— PICAYUNE, Miss. — I have been through most major hurricanes to hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast in my job as a reporter for the Picayune Item.
Those that stick out in memory include Hurricane Camille in 1969. It was small but considered one of the most powerful storms to hit the U.S. mainland. It killed almost 400 people and devastated the Gulf Coast. There were winds over 200 mph, and the storm completely leveled the city of Pass Christian near here.
One of my close friends was killed during the clean-up after the storm. He touched a downed high-voltage line.
Then there was Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, which killed several thousand in Mississippi and Louisiana, and devastated New Orleans, which is only 45 minutes south of Picayune on Interstate 59 and Interstate 10. It virtually wiped out three small cities on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Katrina was big and powerful, and its storm surge did most of the damage along the coast.
So, how, you might ask, was Isaac different?
Hurricane Isaac wobbled on shore near Houma, La., not knowing where it was headed, and stalled. Pearl River County, Miss., where Picayune is located, was in the northeast quadrant, the area where winds are supposed to be highest and rains the most torrential.
While winds were in the 60 mph-range, rain was the hallmark of Isaac. From Tuesday night until Thursday, as I write this, band after band swept over the county with stiff winds but mostly torrential rains. The rains, which aren't supposed to let up until Friday morning, lashed homes and businesses and swept across vacant streets in sheets.
And it kept on and on. I realized that I know now how Noah felt.
When the rain doesn’t stop, you realize the creeks that flow through town will be gorged with runoff, and people you know - have known all your life - will be flooded and forced out of their homes.
That's still going on, as the creeks and rivers here crest, and emergency crews strain to reach stranded residents who built just a little too close to the picturesque streams that flow through this section of Mississippi and down to the Pearl River and on to the Gulf of Mexico 30 miles south.
I sat in my living room Wednesday night, reading and surfing the Internet, waiting for my old home to spring a leak. I had my pans and buckets ready.
But nothing happened. As I read, I was lucky that my electricity had not gone off. My daughter’s electricity was out, and I was keeping up with her by phone to make sure she and my grandson were OK.
About midnight I realized I had for hours been sitting in my living room, listening to torrential rains lash the side of my home and windows, with no let up.
How could nature be so cruel? I felt a queasy feeling because I was afraid of a high gust ripping shingles off the roof and the torrents of rain pouring through the ceiling. I prayed. I prayed for myself and for my town and the people I know in it.
You really can’t explain that feeling unless you have lived through one of these great events of nature.
David Farrell writes for the Picayune, Miss., Item.