Here's another installment from Randy Smith, the superintendent at Riverland Golf and Country Club in Laplace, La., on his experiences when Hurricane Katrina hit his hometown.
Monday, Aug. 29 (Landfall)
Daylight is finally arriving, and it's about 7 a.m., although there is not much difference since we have severe cloud cover. But at least you can see through the rain a little better. We lost power at 4:30 this morning, and I have been using candles to see around the house. It is obvious that my dogs are nervous and can sense something coming. I can now see how much the wind is whipping the trees around and already know we will be in for severe tree damage. The wind is mainly from the northeast at the moment and probably gusting around 60 mph so far. Looking out my front door, I can see many small branches already being blown down the street into my corner.
There is no one out and about in the streets at this time, and I really do not expect to see anyone until after the storm. It is expected for the storm's eye to arrive around 1 p.m. today, but we will feel the wraith more likely around 11 or 12, since we are to the west of the main storm. The only good news was that the storm veered slightly to the east before the power had gone out. This will help me out since I will not have to take the whole west side of the large eye wall.
Today is spent basically pacing the floors and checking on things from time to time. I have now focused my attention between my front door and my upstairs window that face the same direction. The wind and rain is coming across them from right to left and you can see a lot from there. I only go upstairs to get a better view of everything down my street. Around 10 a.m., I have noticed large branches being ripped from the trees and the wind has increased to about 75-80 mph with gusts that I can only guess to be around 90-95 mph.
I have to put on my rain suit and walk down the street at this point because I have noticed a large oak tree that has dropped a very large branch because of the winds, and I know it is a potential hazard for striking a car or a house. I manage to push the branch up against a basketball goal post with the wind pushing it even more. I make a very quick inspection of other's property, being cautious and staying behind houses when possible. To be honest, being out in the storm in exhilarating, to say the least. The fury and power of Mother Nature cannot really be explained. I also check out all my own property and see that my spa cover and been blown open. One of the tie downs has been ripped off and will not stay down without something heavy being placed on top of it. I find an old, large counter top that I had just replaced in my shed and drag it out into the wind and rain and somehow manage to get it on top of the cover. I know that the rain will soak the pressoboard it is made out of and make it even heavier, so in time it will not move at all.
I was very glad to get back into the house, but apparently not as glad as my three dogs were to see me there. At least I have company, even if they do not talk. By about noon, the winds start shifting out of the north and get even stronger. I noticed after awhile that the rain is hitting directly into my door, which means that the storm has moved past even with my house now. I cannot even open my storm door the wind is so strong. I can hear what sounds like heavy hail hitting my roof, but when I look out my door I can see nothing that looks like hail on the ground. It worries me a little until I see my neighbors shingles flying across from the other side of the street.
I decide to get my camera out and take a few pictures to show friends and possibly family somewhere down the road. After taking many shots in still mode and also video mode, I get a stupid idea and put on my rain suit, stuffing the camera inside the pocket and sneaking out the back door. I actually walk across the street in order to stand under the front porch of the neighbor's house to keep out of the rain while shooting pictures. I have to bend over almost 45 degrees just to move forward. I guess I kept thinking about all of those newscasters or Jim Cantorie on the Weather Channel doing this and figured "what the heck?" I did manage to get a few fantastic short videos of the neighbor's shingles flapping around and being blown off. I also got many videos of trees being blown over at what looks like 45-degree angels at times. But I had my fun and realize the danger I am putting myself in and go back to my house. I really never thought of myself as stupid for doing it, but I consider what my wife would have told me if she had been there when I tried to go out in the storm. It was not a pretty thought.
I was surprised at how much stronger the wind gusts have gotten around 2 p.m. I can see my trees being whipped around in circular motions instead of just straight with the wind. I figured it was because we were located in a corner. I also notice that most of my trees are now torn apart, with one lying down on the hood of my wife's truck (I made her take our new four-wheel-drive to the hospital for safe keeping and because it sits higher if she has to drive out when the water is up). I have two trees behind my house that have no branches left on them and one other in the front that I realize will have to be cut down since it has lost 80 percent of its branches. The wind starts easing off around 3 p.m., at least a little. And by 5 p.m., the storm is virtually gone, with just rain and 40-50 mph winds left.
I take this time to drive the five blocks to inspect my course. What I see is unbelievable. My heart sank when I saw almost all of the improvements we had made to the course in the last 10 years have been completely destroyed. 70 percent of the trees that I had planted to give my course more character had been blown over and ripped apart. I had water as high as I have ever seen it before, and the roof of our pro shop was lying next to it. I get out and look into that building and see water steadily dripping from the ceiling and Sheetrock lying on the floor in places. I only get a short look at the course because I only wanted to travel our main road and I really couldn't stand to continue looking at the destruction. I drive out with a very heavy heart, knowing that many challenges lie ahead for our club. I cannot see any of the main destruction caused by the storm yet to compare ours to, and this is probably why I was feeling so down.
For a moment, I actually thought about life away from this club, the club where I had started my superintendent career, the club that I had poured my heart and soul into over the past 10 years. With so much gone that I had worked to accomplish, why not just start over somewhere else? It is at this time that I realize that I cannot walk away from a challenge, no matter how difficult. I decide that one day I may walk away from this course, but when I do, the person that comes behind me will be proud to take over my position with a course that is in great shape, not one that has been left in the total destruction as I had seen it.
When I get back home, I decide to check out the neighborhood for damage. Many of the houses in my block have lots of roof damage and branches down. I was surprised to see that my trees look like the took the brunt of the storm, compared to everyone else's. Later we determine that we had either a partial tornado or a very high wind burst since we find a couple of houses in line with mine that had plywood torn from their houses. As dark approaches, I settle into my own little hole of comfort and try to just forget about my club. For this one night, I will take the liberty of just being thankful that my dogs and I are safe and just relax with them. I do manage to fall asleep later that night, but I found that I had to sleep downstairs on the floor where it was the coolest. Just me on a large blanket with pillows and my three companions that manage to box me in from just about every side. It wasn't a peaceful sleep, but it was rest that I knew I would need for the days to come.