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.
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?