Forecasters warned Tuesday that Hurricane Isaac was a large storm whose effects could reach out 200 miles from its center.
They warned that water may be worse than wind because the storm could push walls of water while dumping rain to flood the low-lying coast in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
Isaac’s made landfall Tuesday night in southeast Louisiana and was forecast to hit to New Orleans seven years after Katrina hit as a much stronger storm on Aug. 29, 2005.
Waleska resident and educator Susan Padgett-Harrison has family near Gulfport, Miss., and said anxiety is high as she worries about her 81-year-old mother, stepfather and several sisters and their families who were waiting in their homes for the storm to make landfall.
“It is a lot of anxiety, wondering if you are going to be able to stay in touch with them. Last time, I could not get in touch with my dad for three days, he had not been able to communicate because the phone lines were down and power was out,” Padgett-Harrison said of Katrina.
She said the latest threat of Isaac, while not expected to be as bad as Katrina, still brings back memories of the devastation and death brought by the storm in 2005.
“We are all talking about it like it is post-traumatic stress syndrome. The way they had to live through it, for them it is a flashback,” she said of her family.
With Katrina they were all gathered in one house, where they sat there for 36 hours listening to the storm, she said.
“Although they have lived through hurricanes their whole lives, that one was so bad, living through people dying, no medications and prescriptions, the horrible heat with no bathrooms, no garbage pickup for two months, it was rough,” she said.
Padgett-Harrison said she did urge her family to evacuate for Isaac, but they were not willing to leave their homes, and that this time around she believed they are better prepared.
“I urged them to leave, but they say they will be OK. Most people don’t want to leave their homes. My mom says ‘I don’t travel anymore, I don’t want to be stuck on Interstate,’” the educator said.
“They are hunkering down; everyone is better prepared with generators. Many younger people in the neighborhood are putting out sandbags at the homes of people like my parents, they are all pulling together,” Padgett-Harrison said.
In an area where many of the residents are blue collar workers, she said it is also financially hard for many to evacuate and to face the storm.
“A lot of families can’t afford to leave, to have money for meals out. They can’t just jump in the car and stay in the Holiday Inn, most families there don’t have that,” she said.
Several of her relatives work on the oil rigs offshore, and her brother works at the shipyard there, which has shut down for the storm.
“When everything shuts down it is hard, this is a huge blue collar area, now everyone’s been brought in off the oil rigs, and no work, no paycheck,” she said.
Padgett-Harrison asked for the community’s prayers for those who are facing the storm.
“With Katrina, when we saw churches gutted, houses destroyed, it was so hard,” she said. “We just need to remember all those living through this storm.”
Woodstock Mayor Donnie Henriques, who grew up in New Orleans, said several of his relatives made the trip by automobile to Cherokee County to ride out the storm with him.
Henriques said that while the 2012 storm is not anywhere near as bad as Katrina, they felt it was better to be safe than risk losing their lives.
“They are sitting right here with me, my cousin and her husband and my aunt who is my godmother and 96 years old,” Henriques said Tuesday. “This brings back bad memories; it looks like it is going to be a fairly moderate storm, that is good news.”
Henriques said that he hoped government agencies “did the right thing and put the levees in that needed to be.”
The Woodstock mayor said he and his family members were watching weather reports on Isaac.
“Always fun to have them around, and talk about past storms,” Henriques said. “We are watching coverage of the hurricane.”
While several members did make the drive to safety, Henriques said more of his family stayed in New Orleans.
“The rest of them decided to stay in different places. It is something we live with, we are born into it, and know we can’t control the storms, you have to just deal,” he said.
Of those family members who are seeking refuge in Cherokee County, Henriques said they now had it down to a science in evacuating.
“They were like most of us, never packed up and left, but given what happened with Katrina, it is not worth it,” he said. “They don’t want to lose their lives, everyone learned then. They have got it down to a science — they take precious photos, birth certificates, a few days of clothes, and whatever they don’t want to or can’t replace. What is replaceable they leave behind.”