The laws of nature

Hurricane's wrath can't keep attorney away from home

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— Hurricane Katrina spun wildly in the Gulf of Mexico, swallowing water on its deadly path toward New Orleans. David Band saw the brilliant red radar image every time he turned on the TV.

"I've never evacuated before, ever," Band said. "But, you know, I kept hearing how the sea buoys were showing 30-foot waves out in the Gulf, and it really seemed like this is the one."

Band and his wife, Ilonka, fled to Houston before Katrina made landfall Aug. 29, 2005.

From Texas, where they stayed for five days, the Bands headed to their condo in Torian Plum Plaza in Steamboat Springs. They remained in Steamboat for six weeks before returning to New Orleans.

"We had to go through a national road block to get in," Band said. "The city was completely black. There were no lights."

Work woes

Band recently apologized to a visitor for the mess at his office at 422 South Broad St. in New Orleans. The floodwater from breaches in the 17th Street and London Avenue canals was as deep as 10 feet in this Orleans Parish neighborhood.

On March 23, nearly seven months after the hurricane devastated the city, a distinct brown line still stained wood buildings, showing the color and depth of the flood.

"It's hard to imagine what it was like on Aug. 30," Band said. "Where we are now, it was 8 feet deep."

The building's second story --here Band and paralegal Lisette Morice work-as spared. The ceiling suffered water damage and the office was unorganized, but the electricity worked.

On this day, Band had to appear in court on behalf of a client. His law practice has reopened, but things are far from normal. There still was no running water, so Band and Morice couldn't enjoy their morning cups of coffee -- or flush the toilet.

"I just started back this week," said Morice, a Jefferson Parish resident.

Band's home in Audubon Park sustained wind and water damage from the hurricane's rains, but the house did not flood.

"It's one of the oldest neighborhoods," he said. "It's close to the

(Mississippi) river. I think we are 2 feet above sea level."

Most of New Orleans sits below sea level.

The advent of electricity enabled regions east and north of the old city to be surrounded by levees, crisscrossed with canals and pumped dry. Technology paved the way for development in areas below sea level.

Many residents and businesses who put their faith in the levees now are without homes or jobs. Those who still have jobs have lost much of their clientele.

"Most lawyers lost all their files and lost all their clients," Band said. "I would say 50 percent of the lawyers aren't working. The courts aren't really back yet, either. You can still get judges on the phone and make arrangements, but there have been few full-blown trials."

Evil water

Seagulls dipped and dived, riding the wind, as ducks bobbed in the Lake Pontchartrain waves. The sun was out, and temperatures reached into the upper 70s.

It was a beautiful March day, and Band wanted to leave work and go to the harbor.

On one side of the concrete breaker was water as far as the eye could see. It looked like the ocean, but the image changed with a 180-degree pivot.

Lake Pontchartrain, the second-largest saltwater lake in the country, turned evil Aug. 29. The 630 square miles of lake water surged toward its south shore, destroying high-end restaurants and luxury watercrafts.

Condominiums that circled the marina of the Municipal Yacht Harbor had no windows or doors. Shredded curtains and tattered American flags blew in the lake breeze.

"All these boats rose up over the walls and got smashed," Band said, pointing to a grassy lawn area up and over the main marina building. "Can you imagine these sailboats floating above the retaining wall?"

It was hard to fathom.

"There's my green boat over there," Band said, interrupting a thought. "It really was probably only worth a couple thousand dollars, but I loved that boat."

Band used the past tense because it won't sail again. The bow end was stuck in Lake Pontchartrain's bottom. The stern, split from the bow, was in the air, revealing the boat's name, Nolle Prosequi.

"It means 'No prosecution,'" Band said. "It is an attorney's dream. It means the state just drops the case and your client walks."

He laughed, something he hasn't done much lately.

Comic relief

Hurricane Katrina devastated the New Orleans area, killing thousands and forcing hundreds of thousands more to evacuate. Seven months after it made landfall, the city still is a ghost town, abandoned in most areas because it is uninhabitable.

The Municipal Yacht Harbor puts things in perspective for Band and friend Greg Rigamer. Their children grew up playing Little League together.

"Not that there is anything funny about the whole thing, but there is some humor in seeing all these toys thrown around," Rigamer said about the fancy boats in and around the harbor. "Those who can afford to have a boat aren't at risk because we lost our boat. Some people lost everything, but you can feel the power of the storm out here because things were strewn in ways you can't imagine."

Rigamer likened the scene several weeks after the storm to an angry child taking a bath.

Every time the child slaps the water, waves crash into the side of the tub. Put five toy boats in with the child and the waves, and watch those boats slam against each other or against the tub wall. Sometimes, the child will throw a boat out of the tub.

"My boat got picked up and dropped on the other side of the wall," Rigamer said. "You should have seen it right afterward. Honestly, it was in a monstrous pile over there."

Seven months later, the harbor is "75 percent" cleaned up, Band said. Several boats were in disrepair, sitting on the lake's bottom. Some still were resting on the shore, but those with insurance received their damage checks.

"The insurance companies had salvage barges out here working," Band said. "They've cleaned up a lot."

Far from home

Band repeatedly said he wished he was in Steamboat, enjoying the spring skiing conditions, but the thick drawl can't hide his Southern roots.

A hurricane and a flood destroyed his city. Tornadoes touched down three months after Katrina and knocked down more towers. He was understandably emotional.

"It was like Armageddon," he said.

He paused. The world hasn't ended, but the storm got him thinking about the potential judgment day.

"If this wasn't the end of the world, I don't want to see what the end of the world is," he said.

--o reach Melinda Mawdsley, call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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