“We’re trying to get there, babe!” Optimistic words from a cheerful couple behind me on one of the last planes to the Gulf Coast. Unlike most flights these days, this plane to Gulfport, Mississippi has plenty of empty seats. And there is an easy camaraderie among this determined band of travelers.
Mark and Julie Kael are racing back from a trip to Europe to check on their daughter and newborn grandchild who’ve evacuated to Lacombe, Louisiana. The Kaels lost their home in St. Bernard Parish in Katrina. The highways out of Louisiana are all on contra flow now. But Mark and Julie know the back roads. “We’ll make it,” they insist. “After what we’ve been through, this is nothing.”
There’s meteorologist Mike Seidel from the Weather Channel. He’s a popular guy on this plane. The other passengers prod him for details on where Gustav is going and how bad it could be on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Best friends Joy, Starr and Marsha chat, smiling. They had to cut short their “girls’ weekend” in Fort Lauderdale because of Gustav. Joy and Starr share a ground-floor apartment in D’Iberville that was flooded in Katrina. Their plan this time? Get their cats Simba and Oreo and ride out the hurricane at Marsha’s house north of I-10.
And there are men and women in uniform. The military were the star performers in Katrina. So they are a comforting presence.
Despite the threat of Gustav looming offshore, the spirit on this flight is different than the one I took to the Gulf Coast three years ago to cover Katrina. Then, there was a greater sense of foreboding. Now, this is a plane of survivors.
We land, the flight attendant as we deplane telling everyone, “be safe.”
Before we get our bags, I see Joy standing alone, pensive.
“I sat in the back of the plane crying my eyes out,” she confesses. Not that she’s complaining, she insists. “We’re blessed. But I don’t want to do this again.”
Filed under: Hurricane Gustav
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