It's been a road trip for Amanda Muehlhausen -- call it the Katrina Tour -- since the first-year Tulane Law School student was advised to high-tail it out of New Orleans Saturday morning because of the impending hurricane that devastated the city.
The Baxter native had just completed her first week of law school classes and celebrated with friends Friday night at a Bourbon Street club. Unfamiliar with the ways of hurricanes, Muehlhausen listened to more experienced friends who called Saturday morning and urged her to pack a suitcase and evacuate.
"It's brand new to me," she said Tuesday from Orlando, Fla.
She and her roommate took showers as their first order of business, not knowing when their next shower might be, Muehlhausen said. Next came the search for an open gas station. With one suitcase apiece, Muehlhausen and two friends traveled to Slidell, La., on Saturday night, where they stayed at the home of an aunt and uncle of one of the women.
"In true Louisiana fashion, we opened the bourbon," she recalled.
Amanda Muehlhausen went to New Orleans to celebrate law school and ended up fleeing Katrina.
Their celebration was premature, however, as they learned they were still in harm's way. On Sunday morning, the women were up before 5 a.m. helping their hosts board up their house and then heading past Mobile, Ala., and eventually to Tallahassee, Fla., where they found a hotel room.
"Tallahassee was safe (from Katrina), but we had tornadoes in Tallahassee," she said.
By Tuesday night the trio had settled in Orlando, Fla., at the home of one of the girls' parents. Muehlhausen said they plan a trip to Disney World while they're in town.
Muehlhausen said the harrowing experience of fleeing a city and the long drives made her New Orleans friends seem like longtime buddies.
"It's amazing," she said. "I've known these people for a week."
Before they left New Orleans the women unsuccessfully tried siphoning gas into the tank of Muehlhausen's car, she said. They ended up leaving the vehicle on the fourth floor of a parking garage.
They've joked about returning to their second-floor New Orleans apartment and chasing their clothes down St. Charles Avenue. The apartment was built in the 1800s, she said.
"We think we're going to have some damage," Muehlhausen said. "We're expecting the worst and hoping for the best."
With plenty of support from their families, Muehlhausen said they realize how lucky they are. She empathizes with those people who lost their homes in New Orleans and is grateful for the generosity they've received.
"I think it's a city with a lot of heart but unfortunately it's a city with a lot of poverty, too," she said.
The women check in on television reports of Katrina every four hours, Muehlhausen said, feeling that non-stop viewing would "catastrophize" them.
She said the storm can be compared to the recent tsunami in Asia and hoped that it would inspire similar charitable contributions.
"I would urge the readers to give as much as they can," she said. "I know the city desperately needs it."
Muehlhausen is a 2001 graduate of Brainerd High School and a graduate of Macalester College. Her parents are Gary Muehlhausen and Pam Olson-Lorenz.
Jeff Fox of the Nisswa area and Ted Dullum of Nisswa both own property near the coastal town of Gulf Shores, Ala., and said they have yet to learn of any serious damage as of Tuesday. Fox's property is about 10 miles from the coast and Dullum's property in Magnolia Springs is about 13 miles inland.
Fox said he was told winds reached up to 60 mph but his rental agent didn't report any significant damage.
Dullum said he lost a tree when Hurricane Ivan struck. This year his neighbor reported to him that only a few branches went down. While he watched the news reports, he said he didn't get obsessive about the problem.
"There's only so much you can do, up here," he said.
Dale Spaulding of Lake Shore owns a winter home in Gulf Shores, Ala., and said damage to his golf course property was minimal.
"We lost a couple of trees but overall our neighborhood came through pretty clean," he said.
E. John Raboin, a retired U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, no longer owns property in Louisiana but owned a home in Belle Chase near New Orleans when he was stationed at a Naval Air Station there in the 1970s. He recalled living below sea level, just a block from the Mississippi River.
"We'd have to look up to see the boats going by," he said.
The water table was so low in that region that a person could dig five or six feet down and hit water.
"It's kind of a devastating thing," he said. "When that place floods every home is going to suffer. Every business is going to suffer. I feel sorry for the folks down there."
MIKE O'ROURKE can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.
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