Saturday, January 06, 2007

The story I didn't write about Janice.

Janice was the tenant and close friend of one of my closest friends, who, believe it or not, is also named Janice. For the sake of clarity, I'll refer to my friend as JR and Janice the tenant will just be Janice. (And yes, O Man of Past Imperfection-- I see you have removed your name and the picture from your blog -- this is "our" Janice R., the one who introduced us way back when we all happened to be hanging out in South Beach one fateful weekend.)

Every Christmas Eve, JR would have a gathering of friends. Many of them I knew well, others I came to know from this yearly event and the occasional get-togethers JR would have throughout the year. It was on one such Christmas Eve that I met Janice.

Janice was smart, warm and friendly --the kind of person who's easy to talk to and you just feel good being around. This is her story, as told to me by JR.

When The Storm hit, Janice rode it out in her half of the Pastueur Blvd. double that JR owned. After it passed, Janice called JR to report that she was okay, but a tree had fallen on the back on the house, on JR's side. The power was out and it was hot. A cool bath and a nap might be in order.

Then the levees broke.

My Friend Janice's House
JR's side of the house after the flood.

JR's house is not too far from the London Ave. Canal breech. By the time Janice realized what was happening, the furniture was starting to float and the water was rising fast. At just barely 5 feet tall, it was difficult for her to move around in the water so she started to climb on top of things. Janice knew she had to get out, but getting to the door from her bedroom proved to be more difficult than she thought. She broke a window and pushed herself out, but in the process, her robe got caught on something and came off. Janice found herself in the water completely naked.

The water was still flowing and churning from the breech and had become too deep for Janice to find anything stable to stand on, but not deep enough for her to climb on a roof. As she struggled in the water, she heard the cries for help coming from a neighbor's house but could do nothing to help. (She later learned that one of the two residents of the house drowned.) Eventually, Janice found a floating object to hold on to and she spent the next couple of days in the water until a man came along in a boat and plucked her out. She was delirious and covered with cuts and bruises. She was still naked but had some kind of article of clothing around her neck. She couldn't remember how it got there.

Janice's rescuer apparently lived in the area and had used his boat to pick up a few other people as well. They'd found a building nearby with an accessible second floor where they waited a couple of days in hope of a rescue. When none came, the group became convinced that they'd die if they stayed in the building. Everyone assumed that there was no dry land anywhere, which was a rational assumption considering the depth of the water in the area--just look at the picture of JR's house, which is on piers and not a slab. So, it was decided that their best bet was to try to get to UNO, where they might at least be able to hunt down some food and water.

Five days had elapsed from the time the levees broke and the groups arrival at UNO. They found half the campus submerged and the other half dry and filled with many desperate people, just like themselves. An evacuation center had been established in the newly constructed business building, the same building that houses my office (then and now). People were being taken from this location to the airport (Louis Armstrong International, our main airport), and then evacuated to anywhere-but-here. (You didn't get to choose your destination and many times you did know where you were going until you got there.)

Through this ordeal, Janice's rescuer had become very attached to her and had promised to stay with her until she was in a safe place with people she trusted. When they arrived at Armstrong, Janice was still having a tough time grasping the scope of the situation. She assumed they were being sent out on a commercial flight and was mortified at the idea of getting on a plane in her condition --weak, filthy, smelly, cut, bruised and in (someone else's) clothing scrounged by her new friend. No one else seemed to be as disheveled as she perceived herself to be.

They boarded the flight and before it took off, Janice nudged her newfound friend and told him that she thought she might now be hallucinating. "Do you see that man standing up there in the aisle? Who is it that man? Tell me who you see."

"That's Al Gore," replied Rescue Man.

And it was. Janice was one of the 270 people evacuated on two jets chartered by Al Gore. The story didn't make the mainstream media because Gore didn't want it politicized, but TPM Cafe has a detailed, behind-the-scenes account.

Janice was hospitalized and treated for her injuries in Tennessee. After her release, she went to Oklahoma, where she had family. Everyone agreed that it was amazing that she'd survived.

I've never written about this before because there are just so many amazing stories of people who survived the hell that this city became when the levees broke. I could tell the stories of at least a dozen or more other friends who had horrific experiences --like Renee, my beloved department secretary at UNO who spent 5 days on her brother's roof in the same neighborhood as Janice, before being air-lifted out. Or my friend Paul, who told me how weird it was to see shrimp swim around his living room and mullets jump in his driveway while he waited with his sister and 80-something-year-old parents to be rescued by boat from the attic of their Florida Blvd. home. There are so many stories like that. And I wish I could end Janice's story here. But I can't.

On Christmas Eve, my phone rang. It was JR calling in lieu of our annual gathering, just as she did last year. But this year, the sadness in her voice was sobering, but not as much as what she would tell me.

On November 15, 2006, Hurricane Katrina claimed another victim. Janice died in Oklahoma of the injuries she sustained in the flood. The wounds never healed and nothing her doctors did could control the infections that took over her body. She fought for almost 15 months and lost. She was 51 years old.

I wonder how many others have died from effects of The Storm that didn't manifest themselves until much later? I remember seeing a story in the T-P just after we returned from Virginia about a guy, a police officer I think, who died from a flood-related infection. He was in his 20s. This had to be at least 6 months post-K. Joel Neville's cancer was in remission before the storm. Same thing with our department secretary; her cancer came back after her ordeal and she's been back in chemo. I know of many elder Orleanians, friends of my parents, who appear to have just given up, as if they died of broken hearts.

There are so many broken hearts here now. Too many.

How do we heal the wounds that no one can see?


Anonymous dangerblond said...

OK, first day of class and I am reading your blog and crying. People are just going to have to get used to me going aound crying, I guess.

8:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My God. I have no words.

9:09 AM  
Anonymous Sophmom said...

Good grief. I'm trying to imagine her fighting that infection for this long. I'm so sorry Lisa. This story needs to be told from so many directions. Thank you so much for sharing it, as difficult as that must be.

9:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heart breaking. She loved animals. Gave money to animal shelters and WWF, PETA.
She had a big dog.
I dog sat for her once and that dog got out--ran me around the neigborhood for a couple of hours until an old black feller in a rust bucket of a pick-up slowed down and said, "The ol' dog will stop a'runnin' if you stop a'chasin' him." I nearly collapsed, doubled over, hands on my knees, wheezing, gasping, aching in every joint and muscle. The dog stopped running. He sat. Licked his hindquarters. Waited for me to catch my breath. I slowly began walking in the direction of Janice's house and that big, dog followed me home.
Living underneath Janice's house was a wreck of an alley cat named Scrunge. One eye. Broken ears. More scabs than fur. A few years after I moved away, I ran into Janice and asked about Scrunge. Scrunged had died. Scrunged had died with a full belly and he died not unloved.

ps I'm shooting for a job at a college here and I don't want to be googled in a bad way--hence the name removed from blog and about 75% of my posts sent to draft.

10:13 AM  
Blogger metablogger said...

My parents lived on Cameron Blvd., one block away from Pasteur--thankfully they evacuated the day before. And my friend Rudy was also on that plane with Al Gore--he was saved from the American Can Company apartment building in Mid-City. It's amazing how many stories there are out there and how they can converge when you least expect it. Thank you for sharing this with us.

10:44 AM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

Before the final chapter was written, I considered Janice's the ultimate survivor's story. I was absolutely stunned by the news of her death. After all she'd been through, how could it end like this? This is why I felt I felt compelled to share it.

Mr. Oliver, that's absolutely *our* Janice, our spunky JR from Long Island, that you've described. But I want to be clear that it was not *our* Janice who perished. It was her neighbor/friend/tenant of the same name. You would have liked her, too.

Metablogger, I'm glad your parents left before The Storm. That area was unbelievable after the flood. I wonder if Rudy and Janice were on the same flight? How strange it would be if they actually met.

1:30 PM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

Metablogger.....Oh, it's you, Dr. Daisy! I didn't visit your link until after I commented. I met your parents at Rising Tide --super sweet and loveable folks --and I may not have had that opportunity had they not evacuated. Sheesh!

1:37 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

So many facets, the storm has so many different impacts, it's so hard to describe. I'm glad your trying to let these stories out. It's like a flower with it's weakened petals falling needing to touch ground.

2:45 PM  
Blogger Schroeder said...

A sad, but poignant memorial to someone with a good soul. Thank you.

3:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, my God.

There are so many ways in which I am sorry that that happened. The feds and the Army Corps ought to be way sorrier than they are, too.

But that still won't bring that brave soul, Janice, back.

6:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yet JR now knows how she would be eulogized by me.

5:16 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Lisa, I never read this when you first posted it...the unnecessary suffering people endured after the flood never ceases to amaze me. So many untold stories that should be told. Too many people have stopped thinking about NOLA or never gave it much thought at all. These folks should not be forgotten. Thanks for sharing the really touched me.

7:35 PM  

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