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.