Centenary Magazine Spring '06

Taken (and Given) by Storm

Carla Madison LeBoeuf ’92 reflects on what the recent hurricanes have taken away and, ironically, restored to the people of south Louisiana.

Like most citizens of Southwest Louisiana, I wanted to help our new friends from New Orleans when they arrived at our shelters in Lake Charles after Hurricane Katrina.

Because my husband works out of town for a week at a time, it would be difficult to volunteer at the shelters with three kids, so I began a laundry ministry. I recruited many friends and neighbors, and for three Saturdays, we collected dirty clothes, passed them out and returned them later in the evening, clean and folded. It was quite a chore keeping everything straight!

Just a few weeks later, after celebrating my daughter’s 6th birthday, our world changed forever—we were the evacuees. I have to admit that I’m usually the queen of procrastination, but fortunately, I had already packed our “survival kit” and gassed up the car.

So, on Thursday, Sept. 22, we headed to Shreveport. The rest of Lake Charles was packing and boarding up, but we got on the road quickly and beat the traffic nightmare. Beverages on this trip were strictly forbidden! I was worried that one “pit-stop” would put us in the awful traffic heading north.

We started off at the home of Karrie Bennett ’92, but, because Karrie was expecting infirmed family members, we decided that we, being more mobile, should go to the home of Melissa Kelly ’91. We stayed there for the night until the next evening and had a chance to visit with Kari Kaiser LaBorde ’93.

Later that night, we loaded up once again to drive to my Centenary roommate’s house in Holly Lake Ranch, Texas. Erin Harris Bremmer ’92 had a separate living area for us. She and her family welcomed us and put up with us for two weeks. We used to joke about living next door to each other and that our kids would be best friends, but we never anticipated living together after 15 or so years!

The kids enjoyed their first public school experience. No uniforms made the transition very appealing. We started off by being a show-and-tell of sorts. I made a king cake and brought it to my daughter Sydney’s class as a way to break the ice. We were billed as “real, live evacuees.”

As the storm began to devastate my hometown, I was in contact with my father, aunt and uncle, the three of whom had decided to stay in Lake Charles.

Fortunately, my aunt never lost phone service. My sister, Erin, in Kansas City watched one network, while I watched another. We stayed on the phone with each other, and as storm status changed, I’d call my aunt and dad and tell them what to expect.

At one point, they painted a number three on the door so search and rescue would know to look in the house for three people. As dawn rolled around, they were getting up into the attic. We said our goodbyes at that point and then prayed.

As the water rose around their house, Erin and I watched wondering if my family would be okay (they are okay) and if my home had survived or if we had become homeless. We were extremely fortunate. We lost a few shingles, my beloved gardenia bush and a huge pecan tree. The wind in my area came out of the east, so the pecan tree fell away from the house.

My family is one of the lucky ones. So many of my friends are homeless now. It is very humbling to have to wait in soup lines to feed your children, yet there was really no shame. Everyone was in the same boat those first few days after returning home: we had gas and electricity, but no food, and no stores were open. All the food in everyone’s freezers and refrigerators was rotting. (A gentler word would not work here.) The smells were horrific.

We are truly happy to be back home now. All of our things are okay. We are all okay. South Louisiana will, one day, be okay.
Like anything worth having, it will take a very long time to dig out of this disaster. We have learned that the “things” are just that—things. We’ve still got what counts: our lives, our faith and our families.