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©2005 Sidney Smith
©2005 Sidney Smith
Five years ago I landed in Cleveland for a few days vacation. My son and mother, the only other members of the family, had already left for college and aboard a cruise ship, respectively. My visit was to be personal but, unfortunately, short. I was due to spend the weekend there with family and friends and would be winging my way back to the Crescent City on Monday morning with an expected return in the early afternoon. I spent the first evening, August 26, enjoying a meal at Fire, a restaurant run by executive chef Doug Katz and located in historic Shaker Square. Following the wonderful cuisine there I passed by the windows of a major supermarket undergoing construction. Large signs on the windows announced the grand opening of the new Dave's Supermarket in five days. I peered inside the windows and noted that there seemed to be little progress to indicate they would be open for business in less than a week. I clearly remember thinking how much I regretted I would not be able to see them open their doors. The next day I attended worship services at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple and was honored to hold high the Torah scroll, an honor afforded few visitors in a service. It was later that afternoon that I went to check my e-mail and noticed several urgent stories over the Internet later that warned that Hurricane Katrina, a minimal strength storm that had struck Miami just the day before, had reorganized into a major category four storm over the warm Gulf of Mexico waters with further strengthening likely. The satellite pictures showed a massive system beginning to take aim at New Orleans. I was understandably upset. I needed to get back to New Orleans in order to protect my home and hearth. Frantically, I began trying to arrange for a ticket back home, but the lines were crazy busy and it was apparent that no flights were going into the city for the foreseeable future. An e-mail from Continental Airlines on Sunday notified me that my return ticket was canceled. That afternoon and night was a sleepless one for me as I held my breath, hoping that the 175 m.p.h. winds category five storm would miraculously miss the city. As it turned out, the storm did diminish slightly as it came ashore. Estimates are that it was a powerful category three storm with maximum sustained winds near 135 m.p.h. when it hit the city, veering off to the east just enough that a direct hit was registered in nearby Bay St. Louis and Diamondhead, Mississippi. I watched local New Orleans TV newscasts over the Internet, news reports that could not be seen by those in the local viewing area due to widespread power outages there. All of the local studios able to broadcast had evacuated to Baton Rouge or Jackson, Mississippi. Several news teams were stranded in the flood waters that followed the levee breaches at the Industrial Canal and with cell phone towers down no calls were getting in or out of the city. I watched in horror as Mayor Ray Nagin announced that the Twin Spans, the two elevated highways that crossed Lake Pontchartrain and joined the I-10 from New Orleans East to Slidell on the North shore, were gone. Gone! It was surreal. By the time the floodwaters from the New London Canal arrived at my home on Tuesday, August 30, there was nothing to impede the flow of the water leading from Lake Pontchartrain. The water climbed to five feet and stayed there for close to two weeks before the pumping stations began to work the almost impossible task of pushing the toxic soup out of the city. By the end of the third week the water was nearly gone from inside my home, but the toxic black mold and green mildew had started to consume everything left behind: books, albums, pictures and all the walls. Cabinets had exploded and the contents of their shelves were spilled onto the floor. By the time I arrived back home seven weeks later, I could not believe the utter destruction that awaited me inside and out. My entire time in town was limited to a period of just 36 hours before I had to get back to the airport for a return trip back to Cleveland, where I was now living. Because there was no electricity in the Broadmoor section at that time, there was no way to do any work past sundown as I tried to claim any items not ruined by the waters or rendered unusable by the mold and mildew. I made it back to Cleveland late Sunday night. Meanwhile, the Dave's Supermarket in Shaker Square had been opened for six weeks. and doing brisk business. As it turned out, I had not only witnessed its grand opening, but ironically shopped there in the interim. Thanks to my having registered as a Katrina refugee with no visible means of support, I paid for my groceries with an electronic debit card - food stamps, if you will - provided to me by the State of Ohio. Such a change in fortunes is not unusual in those that survived Hurricane Katrina.