Lorraine Douville was used to running from major storms, but the growling “lady” she ran from Aug. 28, 2005, changed her life forever, she said.
Ten years later, Douville, an 83-year-old Waxahachie resident who settled in the town with her husband Lee after the Category 5 monster devoured their home, recalled the days before and the two weeks after Katrina unleashed her temper and how she’s never regretted anything in her life since. The storm killed nearly 2,000 people, according to the History Channel website. Not in anyone’s wildest dreams did the nightmare of Aug. 29, 2005 appear on the horizon, she stated.
“There was a couple that we knew. The husband did not want to leave home, but his wife did,” she said. “She lives in Wisner, Louisiana, her home town. So, that’s where she went. He stayed and he was a tall man. I just can’t imagine him not being able to get out, but he didn’t. He drowned. The assistant fiscal officer at the VA medical center, he drowned. So, that’s two people I knew personally that drowned.
“The man, whose wife lived in Wisner, she was the one who let us know. But I have articles from the Times-Picayune, which was the local newspaper, that listed the names of the people that drowned. You could always read these. We read everything, every time we could get a paper. We sat in front of the television on Aug. 29, and it was almost as if we couldn’t move. We were just glued there, watching the horror. You saw the people begging to be rescued. You saw what was at the SuperDome. You saw all the flooding that happened. You couldn’t recognize areas. We even saw the people that were looting, which of course, shouldn’t have happened. But it did, and you know what they say — desperate people do desperate things.”
The couple had traveled to Mesquite the year before because of Hurricane Ivan, she said. So, when Katrina struck, the family ended up in the same location because they knew the area was safe and the employees were understanding.
“When we left on Aug. 28 because of Hurricane Katrina, we were not able to find any lodging in Louisiana and we could find nothing in Texas for 70 or 80 miles,” she said, adding she and her husband secured their home like they’d done times before. “So, since we had gone to Mesquite the year before, we went back to Mesquite to the Comfort Inn, where we stayed.”
Douville and her husband tried to get back to New Orleans after the storm passed, but they, like thousands of others couldn’t get in right away. The city she had called home for 73 years was flooding from breaks in the 17th Street Canal, the London Avenue Canal and the Intercoastal Waterway, the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet. Lake Pontchartrain was inundating the vast majority of St. Bernard Parish, she said. The second, known as New Orleans East and where she and her husband lived, received at least 10 feet of water, she said.
They would not return for a little more than a month.
“While we were at the Comfort Inn, they were very nice,” she said. “I don’t know necessarily that they remembered us, but the service was so nice. The people were really nice. There were two churches that provided food. We had complimentary breakfasts in the morning and the two churches, Sunnyvale First Baptist Church and Peace Tabernacle, provided dinner meals for people staying at the Comfort Inn.”
The Peace Tabernacle congregation even invited her family to the church and picked up $1,200 in offerings.
“My husband cried because he didn’t want to accept it, and that’s that masculine-macho,” she said. “I said, ‘Lee, just take it.’ We took it, and thank God we were able to send them back the entire amount they gave us that next year. He was not going to rest until he had given them back that money. That’s the type of person he was, he didn’t believe in taking advantage of anything.”
A few days later, the family went down to Galena Park, which put them closer to New Orleans and closer to getting home, she said. But, Mother Nature had a different plan, unleashing Category 5 Hurricane Rita in mid-September on the Houston area and throwing a devastating tantrum that kept the Douvilles from going any further and caused thousands to evacuate the area.
“You remember what happened on Interstate 45? All those people were backed up,” she said. “Well, we left in time. We avoided that. We weren’t caught up in that, and we were coming back from Galena Park, and we were able to get back to Mesquite without any problems to the Comfort Inn. We saw all these people stranded and complaining because they were seeing that stature for hours. We were fortunate there. The thing was, during Ivan, it took us nine hours to go from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, which is 80 miles. That’s how much traffic they had.”
As they escaped Katrina, Douville said they were lucky government officials allowed a contraflow lane reversal on the highway, which allowed vehicles to travel on the opposite side of the road to relieve traffic congestion. The commute from New Orleans to Baton Rouge in 2005 took three hours instead as police waived them through, she said.
Douville and her husband finally made it back to their property on her mother’s birthday in October 2005. Her mother had passed the year prior, she said, adding she was glad her mother didn’t have to go through the storm.
“You couldn’t get in before that, they weren’t letting people in to see their property,” she said. “When we got there, honey, the outside of the home, you would have thought nothing happened because the water had gone.”
The trees were still standing. Her car was still in the driveway, flooded, but unmoved. The house was dry as bone on the outside. Yet, they couldn’t even open the front door with a key, she said. She and her husband took two crowbars from the shed in their backyard and broke a bedroom window. With iron bars blocking the window, they still couldn’t get in.
But, they could see inside.
“Everything was just topsy-turvey. You couldn’t imagine what it looked like,” she said. “When we got these tools, it took us about an hour to pry off the frame of the door and we were able to break in. Honey, the minute you broke in, we got into the foyer and the fumes from the mold — the muckiness you walked in — that’s as far as you could go at that point. Everything was just topsy-turvey.”
She showed photos of the damage. Porcelain dolls she had made during a ceramics class sat on a sofa, drenched, but for the most part, untouched, but porcelain birds nearby had fallen on the floor. In the kitchen, her refrigerator was on its side, yet the magnets still clung to the metal door. In her washroom, the washer hadn’t budged, but a shelving above had toppled from the wall. Black mold and mildew were slathered on the walls, all the way up to the ceiling. In her china cabinet, the toasting glasses from her wedding were cracked and broken, yet a stack of plates weren’t fractured in the least. That’s just to name a few examples.
“I caught myself being smart before I left. I had my mother’s Bible before I left, and she had all her information and family history in that Bible because that’s what elderly people did. I wrapped it and put it in a blanket from my maternal grandmother and this spread — such a beautiful spread — I said I was going to protect that. So I put it in a plastic container and of course, when we got back, the plastic container was filled with water,” she said. “It really was surreal really to walk in and see this. Lee said, ‘Oh no, we’ve got to get out of here.’ It affected our eyes. They started burning, and our breathing was affected by it also. He didn’t want to go any further, he said it was too much.”
But eventually, the family had to try and retrieve what they could, she said. So, they spent hours cleaning out the debris — because that’s all that existed in the home, she said.
“I’m gung-ho. I had my list, OK? A list of things I was going to retrieve, and that became a joke,” she said. “I had this little fur stow. It was a little, small piece, but it looked nice over suits. I was going to get that. I had a picture collection and I was going to get that. Lee had his stamp collection, and, oh — my wedding pictures, graduation pictures. You know, you make a list of all these things I’m going to get when I get there.”
In fact, she’s lucky an old friend from California, whom she talks to constantly, mailed her the only photo she currently has of her wedding, she said. That happened within the past couple of years.
After the family cleaned out the home, they decided to sell it, as it was. Completely gutted.
“It isn’t hard to talk about because we were fortunate. Our lives were saved. Those were material things. The things that bothered us the most were things that we couldn’t replace,” she said, adding she and her husband have only been back once or twice since. “My niece was living with someone in Midlothian, so we were coming this way and when he found out there was a Catholic church close by, and right across the street was a baptist church, that was it. He joined St. Joseph’s. I walked across the street, went in there and I joined Farley Street and I’ve been here since. That’s how I ended up in Waxahachie.
“My mother was a Christian woman. She brought us up in church. She didn’t send us. So, you have to have something to fall back on. There was an incident where they showed a man in Slidell, Louisiana, who was in a wheelchair and had been displaced,” she continued. “When they told his story, it brought tears to my eyes. I didn’t cry for myself. Thank God I didn’t cry for myself, because I knew what we lost were only material things. You can either sit back and feel sorry for yourself, or you can realize you’re blessed. There was a song this lady used to sing, ‘Look where he brought me from.’ I think about that and I say God’s been good to me. I have no complaints. Don’t think everything’s been a bed of roses. It has not been, I’ve had health problems and I’m a 26-year breast cancer survivor. But, hey, I’m 83 years old. I have no regrets and I live each day trying to be as grateful as I can because I know I’m blessed.”