Katrina evacuee finds home in ruins

Lynn Brown left her brother in Oak Harbor last week to return to her Hurricane Katrina-battered home in Saint Bernard Parish, La.

For just a few hours last week, the storm survivor went home to survey the damage and collect whatever keepsakes survived Hurricane Katrina.

Brown, 45, and other residents of Saint Bernard Parish were allowed back into their homes while National Guard stood units stood nearby. She returned to redeem what she could from a lifetime, but instead, found her home ruined, and two dead bodies inside.

“It was shocking,” Brown said during a recent telephone interview.

She didn’t know the deceased. Officials told her that they had probably been trying to escape from the Ninth Ward, about a mile and a half a way from Brown’s home, and sought refuge wherever they could find it.

For Brown, it was a disturbing reminder of the devastation brought by Hurricane Katrina earlier this month. The death toll in the three states from the storm has risen to more than 1,100 dead.

Brown came to Whidbey Island to live with her brother after she was evacuated from the disaster area. As soon as officials announced residents would have a two-day window to visit Saint Bernard Parish, Brown knew she had to go.

“It was the only way to find closure.” Brown said.

Deserted and covered in mud, the streets of Saint Bernard Parish were flooded for days. Her home, a house that once belonged to her grandparents, was submerged in 11 feet of water for days.

It can’t be saved.

“I was told my home will be bulldozed,” Brown said.

It was an early morning visit. Even at 6:45 a.m., though, the smell was almost unbearable.

“I can’t imagine how terrible it would be in the heat of the day,” Brown said.

There was not much left to take out. All Brown managed to save was two garden statues.

“That’s all I have left. They will have to be soaked in bleach,” she said.

“It looked like a large washing machine agitator had churned everything up. Cabinets were ripped off the walls, the refrigerator was laying on its side and furniture was everywhere.”

Her furniture had bobbed around in the bacteria-infested water and was covered in mold. Insulation hung from ceilings, and slimy, wet sheet rock covered everything. The scene was surreal.

“It looked like a bomb went off in Saint Bernard. There wasn’t any sign of life, not a blade of grass. No dogs or cats walking around, and not even birds flying overhead,” she said.

Brown, her son and her mother lived side by side on Angela street in traditional “shotgun” style homes, where the rooms are connected the length of the house.

“We lived in my grandparent’s house where my mom grew up. My mother lived next door in the house where I grew up,” she recalled. Now, both homes are beyond repair.

Officials say the complete destruction of Saint Bernard Parish apparently was caused by levee failure along the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, the 76-mile-long shipping channel. The town of 68,000 people — just five miles east of New Orleans — was devastated by flood waters and an oil spill of an estimated 10,000 barrels of oil from a nearby refinery.

Brown evacuated Saint Bernard Parish to New Orleans the day before the hurricane hit. She later fled the city with Eric, her 20-year-old son, on the Tuesday after Katrina hit as floodwaters were rising in New Orleans.

While she came to Oak Harbor, her mother evacuated to a cousin’s home in Baton Rouge.

Now both woman are looking at rebuilding the lives somewhere else. It may be on Whidbey Island

“We need to close that chapter of our lives,” Brown said. “It’s over with, I have to move on.”

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