(WTSP) – Four nights and five days.
Leonard Fournette says it over and over as if reciting a Biblical story. Well, there was a catastrophic storm called Katrina. And there was a flood of the world he knew. And it was like a plague.
“We used the bathroom in the standing water under the bridge,” the star LSU sophomore tailback remembered recently as Saturday’s 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approached. “We couldn’t take baths. We saw dead bodies.”
Fournette, then 10, and his family and extended family spent the days and nights immediately after Katrina on the Claiborne Avenue overpass – or bridge – portion of Interstate 10 East, not far from the Superdome and near his grandparents’ 7thWard home and St. Augustine High School, where he would become the greatest prep tailback in the nation in 2012 and ’13.
Claiborne Avenue was once a boulevard as beautiful as that of St. Charles Avenue with a tree-lined neutral ground until the trees were uprooted along with much of the neighborhood’s feel in favor of the I-10 overpass in the early 1960s. That overpass in the days after 9/29/05, though, saved the Fournettes and others as millions watched on national network news stations.
The Fournettes had spent that Sunday night – August, 28, 2005 – on the fourth floor of the nearby 17-story Grand Palace Hotel at 1732 Canal Street. Originally the upscale Claiborne Towers apartment building built in 1950 for $10 million and known as an urban architectural gem, the building was also hurt by the I-10 overpass at Claiborne. It would become a motor hotel, then an old folks home and finally the Grand Palace before Katrina damage and an implosion in 2012 to make room for the University Medical Center that replaced Charity Hospital.
“The hotel, it caught on fire,” Fournette said. “The water was rising in there, and so we didn’t want to drown. We had to get out of there and carry our grandmothers and little cousins. So we went right there on the bridge. It was the highest level. The water was almost up to the bridge. You had to go through water to get on the bridge.”
Some died on the overpass and underneath it.
“Seeing all those dead bodies in the water, man, floating,” Fournette said shaking his head. “People robbing. Actually saw a man who took a man’s watch off him – off a dead body. The city was crazy.”
This was the circle of life for four nights and five days. But then there was also the Circle, where the Claiborne streetcars turned around at Claiborne and St. Bernard avenues up until 1934, creating a natural meeting place, cultural epicenter, business hub and one legendary grocery store.
The Fournettes and hundreds of others on the overpass sustained themselves by looting the Circle Food Store some of them grew up in at the bottom of a then-flooded I-10 ramp on St. Bernard Avenue at the edge of the Faubourg Treme` – the oldest African American neighborhood in the country and subject of an HBO series from 2010-13. Once an open air market like the French Market, the Circle Food Store opened in 1938 as an all-in-one grocery store selling everything from low price bell peppers to school uniforms with a dentist office and a pharmacy.
Read the full story here.