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Palms & tropical buildings are buffeted by high winds of a storm or hurricane under a foreboding stormy sky
Photo by donald_gruener on iStock

I survived Hurricane Katrina 30 feet up in a tree. 

It was Aug. 29, 2005, when Katrina barrelled toward Slidell, Louisiana. At 8 a.m. I made my way to stay in a 40-year-old boat shed built with solid concrete brick and steel walls. The shed was 100 square feet and housed Coast Guard boats. One was a small cabin boat. 

The sun was out. At the time, I only expected a lot of water, not the massive natural disaster that would kill at least 1,300 people and cause $190 billion in damage.

At 8:30 that morning, water rushed into the shed from the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, making a whirlpool inside. Then the wind picked up, and the waves got higher. When the waves came down, they destroyed homes, businesses and more. At the trailer park where I lived, the water smashed trailers like toothpicks. 

Inside the shed, I went aboard the cabin boat and from inside its cabin I watched the walls of the structure crumble around me, when I had been told that the boat shed would withstand any storm. 

Katrina was so powerful that winds were up to 150 mph with 35-foot waves; the storm took anything in its way with it. After about two hours of hiding in the boat, there wasn’t anything left of the boat shed but metal. 

The boat I was in lifted up with its trailer and floated until it broke loose. That’s when I had to hold on to a rope. I then jumped to a tree, missed and fell underwater. 

“That’s it, I’m dead,” I thought. 

But I popped back up, raised myself on a tree limb and bear-hugged the tree. The storm had started up again as I was about 30 feet up the tree, watching Slidell be destroyed and praying for my life. It was not until about 8:30 p.m. that I was able to get down and find a place to sleep. 

The next day, Aug. 30, was my birthday. I swam to the highway with my shirt, shorts and wallet, but no shoes, cellphone or food. When I looked back, there wasn’t anything left but water and debris.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Dino Schwertz is a writer incarcerated in Louisiana.