Former Prince George resident Mike Conlin and his family have finally returned to their home in the little community of Metairie in Jefferson Parish, approximately 15 km east of New Orleans.
Conlin’s wife Leah – a Louisiana native who Conlin met while she was working at Prince George Regional Hospital – and their four children Lindsey, Erin, Daniel and Andrew evacuated to the town of Levert early on Aug. 28 before Hurricane Katrina struck the area.
Conlin stayed behind to secure the house and intended to weather the storm.
“My family left at 7 a.m. and I was planning on staying,” Conlin said. “Then at 10 a.m. I’m watching the mayor [of New Orleans] on TV. He was begging people to evacuate. When he said all we could do was start praying, I decided it was time to start driving. It took me 11 hours in first gear to go 120 miles.”
Conlin and his family took shelter with relatives, cramming 10 people into a two-bedroom college apartment.
“We watched it on TV the same as people up there,” he said.
Hurricane Katrina spared Metairie by comparison to New Orleans and the Mississippi coast, and the Conlins were allowed to briefly return to their home Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Right now its like a war zone here. There are police with assault rifles everywhere,” Conlin said. “The airport is two miles away. There are helicopters in and out all the time. We’re right in the flight path.”
The Conlin’s home was remarkably spared from damage but many of his neighbours were not so lucky.
“Our neighbours on both sides got flooded and wind-damaged,” he said. “Some people had trees come down right onto their houses. Street signs and lampposts are all bent at like a 60-degree angle the same way. You can tell which way the hurricane came.”
The town flooded but not as badly as New Orleans, he said, with some of his neighbours having nearly a foot of water in their homes.
There is no power and at night the streets are dark, with only military troops allowed to be outside.
They rented an apartment in Baton Rouge and Conlin’s wife and children will be re-evacuated there so the kids can go to school, he said. The Catholic school they attended in Metairie was devastated in the storm and will not likely open again until next year.
Conlin said he plans to stay with a supply of preserved food, bottled water and beer.
“You would not be able to live here without supplies. Nothing is open,” he said. “There is no commerce in New Orleans.”
Conlin will be able to do some work from home after he finds a generator to run his computer.
The small town was spared from most of the looting happening in the city because local police were able to turn back outsiders as they tried to move in, he said.
Conlin’s sister-in-law was working at a hospital in New Orleans when the hurricane struck, he said, and she told them horror stories of her ordeal.
“Those hospitals, they are full of dead bodies,” he said. “When they were finally evacuated they had to fight with looters to get onto the buses.”
The military had to intervene to get the hospital staff and patients out, he said.
Conlin said his family are thankful to have come through the experience so easily.
“We got very lucky compared to a lot of people,” he said. “The people in Mississippi their gone. I don’t know how they’ll ever rebuild the Mississippi coast.”