I live in the San Francisco Bay area, and I traveled to New Orleans on Friday, August 26th. I was there for my grandmother's funeral service in Metairie on Saturday August 27th. Several members of my family had arranged to stay at the J.W. Marriott on Canal Street in New Orleans. I was then supposed to fly to Chicago for business meetings on Monday the 29th.
Saturday morning we were concerned about Katrina, and tried to arrange earlier flights out of N.O. I was told the earliest flight to Chicago that wasn't "significantly overbooked" was scheduled to leave at 5:45 p.m. Saturday. I wasn't able to make that flight due to the funeral service, so I booked a flight to Chicago on Sunday the 28th.
I received notice from the airline that my flight on Sunday was cancelled. I called my company's travel agency to see if there was any chance to rent a car, take a bus, or find any way to leave New Orleans, and was told that they could not arrange any transportation out of New Orleans that Sunday.
I called my two boys that evening and let them know that I was still in New Orleans but would probably be home within a day or so. I spent Sunday night in my hotel room, listening to the wind and rain, thinking that the windows were going to crash in at any moment. Being a native Californian, I have been through several earthquakes. Between the noise and the shaking of the building, it felt very much like an incredibly long earthquake.
At 5:30 a.m. Monday, the hotel evacuated all of the guests into the 3rd floor ballroom, where we stayed (without power -- they couldn't get the generator started for several hours) until around 2 p.m. that afternoon. I had no cell phone coverage, and my Blackberry worked intermittently. In addition to the lack of cell phone coverage, we had no power or fresh water. I went back to my room and took a nap, and after looking out of my hotel window and seeing people on the street, decided to go out for a walk. The part of Canal Street and the areas of the French Quarter I saw didn't appear to have sustained a lot of damage. I ended up at Johnny White's on Bourbon Street, which was open! There was a sign on a piece of cardboard behind the bar that had "We Never Close" handwritten on it, and I was told that they had not even closed while Katrina was blowing through!
I had a couple of beers with several other people and then went back to my room at the J.W. Marriott. The hotel had provided breakfast and lunch that day, and dinner consisted of cheese and crackers. We were told that they would be cutting back to two meals a day beginning Tuesday, and there would be a meeting in the morning. I tried to email a coworker to ask them to try to find ANY way out of N.O. for me.
I packed my bags and went down to the lobby to see if I could get a ride anywhere, with anyone. There were a lot of people leaving who did not want to take any passengers. I spoke to a woman who said that a man had accepted her offer of $1,000 to take her and friends out of N.O. She said that while the valet was getting the car, a manager of the hotel approached the driver and advised him not to take strangers! They eventually found a stray cab.
I waited until the lobby was nearly empty, and cried for the first time. Finally, three employees of the hotel were headed out, and I begged a ride. I don't think they were very excited about doing it, but accepted. They are young -- I think in their early 20's. As we were driving out, I asked the driver, Richie Bardales, where he was headed. He told me that he and his two friends, Brian Dartus and Scott Hinrichs, were going to Baton Rouge to try to find some friends. Turns out that each of the guys probably lost everything, and only had the clothes they packed for work. The hotel told them they had to work through the hurricane and expect to stay at the hotel at least two nights.
All three of the guys expect that their homes were destroyed (two live in St. Bernard's parish, one in Kenner) and didn't know what they were going to do.
Miraculously, en route I got through to my coworker who told me that if I could possibly get to Baton Rouge, I had a seat on a plane to San Francisco that evening.
I told the guys that I would put them up for a couple of nights and buy dinner for them. The restaurant they chose? McDonalds! By the time we arrived in Baton Rouge, all of the hotel and motel rooms were booked. By this time I had cell phone coverage and called my travel agency to try to get a room for the guys. The closest room they could find was in Beaumont, Texas. The guys decided to look around anyway, and after passing many hotels with "No Vacancy" signs on their doors, they stopped at a Marriott Courtyard. The hotel was completely booked, but the employee behind the desk recognized Scott. He was able to give them a room.
I am still paying for the room for the guys, and they are looking for jobs. I also gave them cash and wrote a big check to each of them. I figured that was the least I could do, considering that they were my angels.
The irony of the whole thing? I got laid off from my job yesterday.
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