Thursday, August 17, 2006

Don't Do Anything At All

Well it's been awhile between posts because I've been busy, but I'm finally finding time to sit down and peck at these keys.
I was starting to talk about last year when my oldest son, Steve, had just started working for a tree service and got called out for hurricane duty when Katrina was approaching. He and the rest of the company headed toward Florida, leaving on the 27th of August, because that's where they thought the damage would occur. He had his cell phone with him and called while he was on his way down, so it was a little bit of comfort to hear from him. They stayed in a hotel , and went to a Hooter's restaurant, which was something I'm sure he hadn't expected. The mood of the company seemed to be almost festive at that time. They found out that they wouldn't be going to Florida, however, and instead headed to Louisiana when the storm looked certain to hit there. I was worried that they would be driving through the hurricane, but they stayed back until the worst of it passed. After a lot of driving they came to the town of Kenner, where they were stationed along with the power company that was to head operations. For the next few days there was a lot of frustration as it seemed no one knew where to go or what to do. The weather was hot and humid and the place they were staying had no place to sleep so they all slept in the truck or on the ground. Since all electrical services were out in the area they didn't see the devastation in New Orleans like we did back here on tv, so they had no idea how bad things were except for the brief phone calls that went through (cellular services were very limited also). I forget how long they were at the staging area before finally being sent out to try to restore power, but the first attempt at getting work done turned out to be disastrous.. He said that they were working good for a couple of hours then all hell broke loose. It seems that the gangs of N.O. had formed themselves into one large group which was going around looting the whole area. They called themselves "The Train" because the group made up a mile- long mass of gangs. When they heard that the crews were starting out to try to get power on and restore order- thereby putting an end to their pillaging- they set out to stop them. This was a day before the National Guard came in, so there were only a few law enforcement people there at the time, and they weren't equipped to handle anything like that. They went around and tried to get the crews out of there as fast as they could. Some of Steve's coworkers were fired upon by the gang. Some of the crew got split up and they had to drive around looking for each other. They finally made it to safety. I heard all about that incident third-hand, since my wife had talked to my niece who had talked to her husband who was my son's foreman. Needless to say, the thought of my firstborn being in harms way and only hearing about it through sketchy details from a short cell phone conversation had me in a state of panic and feeling utterly helpless. One thing that was just a bit of a comfort was that they thought they might be sent home or to Mississippi the next day, seeing how the situation was so hostile. But I got very little sleep that night and the next day when I was at work I got a call from my wife who said she had just heard from my niece again and they were sending them back into N.O. That news, combined with no sleep the night before, had me in a depressed, helpless-feeling mood the whole day at work. That night he was able to get through with a phone call and told us that they had National Guard escorts that day and were able to get some work done. His crew helped to get the first pumping station up and running, so that was something that made him feel better. From then on the work was easier, but tensions at the camp where they were staying became more strained. After being there for two weeks a lot of the guys wanted to go home, not having seen their family in all that time. The fact that a couple of hundred guys were all bunking under the same tent didn't help tensions either, and a lot of arguing broke out. As for Steve, he was getting depressed. He worried about seeing bodies floating in the streets (thankfully he didn't) and was also angry because he hadn't gotten paid yet for his time there. We had been calling the main office of his company trying to find out why. There was a mixup with his pay due to the fact that he had just started and his direct-deposit hadn't been set up yet, and since the whole company was down there his time hadn't been turned into the office. It was so hard to hear the frustration in his voice and not be able to do anything to help. Finally, he got two checks in the mail and we were able to deposit them for him, and it was just about the time they were getting a Wal-Mart opened on a limited basis, so he was able to get a few things. He started to feel better about things then, which made us feel a little better but he still didn't know when he would get to come home. I think it was into the third week that he was there that Rita hit Texas, and they were talking about sending them there to help out there. Even farther from home and more worries for his mom and me. Thankfully he and a few others were able to head home and arrived on Sept. 23, my wife's birthday. It was a great present for her, and for him the end to an adventure he wouldn't soon forget.

One good thing to come out of that adventure was that we were able to talk to him and tell him that he was missed and loved. For quite awhile before that he had always been gone with his friends a lot, and when he was home the only talk was of trivial matters in the day-to-day household life. In a way I was thankful that events happened the way they did, because I think we were all able to convey our feelings and recapture a little bit of the way it was when he was younger.


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