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Weathering the storm: If the canal breaks

September 2, 2008

(Charles Abbyad, 58, is the maitre d’ at Arnaud’s, a classic creole restaurant in the center of New Orleans. With his wife, Jill, he keeps a guesthouse called The Chimes in the city’s historic Garden District. While thousands of residents are packing their cars and fleeing Hurricane Gustav, Abbyad is staying behind with Reuters reporters Matt Bigg and Tim Gaynor to ride out the storm.)

4.30 a.m.

“When we went to bed last night I had a good feeling about the storm. Maybe it was a false good feeling Charles Abbyadbut when Katrina was approaching we started feeling the effects way before the storm made landfall.”

“A huge branch on the street next to mine fell down and blocked the whole street. It was an omen of what was to come because we hardly had any wind at that point.”

“In the middle of the night the wind started howling. I just could not sleep because the wind was getting stronger and I was afraid that the chimes hanging outside and the big electric lamps would break my glass.  So I put on my rain gear and dismantled everything, in the dark.”

8:00 a.m.

“It seems the storm is not as bad as it was made out to be, but watching on the TV it seems it is bad but not in my area.”

“It is eerie because the same thing happened during Katrina. I thought the storm had passed and that was when the levees broke. I hope it is not the same again.”

10:00 a.m.

“Looking at the TV and the water lapping over the walls of the canal (Industrial) is scary because they are on my side of the city. ”

“When I am dealing with a storm at the Chimes, I am working. I am thinking about what to serve for dinner and what I can do for my guests. Last night we had as a main course garlic chicken and potatoes and we had sauteed mushrooms with rosemary. I was kind of busy so we had brownies for desert, which I had prepared before.”

“The phone hasn’t stopped ringing from family all over the world. My cousin from France, my uncle from Lebanon, my friends from all over the United States called. It was great. My daughter, who was at Burning Man, it was great. She had no idea there was a storm and was totally taken by surprise to find out there was a big storm coming here. That was interesting.”

10:30 a.m.

“My main fear today is, until just 15 minutes ago when I saw what was going on with the Industrial Canal, is the breach of this canal. I would prefer that the canal does not breach but if it were to breach I hope that it would break into the Lower 9th Ward mainly because there is few people there. Filling up the Lower 9th Ward would not hurt so much because there are much fewer in numbers. As cruel as it may sound the economic impact would be better than if the wall breaks to that section than into the other section of the city.”

“If it breaks and takes water down into the business district, then this city is doomed as far as conventions go.”

“My house is OK, but I hope that I don’t lose any shingles off my roof because since Katrina our insurance has risen through the roof. Our deductible for storm coverage, wind and hail, is now at 5 percent of our property value so I would have an approximately $40,000 deductible. I would have to take loans out to do repairs.”

(Above: Charles Abbyad in New Orleans. Photograph by Matthew Bigg/REUTERS)

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