Storm: Part 7

Published 11:12 pm Saturday, June 25, 2011

The white and blue Skiorsky S-92 helicopter had lifted off from the heliport in Fourchon, La. at exactly 1,000 hours. It had been delayed by a maintenance glitch and was seriously behind schedule. The civilian version of the legendary Blackhawk military helicopter, it was driven by two General Electric turbo shaft engines, capable of achieving speeds of over 160 miles an hour and carrying 19 passengers. The “Ocean Sojourner” was well within the flying range of the aircraft with room to spare. By the time they reached the rig, the helicopter’s fuel tanks would be about two-thirds full.

With the challenges of shutting down an oil platform completed, the remaining crew began to assemble in the Control Room. After a short conversation outside, Jake and the Captain entered the room quieted.

The Captain began, “I want to thank you for all of the hard work you have done over the last two days and give you an update. As you know, the helicopter will arrive soon and take us all off of the “Ocean Sojourner.” What y’all don’t know is that Hurricane Katrina is growing and strengthening. This will be a major hurricane and the ride home may be bumpy. If you need motion sickness meds, take them now.”

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Jake joined the Captain in his concern. “I am going to read you the latest weather bulletin we have received: BULLETIN— HURRICANE KATRINA SPECIAL ADVISORY NUMBER 13; NW TPC/ NATlONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI, FLORIDA — 1130 AM EDT FRI AUG 26 2005: At 1130 AM EDT the center of Hurricane Katrina was located near Latitude 25.1 North … Longitude 82.2 West, or about 45 miles Northwest of Key West, Florida. Katrina is moving toward the West near 7 mph … and this motion is expected to continue for the next 24 hours. Recent reports from an Air Force Reserve unit Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicated maximum sustained winds are near 100 mph … with higher gusts. Katrina is now a Category Two hurricane on the Saford-Simpson Scale. Some strengthening is forecast during the next 24 hours … and Katrina could become a Category Three or major hurricane on Saturday …”

When he had concluded the rest of the ominous message, all of the faces were grim with the foreboding knowledge of what was to come. The Captain provided some solace, as he offered, “We still have the satellite phone up and running, if you have not yet talked to your family, please do so before the helicopter arrives.”

Joe Boudoin had not called his family. As a seasoned Roustabout, he had been through these kinds of evacuations before and thought there was no urgency. Now, knowing the magnitude of what faced him and his family in Mississippi, Joe headed straight for the satellite phone and was the first in line. Dialing the familiar string of numbers, the phone rang on the kitchen wall of the ground-floor apartment in Waveland.

Frustratingly, the phone rang and rang, until the answering machine took the call. The husband and father yelled into the receiver, “This is Joe! You’ve got to get away from Waveland, right now! Don’t wait! Go straight north as far and fast as you can. A big hurricane could be coming right at you! Head to my mom’s in Little Rock. I am being evacuated from the “Ocean Sojourner” and am headed for Fourchon, La. Please tell the kids …”

Just as he was ready to tell them how much he loved them, the ‘beep’ of the machine ended the call. With four more of the crew impatiently waiting to make their calls, he quietly handed the phone to the next person in line, muttering, “God, I hope they get the message.” They never did.