she hadn't let any of the little things affect her. but she was so happy to finally be there. and despite having been very worried, and completely left in the dark as to why we were late, the guys were just happy we had finally made it.
to quickly fit the ceremony in between masses, we started the ceremony the second the mass ended that was supposed to be after the wedding. we were only two hours behind schedule. we began to walk down the aisle. all you could hear was the occasional click of a heel on the floor. as the beautiful bride was about a third of the way down the aisle, beautiful music began. someone had finally found a place to plug in the cd player.
the ceremony was amazing. I began to cry when I saw the groom crying.
once we got to the reception site, they hurried the bridal party into the coat room. the rest of the wedding guests were outside in the rain. they were still setting up. none of the servers could get in.and they were having a tough time getting everything together. in early celebration, the bridesmaids and groomsmen were taking turns sneaking shots out of the groomsmen's presents. little silver flasks.
finally everyone was let into the reception room. it was beautiful. and although most of us looked a bit more like drowned rats than wedding guests, everyone made the most of it. we danced until the dj closed up shop. after the reception was over, most of us even headed back to the Quarter for more late night celebrating. it continued to rain.
the next morning, on our way to breakfast, my other roommate and I convinced the groom's dad to give us the hotel number where the newlyweds were honeymooning. we had to assure him it was for good, not mischief, that we wanted it. I called. in my rusty Spanish and the concierge at the other end of the line's very broken English, I managed to have them send roses and champagne to their room, to be waiting for the them when they arrived. I hoped.
then we sat down to breakfast, outside in the Quarter on a beautiful sunny Sunday. things were still drying a bit. but the city was up for the challenge of getting things back to normal after Frances.
stories were being told of all of the little things that people had to do to get to the wedding. apparently the hotel we were all in got flooded. there was no water pressure. those staying on the bottom two floors had to be moved up. they let those on the floors with no water pressure use rooms on the third to shower. we missed this all since we left so early.
some braved the high waters to drive in, despite the warnings not to. people were carefully walking many blocks in feet of water to get to the wedding, careful to avoid the manholes that no longer had covers because they were pushed off. true friends doing anything they can to make sure they see their friends' get hitched.
and we talked of the amazing couple and how gracefully they handled everything. no other couple I know could have been so cool under such circumstances. it is truly a wedding and storm none of us will ever forget.
this brings me back to Katrina. this is many times worse than the scary rain and mildly strong winds we experienced during Frances. there was a mandatory evacuation. thousands were sheltered at the Superdome. levees were breeched. pumps have failed. areas are under up to six feet of water. water is coming up through the storm water drains. people are stranded on rooftops. areas south of Lake Ponchartrain are flooded. my friend's parents live South of this giant lake. they're saying it will likely be the most expensive storm in the country's history. they won't have water or electricity for weeks maybe months.
my friend's parents, other relatives and friends that live there are all in my thoughts and prayers. as are all of the residents of the areas being affected.
I have seen the resilience of New Orleans firsthand. although a more difficult feat this time around, it will endure after Katrina.
as is obvious, the residents of New Orleans and the other areas including Mississippi being hit by the storm can use all of our help. if you can, please donate to the American Red Cross so those in need can be helped.