New Orleans resident in Selma gets good news

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Selma Times-Journal

The surreal images dance across the screen.

The looting, flooding and devastation trailing Hurricane Katrina fill the 24-hour news network’s broadcast.

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Every once in awhile David Hurlbut jumps up from his seat in the Harmony Club and rushes to the screen, thinking one of the people stranded on a rooftop looks familiar.

Hurlbut and his friend, New Orleans resident Julie Helms, are watching for a sign that her neighborhood is OK, that her apartment is OK, that her husband Peter Morris is OK.

Julie sits back on the couch, talking about her life and the future in a semi-detached, analytical way.

She admits to crying a little earlier, but now she’s joking frequently, deflecting some of the atrocities on the screen.

“I know I’m in shock right now,” she says.

As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, Julie hadn’t spoken to Peter since 10 a.m.

on the day before.

“It’s just horrible not to be able to get in touch,” she says. “He’s in a survival game right now.”

Luckily, Julie found out a short time later it was a game Peter had won.

Peter called early Tuesday evening. Their apartment, which sits on relatively high ground near the French Quarter, had three holes in the roof. Peter, a homebuilder, will soon have them fixed.

Thousands more Hurricane Katrina refugees and their families can only hope to get a similar call. But for Julie, the first part of the ordeal is over. Her husband is safe and their possessions are relatively intact.

In the days leading up to Katrina’s landfall, Julie said they figured it would be a false alarm, like Ivan.

Like Katrina, Ivan came with dire predictions. However, Ivan came aground in Alabama and New Orleans was left with 70-degree weather and plenty of sunshine.

“The last hurricane, Ivan, they said the same things (they were saying about Katrina),” she said.

Then a early morning look at the storm coordinates had Julie packing and getting ready to leave.

“I was going to stay in town,” she said. “Then I got up at 4 a.m. to see what the coordinates were.

It was close enough, I just started packing immediately.”

She tried to talk Peter into coming with her to Selma.

Hurlbut said he got on the phone and encouraged Peter to come to Selma, but the Ohio native wasn’t leaving the city.

He said he wanted to protect their property.

“I tried, bro,” Hurlbut said. “I said ‘You need to get out.'”

“He just doesn’t know better,” Julie added. “He was just being macho.”

That left Julie on the road to Selma in her vintage blue Mercedes with a few meager belongings, “some badly mismatched clothes, two books and some cash.”

Nearly two days without communication left Julie frustrated. She desperately wanted to see proof that her neighborhood was safe, but CNN’s footage tended only to focus on the biggest damage.

“It’s hard to tell (what’s happening) from just watching the media,” she said.

Despite the good news, there are still questions for the artist/journalism major/librarian/welder-to-be.

“I feel like I’m standing in a blank check,” she said. “The college I’m taking welding classes in is underwater. I don’t know what you do, now. I work for the city. I was expecting to go back to work Tuesday. I don’t know what else you can do really.”