LISTENING TO KATRINA
PAGES IN THIS BLOG ARE RATED 'R' AND DO CONTAIN
PROFANITY, VULGARITY, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE, NUDITY,
SCENES OF HUMAN EMOTION, DEATH, DESTRUCTION, MAYHEM, AND VARIOUS
EVENT - No Way Out
Timeline: Monday, August 29, 2005, 2:00 PM CDT
Location: LaPlace, Louisiana
I am going to use the right and proper name of a man I want you to know. I have known Mr. Fournier (four-nay) since I was a small boy. Mr. Fournier is a real Cajun. The genuine article. A WW-II veteran somewhere above 80 years old, he's prowled, hunted, fished, boated, camped, and hiked more of Southeast Louisiana than most people probably think exists. I learned my perfect Cajun accent from Mr. Fournier on several 'shopping' expeditions during my boyhood. 'Shopping' meant hunting, fishing, and picking wild berries and other plants all rolled into one. I don't think the man has ever eaten fast food. His freezer is stocked with various fish and game. Lest you think that he lives in a cedar shack in some back woods swamp, he actually lives in a modest brick home in Chalmette near New Orleans.
Of course, all of Chalmette is underwater, and I certainly have no idea what he might be up to right now in our timeline. When I finally got to see him many months after the storm, he gave me a big hug and the usual greeting. "What cha say, Reverend?" He gets a kick out of calling me Reverend.
"Same as always, Captain. Same as always. Workin' hahd an' not causin' no trouble ta nobahdy."
As it turns out, at this point in our timeline, Mr. Fournier is sitting comfortably in his niece's house in LaPlace, Louisiana - about 25 miles to the west of New Orleans. He's worried after his airboat all morning, because he was afraid the wind might flip it off the trailer. Ann and Joe called Mr. and Mrs. Fournier and told them to come to LaPlace for the storm, and Mr. Fournier being a wise old man took her up on it. Mrs. Fournier packed up while Mr. Fournier hitched his boat to the old Ford pickup truck he uses to tow it. He ran out on Friday and filled the tanks with gas and got a cooler full of ice out of habit.
I need to take a good picture of Mr. Fournier's airboat. It's a big custom job similar to this one. His will seat six when he puts the seats on. Across the front he has some SERIOUS spot lamps because he's nearly blind in the dark.
At about 2:00, Mr. Fournier faces facts and tells his wife, "Da house she unda' whoata, momma.", giving voice to something that they both knew. "Noathin' ta do for it, papa.", she replies. Mr. Fournier says, "Dem levees broke. Remember Betsy? Folks is goahnna be in trouble. I'm goahnna go get 'em."
Ann - his niece - tries to talk him out of it. Gently at first, then she works up into a tirade about how an old man in his boat will just be in the way of real rescuers and he'd probably get arrested or killed or worse. When she runs out of wind, Mr. Fournier turns to Joe - his nephew-in-law - and says, "Joe?"
That's when "Let's Go" Joe gets his nickname, because Joe just stood up and said, "Let's go."
Mrs. Fournier starts making sandwiches. Joe puts a few things in the boat - including a rifle - while Mr. Fournier checks the truck. In less than 10 minutes, they're driving away while Ann cries and Mrs. Fournier starts cooking. "Papa might bring in some comp'ny."
By 4:00 PM, Mr. Fournier has managed to wind his way through the debris and slide his boat into the water off an interstate off ramp. Joe admits some nervousness. "That old man is hell with a truck..."
This picture isn't them, but it gives you the idea.
There are already other rescuers at work, and Mr. Fournier considers Ann's words as he runs away from them and up a back street in deep water. His airboat is built to skim submersed stumps and other things, so it's ideally suited to work in the debris filled water. Only the peaks of some roofs are visible, and some folks are sitting on their roofs in shock. Mr. Fournier isn't looking for them, though. He's hunting a different quarry. He cuts the motor on the airboat and listens. He's half blind, but his hearing is excellent. His ears finally hear what he's listening for and he turns his head from side to side a little then fires up the airboat again. He pilots for the white gable of a house that is only 3' above water. The roof has lost most of its shingles. He glides the boat up to the house and cuts the motor again.
"This one.", he says to Joe.
Kandra is two years old. Her daddy is a truck driver who is running a load of something out of Canada. Kandra's mommy lost her job three weeks ago and her new job doesn't start until Monday. With money tight, Kandra's mom has decided not to evacuate because they "can't afford it". As the storm waters rise, Kandra's mom takes her to the only safe dry place in the house - the attic. Kandra's mom doesn't know that you're supposed to have an axe in the attic. After Hurricane Betsy, everybody around here knew that - but Kandra's mom is from Dallas. Kandra's mom holds on to her as the water rises into the attic, trying to stay calm. As time passes, there are various horrors. A swimming rat tries to climb onto them to save itself. Mom finally drowns it. The water keeps rising, and they are forced into the peak of the roof. Kandra's mom stands and holds Kandra out of the water as long as she can - but the water keeps rising. She beats on the roof and screams for help, but the only one that hears her is Death himself, who slips into the attic with them. He waits. Not long now. Not long. Kandra's mom is totally exhausted, but she beats on the roof until her hands are bloody pulps. Three of the bones in her right hand are broken. Her blood floats in the water all around them - but thankfully it is pitch black, so they cannot see it. They can't see anything.
When Joe pries the facing boards off the gable and smashes through the slat boards, light pours into the attic around them and Kandra begins to cry for the first time. Kandra's mom cries too. Joe slips off the boat and treads water. Mr. Fournier moves his old bones off his pilot's seat and reaches down as Joe pulls Kandra out of the attic.
"Come heah ta me, dahlin'. Don't you cry none. Papa got you now."
He lifts her out of the water and holds her. Joe has to pry off a few more boards to get Kandra's mom - Joy is her name - out of the attic. She has a hard time getting into the boat, and Joe has to struggle in the water to help roll her in.
"When she got in the boat," Joe says, "She had some kind of nervous breakdown. She got on her knees and wailed and screamed and sang and prayed and I didn't know what to make of it."
While Kandra cried and her momma wailed, Joe got back in the boat and Mr. Fournier fired up the engine again. He slid out into the middle of the street-turned-river and cut the motor again. Joe looked back at him and looked away, because the old man was crying too.
He finally managed, "Be quahiet, lady. I need t' hear." Mr. Fournier listened a minute and fired up again, aiming for another roof while Joe wrapped Joy's hands in some paper towels and his shirt. They didn't have any kind of medical supplies at all.
Old Man Fournier and 'Let's Go' Joe snatched family after family out of the clutches of Death himself over and over again until the sun went down. When it finally did go down, Mr. Fournier ran up the spotlamps and they kept snatching families out of the inky blackness of the night. Around midnight, Joe was completely exhausted, and the last few times he had trouble lifting himself back into the boat. Joe works a desk job and isn't really hero material. Joe says, "Full load pop. I don't know if I can do this all night."
On the way back to the bridge, they pass Kandra's house - which is completely under water now. Joe notices and says, "I can swim as long as you can pilot, pop." They go to 3:00 AM, taking just one break to siphon gas out of the truck to fuel the boat. They make the last run on fumes in the tank. Mr. Fournier dumps the last gallon out of the spare can, fires up the motor, and navigates back to the interstate. They manage to get the boat back on the trailer with some help from the people they helped rescue. They don't know how many people they saved, or even how many runs they made.
They didn't know what happened to Kandra and Joy, but they figured that somehow they got a ride out. That is what happened - as they found out when Joy finally managed to track down Mr. Fournier many months later. She had memorized the license plate on his truck and conned someone at the DMV to give her his name.
Kandra's dad came too in order to thank Mr. Fournier and Joe properly.
"Ahll I got ta say ahbout that," Mr. Founier says with a tear in his eye, "is dat is a tehrible thang ta see a groahn man cry."
They made it back to LaPlace, but not before Mr. Fournier stopped to fuel the truck and fuel the boat while Joe slept in the truck. Ann reports that, "I wouldn't let him in the house. I got a scissors and cut him out of his clothes because he couldn't lift his shirt over his head. He was that exhausted. I hosed him down, right there in the yard in all his glory."
Mrs. Fournier washed out the truck and the boat when Ann was done with the hose.
At 10:00 AM - after just 5 1/2 hours of sleep, Mr. Fournier knocked on the doorframe of Joe's bedroom.
"Yeah. Let's go."