We evacuated into the storm, leaving New Orleans Friday afternoon and heading to our camp on False River (a few miles up Island Road from Mike Gio). We had planned to spend Labor Day weekend on the river anyway, so the evac simply meant taking more stuff with us including all the data processing hardware, servers, etc., from Gambit Weekly.
Things were fine until Monday, when, as the photos above show rather graphically, we narrowly escaped a 70-foot sycamore tree falling right on top of the room in which we were standing. We literally watched outside the back windows as the tree wobbled and then came crashing down missing our place by a foot or two. Sadly, Mike Gio and his family were not so lucky. (Mike, Ill lend you my rosary next time.)
The tree once sat just a few feet form the southeast corner of our camp. Starting at about 11 a.m. Monday, the winds really picked up, reaching hurricane force (as near we could tell) between 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. and staying strong until about 6 p.m. Initially, the winds came from the northeast, which would have pushed the tree right on top of us. Fortunately, as hurricane winds tend to do, the winds shifted to easterly around 3 p.m. Shortly thereafter the tree fell all the way across our lot, taking out portions of both fences and covering portions of three lots.
The really good news came the next day in the form of tremendous and generous assistance from friends and neighbors in Pointe Coupee. My pals Tony Clayton (in the adjacent photo), a well-known prosecutor and civil lawyer who lives just outside New Roads, and Bret Brian, who has a weekend place across the street from us, came by quickly with chain saws and got to work on that tree. Between them, Tony and Bret chopped up most of the tree (see photo below) while my son Will and his friends John Preston and Spencer Roy worked with my friend Jacques Roy and me to haul the cut branches to a nearby field for future burning. Theres no telling how long it would have taken us to get the tree to the bearable state its in now. Thanks, guys!
Special thanks to other friends and neighbors in Pointe Coupee Paul and Tara Preston, Jack and Suellen Elstrott, Jacques and Barbara Roy, and Anthony Vance (who lost his trailer and all his possessions when a tree fell on it) for helping us all get through this. Anthony, I hope fortune smiles on you in the coming weeks.
The bad news for Pointe Coupee is that most of the parish still does not have power as of Thursday. Also, the rain after the storm was really intense and probably just as damaging as Gustavs winds. The rain did not let up for several days afterward, causing lots of flooding all across central and south-central Louisiana. In Pointe Coupee, the rain caused False River (an oxbow lake formed by a change in the Mississippi Rivers course in 1722) to rise dramatically. We expected our first floor garage and bathroom to flood, which rarely happens, so before we left we raised everything we could off the floor of the garage. Were keeping our fingers crossed, but, truth be told, Pointe Coupee has sustained so much damage from both wind and water during Gustav that we feel very lucky just to be alive.
Our hearts and prayers go out to those who are suffering all over Louisiana. Ironically, New Orleans and southwest Louisiana the areas most affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita came through Gustav relatively unscathed, but almost every parish that dodged those storms has been hit very, very hard by Gustav, including neighboring Jefferson Parish, which still struggles to get power and sewerage service restored.
Back in New Orleans, we have reopened Gambit Weeklys offices using a generator that powers most of our lights and pretty much all our computers, phones, faxes and Internet. Special thanks to all our dedicated staffers who have returned or are in the process of returning and to our IT Hero Joseph Mariano who met me at the office at dawn to start hooking up all the servers and get the network back on line. Gambit Weekly will be publishing our Sept. 9 issue, but it probably wont hit the streets until Monday (Sept. 8) instead of the usual Sunday distribution date. Margo says we have to put the paper to bed before kickoff of the Saints game on Sunday, so for now its back to the salt mines.
Hope everyone who can read this fared well and is safe and dry. Big high-fives to Mike Gio, David Winkler-Schmit, Noah Bonaparte Pais, Kevin Allman, Ian McNulty, Alison Fensterstock and Alejandro de los Rios for some great posts during and after Gustav.