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Published in PM World Today - November 2006 (Vol. VIII, Issue 11) "Connecting the World of Project Management"

PM World Today – November 2006 Personal Stories by Project Managers – in their own words!

Running from Hurricane Katrina

Editor’s note:

By Saralee Newell

Saralee Newell, long time PMI member and professional leader, and her husband Michael were forced to evacuate their Louisiana home in the path of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Last year we asked her to try to recount some of their experiences for us when she felt inclined to do so. Now, a year later, she can finally talk about it. Additional background information is provided at the end of her story.

Our home was on a canal across the street from Lake Pontchartrain. We lived there for 23 years, and we had to evacuate a number of times. The first time we took all our photographs and the cats and went to a friend’s house that we felt was safe. The storm turned at the last minute and we sat through a lot of wind and rain, but missed the worst of it. Over the next few years we evacuated many times, each time going to a motel, usually in Memphis. If you look on a map north of New Orleans, you will see that there aren’t many choices of places to go and the hotels fill up fast. The first time we went to Memphis, everyone from Slidell was there. We drove in a caravan and took both cars so that neither would get damaged. Always it seemed that the storm turned at the last minute.

Our house was 12’ above sea level and up until this storm, it had never flooded, but the street usually had some flooding. There was a problem with debris after storms, but it usually was cleared by noon the next day. What we didn’t realize until a few years ago was that the southern part of Louisiana which formed a buffer for us, was eroding away some say because of global warming. This meant that with each tropical storm or hurricane, we had more problems with storm surge.

We first heard about Katrina on Friday night when the Mayor of New Orleans said that we would probably have to evacuate because it looked as if the storm would hit New Orleans. We went into a kind of denial, knowing that we would ultimately leave because when a storm hits our street usually has some flooding and we lose power for awhile. Saturday morning I got on the internet and started looking for hotel rooms; I found 2 rooms in Memphis and one in Starkville, MS. We chose the one in Starkville and I gave the other reservation to one of our friends and her daughter.

I packed up our computers, grabbed our passports and a box containing insurance papers, etc. We took enough clothes to be gone for 4 days (4 shorts, 4 tee shirts and one nice outfit in case we wanted to go some place nice for dinner.) I took all of Mike’s medicine and 2 weeks worth of mine. We had 2 cats who were about 13 years old; one of them was impossible to catch. Once he knew that you were

Published in PM World Today - November 2006 (Vol. VIII, Issue 11) "Connecting the World of Project Management"

looking for him, he disappeared. We had lots of high places for them to reach, so we left them to fend for themselves. After chatting with a neighbor, Mike decided to park his car in the hospital parking garage.

Early on Sunday morning, Mike left to park his car and luckily got the last available spot on the 3 rd floor of the hospital parking garage. I packed everything in my car and took off shortly afterwards to pick him up. We were leaving from Slidell so we were able to take Highway 59 which has much less traffic normally that either I-10 or I12. Contra-flow had been initiated so we had little or no traffic problems except around Hattiesburg, where the contra-flow ended.

We had not really taken the storm too seriously, but as we drove and listened to the radio reports, we began to realize that this was not your everyday garden variety storm. By the time we got to our hotel room in Starkville, we were really getting worried. We had reserved the room for 2 nights, figuring that we could extend that if we needed to. We received a notice when we arrived that we would have to vacate for the weekend because there was a college football game that weekend and all rooms were reserved. We were also told to get water, batteries and other hurricane supplies because they weren’t sure if they were going to lose power when the storm passed over us.

We went to the supermarket next door to the motel and they were cleaned out of all but flavored water. We did manage to get some matches, but the flashlights were all gone. On Monday morning, the hotel announced that because they might lose power during the storm, no one could use the elevators that evening. Had we known this we would have requested a handicapped room because it’s difficult for Mike to climb stairs.

We continued to watch with horror as we realized that the storm was very powerful and headed right for our house. I could not believe that the mayor of New Orleans was hesitant about ordering a mandatory evacuation. We had heard stories about the damage from Hurricane Betsy a few years before we moved to the area, and knew that this storm was going to be worse.

We watched TV to keep up with all that was happening. After the storm hit, we realized that Starkville was directly in the path of the storm as it moved inland. We began to see photographs of flooded areas, but couldn’t see any of our neighborhood. When the flooding began in New Orleans, we were really concerned.

Monday evening we went to a restaurant near the hotel to have dinner; they at first were not going to let us in because they had lost power. However, while we trying to talk our way in, the power came back on. They seated us in a booth and then we waited while one of the waitresses suffered through a panic attack. Finally we grabbed a girl who turned out to be the manager. She claimed that they were closed, and we explained that we had been let in and seated. She was able to take our order and we finally got some food. When we returned to the hotel, we had to take the stairs to our 3 rd floor room even though the power was on. We vowed to

Published in PM World Today - November 2006 (Vol. VIII, Issue 11) "Connecting the World of Project Management"

leave as soon as we could and we called Mike’s daughter who lives in Florida. She told us to come there and she would put us up for the time being.

So we left lovely Starkville and headed south to Florida; we spent the night in Marianna in the panhandle where we have a favorite restaurant. The next day we arrived at Mike’s daughter’s house. She has two little ones and the only place where we could sleep was up a flight of stairs on a daybed. Mike’s ex-wife lived nearby and had a two bedroom house, so we ended up sleeping there for two nights. By this time we had learned that our house and everything in it were gone.

Mike then left for New York planning to go on to Bahrain to teach a seminar, but he was too upset and had to cancel. He stayed in New York with his two sisters until it was time to go to PMI’s North American Global Congress in Toronto. We used accumulated mileage to get to Toronto, and were happy to see all our friends from PMI.

Background: The following breaking news story was published on on October 7, 2005.

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the southern coast of the United States with winds of 140 miles per hour and a 30-foot tidal surge. The Louisiana and Mississippi coastal areas were badly damaged, with over 1,000 lives lost and billions of dollars in property damage. The City of New Orleans, the largest city in the region, was devastated as the tidal surge and torrential rains caused the levies on Lake Ponchartrain to burst, flooding the city and nearby parishes. While the historic business district in downtown New Orleans was largely spared, most of the city was flooded, many homes were destroyed and the entire city was evacuated.

One of the hardest hit areas was the New Orleans suburb of Slidell, Louisiana where longtime PMI members Saralee and Michael Newell lived. According to Saralee, who served on the PMI Board of Directors from 1997-1999, on 3 September 2005, "our house was totally blown away; we lost everything that was in it. We got out with two laptop computers, one suitcase with a few clothes, our passports, some insurance papers and our cars. That's it. I've seen a photograph of where our house was and it is unrecognizable. It's really hard to believe, but that's the way it is. We're living in Davenport, Florida near Orlando in a rental house. Mike and I have each other. At least we're thankful for that." The remains of their home can be seen in the following photographs.

of their home can be seen in the following photographs. According to Saralee on 30 September
of their home can be seen in the following photographs. According to Saralee on 30 September
of their home can be seen in the following photographs. According to Saralee on 30 September

According to Saralee on 30 September 2005, "for the time being, we are renting a house from Mike's daughter and her husband in Florida. Since we have family here

Published in PM World Today - November 2006 (Vol. VIII, Issue 11) "Connecting the World of Project Management"

and none in Slidell, we will probably relocate here. We are trying to find work for each of us. The Risk SIG and some other PMI members have been extremely helpful. Several members have sent cash or gift cards. It's really wonderful to know that we have such good friends all over the world. I'm told that we even have a package coming from New Zealand."

In a twist of ironic timing, shortly after losing her home to Hurricane Katrina, Saralee Newell was awarded PMI's highest honor, the Fellow Award, at PMI's North American Congress in Toronto, Canada on 10 September 2005. What should have been a time of celebration was a period of loss and sadness for Saralee and her husband Mike, both of whom have been active in PMI and the PM profession for many years. The Newells can be reached at P.O. Box 136674, Clermont, FL 34713, USA, tel: +1-407-452-9102 or

USA, tel: +1-407-452-9102 or . Saralee Newell Saralee Newell, PMP, PMI Fellow, is the

Saralee Newell

or . Saralee Newell Saralee Newell, PMP, PMI Fellow, is the president of PSM

Saralee Newell, PMP, PMI Fellow, is the president of PSM

Consulting Services based in Clermont, Florida, USA. She was formerly a project management specialist with Pro Unlimited (PeopleSoft); CSC Inc.; BrightStar Information Technology Group; and Walk, Haydel & Associates, Inc. in New Orleans. She has extensive experience in consulting and training related to IT project management, Microsoft Project and traditional project planning and control methodologies. Founder and former president of the Greater New Orleans chapter of the Project Management Institute (PMI®), Saralee served on the PMI board of directors during 1997-1999. She served on the board of directors of the PMI Education Foundation during 1997-

2002. Saralee was the project manager for PMI’s 1995

Seminars/Symposium in New Orleans, one of the most successful in history with over 2,000 attendees, for which she won a PMI award. She has served on PMI’s Information Systems Advisory Committee, the Global Project Management Forum Steering Committee, the Technical Activities Center (TAC), and the Globalization Project Action Team (GPAT). She was a charter member

of PMI’s Information Systems Specific Interest Group (ISSIG) and International Development SIG (IDSIG). Saralee was elected a Fellow of PMI in 2005. Saralee can be contacted at

Published in PM World Today - November 2006 (Vol. VIII, Issue 11) "Connecting the World of Project Management"