Fears for her friends
For Mollie Anderson, a 1998 Alta High School graduate, tending bar in the historic French Quarter of the Big Easy seemed like the best job in the world for someone her age... great tips, fun, a little weird at times, maybe, but that probably goes along with working in what has been a party town probably since pirates plied the Gulf of Mexico.
Then hurricane Katrina hit Sunday.
The eye of the massive storm veered east, striking Biloxi, Miss., full force with 160-mile-per-hour winds. In New Orleans, sea walls gave way, flooding the below-sea level city of nearly a half-million souls with deadly force. The French Quarter, protected by frail dikes, was among the hardest hit. Two levees broke, flooding 80 percent of the city, up to 20 feet in places. The death toll continues to rise.
Anderson lives in uptown New Orleans near Tulane University, a 15-minute bus ride plus 10-minute walk from where she works at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., an takeoff on the movie "Forrest Gump."
"It's definitely not the lowest spot and it's not the highest part," Anderson said, just arriving home in Iowa after getting out just ahead of the hurricane.
She left Alexandria, La., at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. Her ground floor apartment is below sea level and so subject to flooding should the sea walls give way. She doubts there will be much to return to.
As Katrina headed for New Orleans last Saturday, Charles, a good friend of Anderson's, came by to take her inland to safety. Anderson managed to grab two shoeboxes of pictures, a photo album, one suitcase... and that was all.
They fled to Alexandria, La., arriving 6 p.m. Saturday after driving four and a half hours in what should have been a three-hour drive due to frantic jam-packed traffic.
"We left in just the nick of time," Anderson said. If they had left any later, they might not have been able to negotiate the snarled lines of traffic in time to get out of harm's way.
As Anderson waited, Katrina hit New Orleans with a sidelong blow at 7 a.m. Sunday, veering toward Biloxi. At Alexandria, a few clouds gathered threateningly but there was no storm.
What was frustrating for Anderson was that she could learn no more about the fate of her friends than what was available on news reports. She heard that both Interstate 10 and U.S. 90 were underwater.
While Anderson was able to flee back to her parents, Mary Jo and Michael Olthoff in Storm Lake, the same opportunity did not apply to the poor of New Orleans. No less than 40 percent of the city's residents are below poverty level.
Another factor that may have added to the loss of human life was that after a mandatory evacuation was issued for Hurricane Ivan, which never materialized as predicted, many people ignored the warnings about Katrina.
Anderson said 20,000 people sought refuge in the Superdome until winds from Katrina tore off portions of the roof and rains poured in. The damaged stadium was eventually evacuated, leaving many homeless.
"It's hard," Anderson said. "It's the unknown. My stuff can be replaced. I'm just really worried about my friends."
With her return flight to Alexandria booked for Sept. 15, Anderson hopes she'll have a job to return to, once the waters recede. She said the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. is located in a 200-year-old, four-story building that survived both hurricanes Camille and Betsy.