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written Sunday, 9/7/2008

Three years ago my first New Orleans apartment was burglarized, and I lost several thousand dollars worth of stuff. A few weeks later I completed the first week of my new teaching career. Not yet having a cable or internet hookup, that Friday evening was the first time I heard the name “Hurricane Katrina.”
Officials said, “Leave.”
I said, “Okay.”
I hit the road Saturday morning. As the storm approached, officials who sounded like they knew what they were talking about said the hurricane would certainly and completely destroy New Orleans. I watched the storm and aftermath unfold from the Houston area while my Louisiana “adoptive parents” fled for Jackson, MS. Needing dialysis treatment three times weekly, Nat ended up in the hospital for a while with Joan by his side the whole time.

A couple weeks ago I heard the name “Hurricane Gustav” for the first time. We hoped and prayed for it to swerve off its projected path towards New Orleans and harmlessly dissipate somewhere else, but it just kept barreling straight at us.
As we prepared our school building to endure a beating on Friday August 29, the three-year anniversary of Katrina’s landfall, my apartment was burglarized sometime in the late morning. The front window was pried open. A school laptop that I had brought home the previous evening in case of evacuation was stolen, along with my digital camera and an unopened pack of undershirts (How random is that?)
Meanwhile Gustav kept approaching and getting stronger.
Officials said, “Leave.”
I said, “Okay… just gimme a minute.”
Mayor Nagin would later eloquently edict, “You need to get your butt out of New Orleans. This is the storm of the century.” He was talking to everyone, not just me personally.
Sunday noon I left town with my faux-arch-nemesis from Lusher, English teacher Michael Depp and his wife and 2-year old son. We accompanied Michael’s friend Jennifer to her mother’s home in Jackson, MS. Nat and Joan also fled to a friend’s home in Jackson. Nat felt even more lethargic than usual and ended up in the hospital once again. Something about low albumen levels – They’re still not sure exactly what’s wrong. Of course Joan has been by his side the whole time.

As Gustav neared, Mayor Nagin billed it to be the “mother of all storms.” In the days that followed much property was indeed damaged or destroyed, and the hurricane tragically proved deadly. Many aspects of the recent events did feel like déjà vu, but for myself and most of New Orleans, this was no Katrina. The intensity of the storm dropped just before landfall and swerved slightly to the west of New Orleans. We were spared from the worst.

Even the preceding burglary felt mercifully tame compared to last time. Whereas three years ago I knew I had been watched and targeted while moving into an unfamiliar neighborhood, this time felt like just a random break-in by a desperate crackhead. My less-portable valuables were left untouched, and even though the burglar left the back door ajar, my kitties stayed inside unharmed. In fact, I bet they nuzzled up against him as he rifled through my stuff (Seriously, I bet they did).
With the benefit of a little more warning than I had for Katrina, I packed my car with kitties and material possessions and calmly accepted the possibility that I may never see the stuff I was leaving behind again.
I had several evacuation options, including heading towards Houston with TGNO friend Michelle for a dubious Katrina reunion. However, I was pleased to have the choice of going to Jackson and be able to meet up with Nat and Joan during their latest trial. This departure lasted only three days for me versus the 2-3 weeks last time. The six of us in our party resided surprisingly comfortably in a three-bedroom house with four dogs and eleven cats. Kong and Estelle remained remarkably composed throughout the entire experience.

Driving back into NOLA Wednesday night, much of the city appeared not much different than we had left it. Police and some National Guardsmen patrolled the streets before, during, and after the immediate threat rather than the reactive post-Katrina deployment of thousands (?) of Guardsmen toting assault rifles through the streets. Gustav left isolated damage versus Katrina’s widespread destruction and chaos. Gustav claimed just over 100 lives rather than Katrina’s 1800+ fatalities.

My apartment is fine. My friends are fine. My school suffered only minor damage. Nat and Joan are still at the hospital in Jackson, and I’m wishing him a quick and healthy return.

This was no Katrina.

The man who burglarized my apartment had subsequently tried to pry his way into my neighbor’s apartment. He was spotted by another neighbor and arrested shortly thereafter. Yesterday, one week and one hurricane after the crime, yet another neighbor around the corner from me found the stolen goods under his house. He called the police who then returned the laptop, camera, and undershirts to me – perfectly dry, I should add. I owe a debt of gratitude to the good citizens who live around me.

The trials of the past week served to remind me that life doesn’t suck as much as it sometimes appears to on the surface.

Now let’s see what lesson Hurricane Ike brings us this coming week.

During evacuation Depp’s son Jude became my new BFF. Here he bonds with Estelle. Jude fresh out of the shower. A closer look… I knew I’d seen Jude in a recent movie. Kong and Estelle loaded and ready to return back to NOLA. Yes, Estelle is sitting on top of Kong.