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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Louisiana couple share hurricane experience

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Evacuation: Dennis and Connie Williams examine a map of the route they took from Louisiana to Fulton County Judge Charles Willett's home in Salem Aug. 27. The Williamses left their home in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Photo/Jared

They knew this storm was different.

Connie and Dennis Williams, lifelong Louisiana coast residents who are now evacuees in Fulton County, stayed through Hurricanes Camille, Andrew, Betsy and George.

But nothing could have prepared the married couple for the epic devastation brought on by Hurricane Katrina, according to Dennis Williams.

"It looks like Mount St. Helens went off down there," Williams said after he visited his home near Covington, La., last week. "It's like a war zone down there. It will never be the same in our lifetimes."

The Williamses have been staying with a family friend, Fulton County Judge Charles Willett, since the weekend before the storm racked the Gulf Coast.

Mrs. Williams said their home was spared water damage, but high winds toppled trees on their property and severely damaged their barn.

"We're very fortunate," she said. "Our house is basically all right. We've got neighbors who lost everything."

Williams said residents in and around New Orleans were repeatedly told to evacuate the area several days before the storm slammed ashore. He said when forecasters predicted that Katrina could make landfall as a Category 5 hurricane, he knew it was time to leave.

"When I heard the winds were going to get up to 175 mph I told everyone I was getting out," Williams said.

Katrina's eye passed perilously close to Covington the morning of Aug. 29, approximately 45 miles northeast of New Orleans.

The Williamses' home is located in a rural area north of Lake Pontchartrain, whose levies broke during the storm, causing massive flooding in New Orleans.

Mrs. Williams said their visit back home was a numbing experience. Just to get to their house the Williames had to walk approximately 300 yards through fallen trees and brush that cover the road leading up to their house.

"There's no running water, no electricity," Mrs. Williams said. "It's hot down there, and with no air conditioning and lots of work to do, everybody is on edge."

Price gouging is another problem affecting people in the region, Mrs. Williams said.

She said her husband almost bought a 6,000-watt generator from Home Depot for $2,100. Later that day the Williamses bought a similar generator from a John Deer Tractor outlet for $1,300.

"I'm going to report them (Home Depot) to the Louisiana Attorney General's Office," Mrs. Williams said. "I think it's terrible to try and take advantage of people at a time like this. I'll never buy another thing from them again."

The generator will run small household appliances for approximately 16 hours on five gallons of gas, Dennis said.

"The only problem is there isn't any gas to buy," he added.

Despite the devastation, the Williamses said their community remains upbeat.

Families in the neighborhood take turns cooking meals for one another, and community pots of gumbo are served almost every night.

The couple decided to return to Fulton County until basic services such as electricity are restored, Williams said.

"The mosquitoes were so bad they looked like turkeys flying around," he said with a laugh.

"I told Charles (Willett) I'd come back and work for air conditioning," Mrs. Williams said.

Before they left, Williams said he offered their house as a refuge to their neighbors, Raymond Modica and Lyndia Steed.

He said Modica's and Steed's home was destroyed in Katrina's wake. He said the two still sleep in the ravaged house.

"It's like Niagara Falls in there at night when it rains," Williams said of Modica's and Steed's ruined home, "I told them they could at least sleep on a bed in our house."

Mrs. Williams said the local population's disgust with the state and federal government's response to the disaster is growing. She said no one, including herself, is accepting the notion that the government didn't realize the range and scope of the disaster.

For years commercials starring a claymation figure, Mr. Bill, outlined how the levies would break if a Category 4 hurricane or bigger storm struck the Big Easy and what steps needed to be taken to shore up the seven levies that broke, Mrs. Williams said.

"Mr. Bill knew what would happen to New Orleans if a hurricane hit," she said. "But Mr. Bush didn't?"

Mrs. Williams said she voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004. She said he is not the only government official to blame. Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco should have asked for help to evacuate the city, Mrs. Williams said.

When Hurricane Camille, a Category 5 storm, just missed New Orleans in 1969, the National Guard was on the ground within hours after the storm passed, and supplies were available almost immediately, Williams said.

"The response was better 37 years ago than it is now," he said.

Mrs. Williams said she isn't going to spend time attacking public officials.

"We all need to concentrate on rebuilding our state and our lives," she said.

The Williamses said they may return to Covington this week if power is restored. Mrs. Williams said she is unsure if their insurance will cover the damages caused by the hurricane.

Even if the insurance money doesn't arrive, she said they would rebuild.

"We'll do what we've got to do," she said. "I just want to get back to normal."

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