Katrina Journal: Seven Days Trapped in Lakeview

Hank Klimitas

Hank Klimitas is the author of Twice a Survivor: A Katrina Journal. hide caption

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NPR first met Klimitas last December, as part of a story looking at New Orleanians weighing whether to return home and rebuild. Hear that story:

Hank Klimitas is a retired veterinarian and a double-lung transplant patient. As Hurricane Katrina approached New Orleans last August, his wife and daughter evacuated. But Klimitas decided to stay at his home, in the city's Lakeview neighborhood, for fear of looters. After the levee in his neighborhood gave way, his house flooded. He spent seven days trapped on the second floor; the water rose to near the top of the stairs.

Klimitas says he was prepared to spend an entire month there. He survived with a radio, medication and food and water he'd stored upstairs. Klimitas says he's learned his lesson and will evacuate next time. Read excerpts from the journal he kept at the time, published as "Twice a Survivor: A Katrina Journal:"

Tuesday, August 30th

I started this project on Tuesday, a.m. There were a few books up here to read, but I'd like to record this event. I am essentially trapped. I could try for the roof, dangerous at the water's height right now, or I could sit it out. I have figured out my supplies for the month. I'd better eat the bananas soon. If we get another hurricane or even a tropical storm, I could be done for. I don't think so, I will survive. I'll make entries at least twice a day. I'll walk two miles each day (40 feet one bedroom to the other). I'll take my medicines. I'll try my cell once a day to reach my wife. I really love my family, and I'm sorry that I'm putting them through this. I'll have time in time, to make it up to them, probably in October and beyond...

4:30 p.m. time for dinner – 1 banana, 3 unsalted saltines and some nuts. A glass of water. A fellow could lose weight on this diet. Unfortunately, I'm not fat, not having been able to gain much weight since my surgery, which was almost two years ago. Without it, I wouldn't be here to experience this. Made a great discovery; my wife has a toothbrush up here (and lots of toilet paper). Sometimes things work out….

Believe it or not, three fellows in a small boat with an outboard just went down our service road. They hailed at the rooftops, but I didn't answer.. I was completing my mile walk for the night, 65 turns up and down the hall. A guy has to stay in shape. It is very still out there. Inside I have closed the door to the stairwell and draped it with a bed cover. Who knows what scents will come from the murk.. I have enough of that from the outside (minimal) and my bathroom whose door always stays shut. I am urinating in the toilet, but don't dare flush it.

Wednesday, August 31st

It was a quiet night – only got up once. The copters have resumed this a.m. I turned on the radio and it was disheartening. They say that the water is rising in the city. It's not rising here. The broadcasters are trying to help a family at Carrollton and Earhart by telling them to get on the roof. The water is rising there, now at six feet. What happened to me is now happening around the city. The key is to plug up the levees. Hope they're working on that. They're asking people to go to expressways so they can be picked up. These people that were around here could get down there? It's sad, who's first, women and children? I once again reaffirm my intention to walk out of here. Radio just went off transmission. Gonna check it. Gong to be a hot one today. I'm in a holding pattern…

A hamburger would taste good about now. After an inventory, got some bad news—the apples are starting to rot. Got the worst one out and ate the best parts. Don't want to expand my stomach much so it's getting used to minimum uptake. The only thing in good shape is fluid. Got three large bottles of water plus soda… Think I'll drink some Sprite. Think I'll do my morning walk…

11:00 a.m. – Another boat just went down the service road. Looks like they had water – two large blue chests in the boat. I let them go by, I'm sure they're other folks worse off than I…

With regard to looting, I'll be sleeping with my pistol. I guess it's better to be sitting in seven feet of water, my God, not only is it the swamp, it's a moat…

Thursday, September 1st

I have another visitor – a salamander. About two inches long, brownish –gray and sleek… I put an empty can of sirloin burger on its side with water in it for him/her. Hope he makes it. Hope he doesn't bring friends…

I have three jugs of water, how much would I sell one of them for? The answer is no sale. This is my hand that I have been dealt, I do not wish to make a profit… I do not wish to help anyone. If there was someone else here, even a friend or relative, it could be confrontational. Fortunately, I made my own hand, I will take the consequences. Unfortunately for my fellow man, I am a loner; I can't help him anyway…

Lunch – five filberts, five Ritz crackers, water – two swigs.

Friday, September 2nd

10:00 a.m. Company! The Hotards have come to look at their parents' house. I hear them after they have docked their boat at the back garage and are on the roof. They successfully knock out a second window and go in to take out two large plastic containers of cherished items. There's Jane and four or five fellows. So…why am I still here? I could have gone out with them. I could at least have gotten out the word, even if I didn't go. Guess I'm paranoid. As long as no one knows I'm here, I feel safe for some reason…

Guess what? I found a bar of Dove soap in the shower. Things are looking up. Time for my morning walk…

I just listened to the President's speech after he air-toured the city. The one important thing he said was that they are working unceasingly to fill the break in the 17th Street Canal with both federal and state help. He said 36-80 days for dry land here in the bowl. I've got to believe in the lower number. Maybe I'll see it, maybe I won't. I will put together the most important things in case I have to evacuate before that time. I have enough H2O. Food is the issue. I believe you can go 9-10 days without food but only 2-3 days without water before serious consequences. I was taught 30ml/lbs/day roughly to satisfy one's need for water. I'm much under that. I really don't want to make a thorough analysis at this time even though I have a calculator…

Saturday, September 3rd

I have lunch, Triscuits (5), nuts (6) and a small cup of Sprite – also a swig of water. I can feel that my stomach is shrinking, it doesn't hurt and I must keep it moving. I'm not going to stop eating, I have to keep up basic body functions. For me, that also consists of using an inspiratory spirometer. I've got to keep those lungs expanded. I never heard from my donor's family. I wonder how, whosever lungs these are, that person, in the next world, feels about me now…

Sunday, September 4th

I am awakened by chopper activity. There weren't as many of them last night as before. I had restless legs last night but that was my fault because I drank some Coke to relieve a headache. The headache stopped, as did the restless legs, in time. It got cooler earlier. I thought I would be comfortable by 8:30 p.m., which is usually when I open the long window to its fullest extent. Someone was playing a game. It got cool and then it didn't until midnight when it wasn't bad at all. In the early hours I actually had to get under a sheet. Let's see, five days now without clothes, positively Neanderthal. I won't go on with any more self-description…

A little after 8:00 a.m., there is a chopper that seems to be picking up something at the Fillmore overpass. He is down to the tree level and is hovering. Wonder how much gas it takes to operate one of them. The beans are pretty good. Garcon, some bread please…sorry, monsieur, we have only Triscuits, will they do?…Perfect, thank you. I have four Triscuits with my beans and pills, a little Coke also. I am dropping down on some of the pills; however, the anti-rejection drugs are in good shape. I lower the B12, the calcium and the prednisone. The pred is for rejection but some folks exist on none. I drop from two every day to two every other day, interspersed with one. I eat only one half my beans, saving the rest for lunch.

Excuse me, there's someone banging on my roof and it's not Santa Claus…

I'm sitting here at Our Lady of the Lakes Hospital in Baton Rouge. I'm in the Emergency Room having been helicoptered in from New Orleans. I want to remember so I'm going to flashback a couple of hours.

I opened my blinds on the northern side of the house and saw a fellow in a canoe. It was Joe Barrios, a surgeon from New Iberia. He and John Bordes, who was there, too, were sent to get me by, you guessed it, my father-in-law. They said that my wife was frantic. I believe that! I told them that I was ready to go and asked how he wanted to get me. I initially handed my two bags out the southern window and was going to go out that way, but the canoe was not very steady. We decided that I should go out the northerly window. I'd have to break it out. I threw a 5 lb. exercise dumbbell through the window, knocked the rest out with a soup ladle and put a blanket over the remaining chards of glass. I tied the rope to the bed. Joe gave me some gloves. I handed down my boots and then shinnied out the window. The bars that protected the lower half proved useful in giving me something to hang onto. He had given me a small life jacket to put on.

When I was successfully in the boat, I sat down and kept quiet. We negotiated our way between the houses. There were two anoles living in the vegetation at the top of my porch. I wish them luck. We went out on to Orleans and it was disheartening. I saw two basketballs, my sport. I'll play again. We get to Fillmore and Orleans and the overpass over the canal is dry. I disembark. Another person has been rescued in another boat. It's Bob, Robert Lee, a neighbor in the block to the south of us. He is in bad shape.

Bob's house was not two stories. To survive, he had gone to a neighbor's – he had broken in. All of his dogs, an old Golden and two Bostons, were dead. He looks sallow. He is a diabetic (80 units/day) and had used his last yesterday. He had nothing to eat. When I saw him, he, at first, did not recognize me. Of course, I haven't combed my hair in a week and I have facial hair, but he caught on within a few seconds. They had put him into a gurney/stretcher. I offer him an apple and he gets a few bites. I was beginning to feed him some sirloin burger when they called to get him transported.

We traversed across the top of the overpass to the opposite northern (on the east side) bank of the canal. The whole area is full of water — I can't see where the road or lake was. The helicopter makes a tremendous amount of wind, it looked like the hurricane was disturbing the water once again. Joe helps hold me in one place, crouched down, facing away from the helicopter. They load the stretcher but I wasn't watching, protecting my eyes. It's my turn, I go up with one of the soldiers.

Man, is it noisy. I had had one chopper ride in the Army. We were at Camp Bullis, near San Antonio, early 70s. My group had successfully completed a course through the scrub and, in fact, we (four of us) were the first back to base. For that we got a copter ride. We were strapped in, there were no doors. As we were riding around, blissfully looking at the countryside, the pilots cut the power (for a second). I thought I'd die. When they cut it back on, after dropping several feet, we had our hearts in our mouths. They did it to everybody but all knew it was coming, we didn't. But I digress…

I go to the far side of the chopper. There are two pilots, one communications fellow, and two paramedics, Isaiah and Joe P. We take on Bordes and Barrios. On going up I get to see the flooding. It is very sad. The museum and sculpture garden are dry. We let B & B off at that point. We're then headed for Baton Rouge…

My wife's aunt and uncle have found me. I am sitting in the pediatric area because there was a bank of phones in that section. I initially heard from my daughter and her aunt (my wife's sister, Sarah). They were glad to hear from me. Evidently, the whole parish was looking for me. The rescuers had come by twice before but had not identified themselves, so I did not communicate with them…

Now I'm on my way to New Iberia. It's sunny, and guess what, the car is air-conditioned.

Excerpted from Twice A Survivor: A Katrina Journal by permission of the author, Hank Klimitas.

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