By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
Planning is everything. This statement was recently put to the test when Monticello natives Greg and Claretta Haag left New Orleans for a train trip across the country.
Originally from Monticello, the Haags left the area over 30 years ago when Greg, who worked for the VA Hospital, was transferred. To celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary, Greg planned a train trip across the U.S. and Canada. The day the Haags planned to leave New Orleans by train was also the day the city was evacuating residents as Hurricane Isaac was heading towards New Orleans. Claretta said they were lucky to get on the last train out of the city.
“Some people were upset when they came to the depot and were told the train was full,” she said. “They didn’t know what to do.”
The Haags planned the trip around the Fourth of July, their actual anniversary date, but had to postpone things when Claretta had to undergo cancer treatment for her breast cancer.
“We’ve been working on this trip for a month,” said Greg. Never fear, though; Hurricane Isaac did not let them cancel their plans. “I made all the reservations,” Greg said. “I didn’t think a hurricane was going to stop us.”
The Haags left New Orleans for Chicago and rented a car to drive to Monticello to see family. They stayed with niece and nephew Jerry and Dianne Haag. Greg said before they left, they heard Isaac might visit New Orleans, so they tied everything down outside their home along the west bank of the Mississippi River.
Since Isaac has come and gone, the Haags have been in contact with friends and neighbors checking on their home. Greg said their house is on high ground and there has been no flooding. The electricity is out, but a neighbor was kind enough, Claretta said, to empty their refrigerator and freezer into their fridge, which is running on a back-up generator.
“When we talked to the neighbors today (Aug. 30),” said Greg, “they said the sun was shining.”
This time, the Haags were lucky in that their home was not severely damaged during Isaac, but seven years ago to the day, it was a different story with Hurricane Katrina.
“That was bad,” recalled Claretta.
Greg said they boarded up their house and headed to Dallas, Texas, where their children live.
“The traffic then was bad heading to the airport,” said Claretta. “We got there just in time for the last flight out of New Orleans.” They stayed in Texas for over two weeks before they were allowed back to their home in New Orleans. When trying to get to their neighborhood, Greg said they had to show ID to prove they owned the home and were not looters.
Greg recalled many branches down on and around their home after Katrina, along with shingles and a leaky roof. Greg said when people board their doors and windows during a hurricane, it doesn’t really matter when you have so much flooding and wind.
“The water is going to get in,” he said. “But we had minimal damage then compared to the east bank (of the Mississippi River). We had good levees.”
After the hurricane in 2005, the Haags took friends to see the damage in the lower ninth ward. Today, Greg said only about 10 percent of the neighborhoods have been rebuilt since Katrina.
“It’s spooky,” said Claretta. “There are no cars, no people.”
The Haags are no strangers to tropical storms and hurricanes. Greg said in years past, when he was working at the VA in New Orleans, they would hunker down in the hospital during a storm.
As the Haags left Monticello late last week, they will make their way to Canada (Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver), Seattle, Wash., Sacramento, Calif., Reno, Nev., and back to New Orleans.
PHOTO: Greg and Claretta Haag, from New Orleans, were in Monticello visiting family for a few days while on a train trip across the country and Canada. The Haags, originally from Monticello, left New Orleans as the city issued an evacuation ahead of Hurricane Isaac. (Photo by Kim Brooks)