Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Day 2 - Baton Rouge

This post originally was sent as an email to friends and family.

After a long and somewhat harrowing trip out of hell, we arrived in Batou Rouge late this afternoon. I've got a few changes of clothes, my computer, cell phone, a box of ink pens, a note pad, my shower bag and, of course, my LSU football tickets :)

About 200 of us from the paper vacated the building around 9:30 a.m. as the flood water was entering the building and up to about 3 feet outside the building. We road in a convoy of seven semi-paper delivery trucks. Actually, we road on the floor in the backs of the trucks with the backs open for venilation.

Things were quickly getting dangerous. We could smell diesel and gas fuels throughout the building (probably from the water)and we received word that prisoners were rioting in the prison just across the interstate from the building.

We crossed the main bridge over the Mississippi River to a dry West Bank. Then without any notice, my truck, the last in line, pulled over to the side of the elevated highway.

Our driver came to the back and called for his wife and son to get out, explaining that their house was only a mile or so away. They proceeded to unload about six pieces of fully stuff luggage and a large pet carrier with three dogs.

All the while, we were shouting for him to get back in the truck so we wouldn't lose the convoy. Remember, we didn't know where we were going and had no way to communicate with the other trucks.

Once his family and belongings were out, he turned to us and announced that we would need a new driver because he was staying with his family! We were stunned. After failing to convince him not to abandon us, the head of our I.T. department and one of my colleagues in the Money section took over the truck controls.

About two hours later, we caught up with the convoy when they stopped for a bathroom break. I say that losely. Nothing is open in southeastern Louisiana, so our bathroom breaks were outdoors.

We went to Houma first, but their local paper could only accomodate a small contingent of our editorial staff. So we left for Baton Rouge. After getting lost and having to backtrack about half an hour, we finally arrived in Baton Rouge - 6.5 hours after we started! That's right, I spent 6.5 hours in the back of a semi in 95 degree weather.

My fellow business writer Greg Thomas and I are staying with my sister, Michele, and her husband, Eric.

When we arrived at the Advocate newspaper's downtown office, we were met by television news crews. I'm told that our evacuation from downtown New Orleans also made the ticker on CNN.

The paper has set up shop at a Baton Rouge technology center. After a strategy session for tomorrow's work, a church group arrived with hotplate diners for us - our first meal all day!

Greg and I have to be at work for 8 a.m. Editors were spending the night buying computers and other equipment, and renting SUV's to make trips back to the city.

I'm hoping to get into the city as soon as possible with the first power utility repair crews.

Looks like we'll relocate to our West Bank and North Shore bureaus as soon as power is restored there and the buildings are functional again, but that could be several weeks.

Things are as terrible as they look on TV and in the newspapers. The water continues to rise. It appear my neighborhood will have 10 to 15 feet of water by Wednesday. Thankfully, our house is raised about 12 feet off the ground. Hopefully we'll get by with minimal damage.

I finally have cell phone service again.

For my cousins in Austin, I'm planning to call into my friend Kevin at the local radio station to give him a live report on things here.

At this point, I'm taking things one hour at a time. Driving through the city and seeing the destruction was devastating. I've felt on the brink of collapse numerous times today. I think I'm due for a big huge cry sometime soon. It's all terribly sad.

Thanks for all of your offers of help and wishes of love and support. It sounds so like such a cleche, but they do give me comfort.

I've finally had time to think about all of my friends who stayed in the city. I haven't heard from any of them and don't know their fate. I pray for their safety and comfort.

Keep all of us in your prayers, especially the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who tonight are sleeping in homes, atics and on roofs in the city, stranded, alone and frightened.

Much love,

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