Tip Andrews knew it was time to leave when he saw the green shutters on the mustard-colored Cafe Lafitte, one of the French Quarter’s most legendary bars.
“When they close, you KNOW it’s bad,” the Bourbon Street resident said Sunday as he took his two dogs, Gigi and Dijon, for a last walk before heading north. “They NEVER board up.”
The Big Easy neighborhood famous for never sleeping was looking like a bar after last call Sunday as Hurricane Katrina barreled toward the Louisiana coast with winds up to 175 mph and a potential 28-foot storm surge.
The sickly sweet “hurricane” punch drinks that normally flow right up until landfall were nowhere to be seen as city workers did a last sweep of spent plastic cups and party debris. Purple, green and gold balloons fluttered forlornly on gas lamps in front of shuttered bars in the growing afternoon breeze.
“Where’s everybody going?” a clearly besotted Edward Heyman shouted along an empty street. “It’s just a little storm.”
Despite his bravado, Heyman was leaving. But while some were taking the mandatory evacuation order seriously, many decided to stick it out and stare Katrina blearily in the face.
Some in hunkering-down mode
“You can sign my death certificate,” cigar bar owner Michael Kincaid said, standing in line at Mattassa’s corner grocery with a six-pack of beer, a bag of potato chips and a package of chocolate chip cookies. “My biggest investment is here, so I’m going to stay with it.”
Roommates Michael Seward, 45, and Jesse Rowe, 28, went out Sunday to buy a battery-powered radio. They don’t have a car to get out of town, but they feel perfectly safe in their second-story apartment.
“The house we live in was built for Napoleon’s nephew,” Seward said. “It’s been here a while.”
Seward pointed out that the Quarter was on some of the highest land in the city, “on the upper lip of the bowl.”
Rowe said “hysterical” family and friends were calling to beg them to flee to Mississippi. Seward, who fled from Mississippi, quipped: “That’s a fate worse than death.”
‘We’re kind of a different breed’
Not everybody who stayed did so by choice. Tim Smith, a machine technician from New York City, was in town for a family reunion when Katrina began its turn toward New Orleans. With no rental car and after several hours trying to get bus or train tickets, he decided to ride the storm out in his Bourbon Street hotel room.
“I was in 9/11,” he said defiantly. “I mean, we’re concerned, but we’re not going to lose our minds over it. It’s nature. Nature’s got to take its course.”
Mary Lind was trying to reassure Smith and his family, telling them they’d be fine if they stay away from the windows. Lind, who lives in a 174-year-old pink brick house, was also staying, much to her family’s chagrin.
“My son’s having a fit,” the 56-year-old real estate agent said as she drove to Matassa’s for some last-minute provisions. “We’re kind of a different breed of people down here, people in the Quarter. Heck, if we can put up with Mardis Gras, we can put up with a hurricane.”