Katrina Class: The Chronicle of Unwelcomed Sinners

Katrina Class: The Chronicle of Unwelcomed Sinners

by Roy LeBlanc


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781457555398
Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing
Publication date: 05/31/2017
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)

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FALL ORIENTATION IS ALWAYS AN exciting time for incoming college freshmen everywhere, especially so at Tulane University. New Orleans is a great place for personal discovery. It is an ancient city that embraces change, but clings to the history of traditional ways as Spanish moss hangs eternally from the branches of Audubon Park oaks. Moss absorbs nutrients from the steamy dampness of summer heat. Living in New Orleans challenges your soul in a similar way. Breathe deep; it's in the air.

Three hundred years ago, Bienville founded New Orleans on a small plot of high ground surrounded by swamps and marsh lands claiming it for the King of France. Since then, a determined Mother Nature has contentiously fought epic battles to reclaim it. She slings hurricanes at New Orleans like a heavyweight champion throwing knockout punches. In recent history, the worst storms have been made more destructive because of the environmental devastation encouraged by the petrochemical and shipping industries. People living in low-lying areas of the southern parishes used to gravitate to the relative safety of New Orleans and her strong levees. This was before the oil and gas industry dug thousands of miles of canals crisscrossing the marshes and swamps.

The linear canals encouraged salt water intrusion, killing the wetlands, marsh grasses and bald cypress trees that held the deltaic land together and helped protect the city from hurricane floods. In testimony before the Natural Resources and Environment Committee of the Louisiana legislature, an oil company CEO said, "We did it because it was not illegal at the time."

Then the back swamps to the north of the city were drained to create the neighborhoods of Lakeview, Gentilly and New Orleans East, encouraging growth and development in below sea-level areas close to the lake. Adding insult to injury, global shipping interests and the Army Corps of Engineers dug the Intercostal Canal and the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, bringing seawater to the doorsteps of New Orleans.

Hurricanes have a way of entering the history of New Orleans and becoming a part of the fabric of our culture. We remember Audrey, Betsy, Camille and Katrina the way other cities memorialize hometown athletes. Here, hurricanes mark the time. History rolls along and the storms, they keep coming. They considered the hurricane of 1915 to be a hundred-year storm. They were almost right. Katrina slammed into New Orleans 90 years later.

Many hurricanes start off as low pressure systems moving westward across the African continent, enter the Atlantic, and under the right conditions become tropical disturbances. The warm waters of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico are perfect for nurturing killer hurricanes headed for Louisiana. Until the 1950s, they were named for the year in which they struck land.

During the Hurricane of 1915, a steam locomotive and seven passenger cars were caught unprepared on a stretch of track near Rabbit Island in the Lake Catherine area. The engineer tried to make a run for New Orleans, but the 130 mph hurricane force winds blew the speeding train off the tracks into the swampy marsh. Some passengers survived the flood waters by climbing Bald Cypress trees plentiful in the swampy land. Twenty-two people were never found. Eight of the lost were children. They were included in the 275 killed in South Louisiana that night.

The heavy engine and passenger cars sunk deep into the soft muck and disappeared. Recovery was impossible. The train was forgotten and considered an urban legend until the 1990s when a work crew laying fiber optic cables along the track right-of-way discovered the lost engine.

Hurricane surges enter Lake Ponchatrain from the Gulf through Lake Borgne and Lake Catherine. The lakes are connected to the Gulf by a short, eight-mile-long, deep water tidal pass called the Rigolets. It is a French word for trench pronounced in New Orleans as the 'Rig-uh-leez.' During the 1915 storm, a small, wooden-hulled cargo ship with twelve crewmen searched for the channel leading to safety from the rampaging open gulf waters. The captain manned a searchlight looking in vain for channel markers that were already washed away; visibility was zero. Water began to flood the engine room. Radio distress calls went unanswered.

"Full revolutions! I need full revolutions. Hard rudder!" the captain barked desperately to the helmsmen.

The watch officer reported the flooded engine room and the wheel-house was taking on water from broken windows. The ship was never seen again. Over the years, local fishermen have reported hearing a ship's bell and emergency horn. Some have claimed to have heard a captain shouting orders. The ghostly sounds always stop at 11:46 p.m. The eye of the 1915 Hurricane passed directly over the Rigolets and into the city of New Orleans at that exact time.

In 1969, the first year of the Jazz Fest, the Ole Miss Rebels led by quarterback Archie Manning defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks 27-22 in the Sugar Bowl at Tulane's Willow Street Stadium, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and Hurricane Camille slammed into the Gulf Coast.

Camille formed in the usual way, but became a powerful Category 5 with winds over 190 mph, and carried swarms of tornados as it approached New Orleans. It was on a deadly track heading for Lake Borgne in a westerly direction, straight up the Rigolets. The highest wind speed was reported by a Transworld Drilling Company platform about twenty miles east of the storm's path at 197 mph. It was a worst-case scenario for New Orleans with a twenty-foot-high wall of rising water potentially forced into Lake Ponchatrain. The protective levees and pumping stations surrounding the city would surely fail.

New Orleans was spared at the last minute as Camille turned east, placing the city on the weak side of the storm's eye. It clipped the boot of Louisiana and slammed into the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Bay Saint Louis, Pass Christian and Long Beach were destroyed by the wind, tornadoes and surge. Wind drove pine needles into the walls of homes as if they were ice picks. The mayor of Pass Christian said he was mayor of a city in 'name only,' as everything was destroyed. Camille came ashore on the night of August 17, 1969, remembered as Woodstock weekend everywhere else. We all assumed no storm could ever top Camille, until 2005 when Katrina took an almost identical path.


NEW ORLEANS WAS THE WEALTHIEST city in America before the Civil War. Even into the 1930s she stood proud as 'queen of the south.' Her economy was bigger than Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Memphis or Birmingham. The port of New Orleans was third behind New York and Amsterdam. New Orleans' banks, like The Canal Bank, Whitney and Hibernia, were some of the largest financial institutions in the country.

The French Creole LeMoyne family first settled here in the 1750s after the French and Indian War, but never figured out how to make any money. Some of the mansions on Saint Charles Avenue have been in the same families for generations. On the other hand, Louis LeMoyne inherited a rundown shotgun camelback on Montegut Street in the upper Ninth Ward. It was sparsely but tastefully furnished with mostly second-hand items purchased from a consignment shop on Canal Street.

Louis was taught to believe in the American dream, and he was determined to achieve his version of happiness. Some people work their entire lives and accomplish nothing, earning only failure, disappointment and more work. Farmers used to affix a carrot to a stick and attach it to the bridle extending beyond the mule's head, but just out of his reach. The ass faithfully plowed fields all day long believing he was getting closer and closer to the dangling carrot in front of him. Louis chased his dream with similar optimism.

After years of struggle, the LeMoyne family felt almost middle class. Louis did okay for himself and his family, especially so when you consider that they started out penniless living in a 400-square foot apartment on Louisa Street. As a kid in the rundown, shabby, rented apartment, Louis used to corner rats in the kitchen. Like some unfortunate family from a John Steinbeck novel, they didn't have much of anything. Still, Louis was raised with middle-class Catholic values. Five years as an altar boy reinforced his strong Catholic upbringing.

The parish church paid each altar boy two dollars for the wedding or funeral they served. The altar boys were divided into two crews: A and B. "Crew B report to the church," Sister Mary, the school principal, would make announcements as necessary. Individual teachers had no idea which boys served in each specific crew, so when an announcement was made all the boys left their classrooms, and those not needed at the church hid behind the 'old' school gym smoking cigarettes and playing paper football.

Each Friday the altar boys pooled half of all their weekly earnings together and bought a carton of smokes for the next week. The cigarettes were wrapped in a black trash bag and hidden under the back-church steps. Once this caper was discovered, the school principal, Sister Mary, dragged Louis to the church and forced him into the confessional. She said he was, "willful and naughty." Louis had to say the Rosary five times and three Hail Mary's. He recited the Act of Contrition ten times and received a month of afterschool detentions.

Usually afterschool detentions involved cleaning the lunchroom floor or picking up trash around school property. The lunchroom floor was a mess after three hundred kids ate lunch. Sweeping and mopping took hours, but collecting trash on the playground was even worse. The parish priest stood on a bench and pointed out each individual piece of litter he wanted picked up. "I want that one. There's another." The priest pointed here and there as Louis ran back and forth for hours until the school's playground was completely clean. Louis could pick up only one piece of trash at a time, and run back and place it in the trashcan near the priest. Then the priest pointed out another on the other side of the playground. If Louis walked the priest emptied the trash can. "Clean that up, too," he said.

On certain holy days, the crucifix was placed at the altar and parishioners came up one by one to kiss its feet. Altar boys stood on each side and wiped it clean for the next in line. An old lady was next. She wore caked-on makeup and heavily applied red lipstick. Kissing the statue passionately, she left lipstick everywhere that was impossible to wipe away. Louis and the other altar boy began laughing as they unsuccessfully tried to remove the red marks. "We need bleach!" Louis said quietly.

"Report to the principal's office immediately," Sister Mary barked over the school intercom system early the next morning. Louis had no idea who the people were waiting for him along with Sister Mary. She was furious.

The people in Sister Mary's office were members of the parish with a special needs daughter. They accused Louis of laughing at her during the service. The family was next in line behind the old makeup lady. Louis had not even noticed the family. "I was laughing at that old lady, not your daughter!" No one believed him.

Louis was forced to apologize and go back to confession. "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. Again!" Louis said as he entered the confessional. He spent another two months in afterschool detention after saying the Apostle's Creed fifty more times.

The parish priest said the Devil was gaining control of Louis's soul. "You are in danger of becoming lost in Purgatory. A soul roaming the earth trapped forever between heaven and hell." The priest said everything Louis did wrong was another sin moving him along the road to Purgatory. That scared Louis to death.

Louis and Jan met at Resurrection Catholic Elementary School. They both attended Catholic high school and were married after graduation. It was common practice for Catholics to marry young, especially if they were enjoying premarital sex. Marriage was the only way to atone for sins of the flesh and avoid Purgatory.

On Mardi Gras day, 1982, Jan dressed as a tasteful but sexy, catholic school nun. It was a homemade costume she designed and sewed herself. She caught the eye of a freelance photographer, who happened to be on the parade route. He snapped a few photos and said she was a natural beauty. "One of God's grand slam homeruns," he said. Jan's photo turned up on the cover of Gambit magazine. She received offers from talent agencies around the country, but turned them down. She preferred to marry Louis and start a family.

On schedule, Louis and Jan started a family and soon had the added responsibility of raising a child. Birth control was also prohibited by the church and sinful. Their daughter, Willow, was born a year later. As obedient Catholics, Louis and Jan were taught to stay married regardless. Divorce was never considered seriously, even as the stress of life's struggles robbed them of the few dreams they managed to remember. They always loved each other, but were unprepared for the tempest of regret that consumed the romance they once shared. Marriages end when bitterness turns to contempt, even Catholic ones.

Still fearful of Purgatory and lost souls, Louis believed that sex outside the marriage was sinful, so he was oblivious to the advances of other women. He wasn't sure if the years had changed Jan's views about marriage. At first everything was wonderful. Jan prepared home-cooked lunches, including soups and salads, hamburgers or grilled sandwiches, and she had everything ready when Louis arrived home. Sometimes they skipped lunch all together and spent the time in the bedroom enjoying each other's attention like newlyweds. Once Jan surprised him by greeting him at the front door in an open bathrobe and nothing else, and they spent an hour on the living room floor.

Things changed. Jan stopped cooking and seldom bothered to get off the sofa when Louis arrived home. "There is leftover fried spam in the fridge. Make yourself a sandwich or something."

Jan purchased stylish new clothes, joined a gym and made appointments at trendy uptown salons. It was all very expensive and much more than Louis could afford. Although Jan reassured him, Louis had his doubts. He knew she had male acquaintances. "They are all just friends," she told him. "Stop being childish."

Jan invited a new 'gym friend' to visit her at home. He was nervous about Louis. "If my husband shows up, admit nothing, deny everything and make counter accusations. Works every time," she joked.

That afternoon Louis left work a few hours early. He did not recognize the gray Pontiac parked in the driveway. Jan was sitting on the couch with a man Louis did not know. "This is Dave. He is my new friend. We met at the gym. He just happened to stop by."

Louis noticed the open bottle of wine and two glasses on the coffee table, but said nothing about it. "Nice to meet you." Louis held out his hand in a friendly manner. The idea that Jan had become restless never occurred to Louis before this. He was not stupid; only too trusting and too Catholic. "She is my wife for better or worse, simple as that," he told a prying coworker.


Excerpted from "Katrina Class"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Roy LeBlanc.
Excerpted by permission of Dog Ear Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Katrina Class: The Chronicle of Unwelcomed Sinners 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good read! Good writer; knows his material and characters.
brf1948 More than 1 year ago
I received a free electronic copy of this novel based on fact from Netgalley, Roy LeBlanc and Dog Ear Publishing in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for sharing your hard work with me. This novel is based on an insider's look at New Orleans from mid-August 2005 through the beginning of reconstruction following Hurricane Katrina. Though the love story is a bit simplistic, the facts surrounding hurricane Katrina and the nightmare aftermath of her passing are well represented as is the breakdown in support, utilities, policing action and information. The news of the aftermath available on the outside was horrific but nothing compared to living through it. And the fact that some things are better when you have to start from scratch - the education system, public accommodations, the politics in the background - is very interesting. Rebuilding from the effects of Katrina cost 108 BILLION dollars, and up to 1,800 lives were lost. We must all learn from this personal account of that tragic lesson.