Kathy wakes up before dawn and turns on the TV to see that Katrina is heading directly for New Orleans and expected to arrive that night. That day, clients call Kathy and Zeitoun to ask them to secure their windows and doors. Zeitoun and one of his carpenters drive around the city from job to job. That morning, Mayor Nagin orders the city’s first-ever mandatory evacuation, but Zeitoun still doesn’t plan to leave.
From this point on, Kathy will depend on the national news coming out of New Orleans in order to learn what is going on—especially because she knows her husband has a tendency not to take warnings such as the Mayor’s as seriously as she’d like.
In Baton Rouge, there are high winds and black skies, and the power goes out by evening. Kathy tries to call Zeitoun but can’t reach him, so she assumes the lines are down. At home in New Orleans, Zeitoun tries to assess what the damage might be—he assumes there might be leaks and a few broken windows, but he is optimistic, determined to protect his home. Still, the levees are meant to hold back 14 feet of water, and the storm surges in the Gulf are now 19 or 20 feet.
As the storm makes its way onto land from the Gulf of Mexico, even Zeitoun begins to come to terms with the fact that there will probably be a good deal of damage. As the manager of a construction company, he’s well aware of the capacity of the city’s levees, so he can well grasp the potential issues.
Zeitoun manages to call Kathy that evening to tell her that there are only strong winds so far. The storm arrives not long after, with rain in sheets and swirling winds. The leaks begin late that night, and a window breaks just after 3:00. The house creaks and strains under the assault. Before dawn, it occurs to Zeitoun that a flood isn’t impossible, so he drags his secondhand canoe from the garage and ties it next to the house.
Although Zeitoun continues to reassure Kathy, it seems that he is reassuring himself as well. He is now forced to confront the increasingly severe nature of the storm, but remains focused on keeping his house as safe and protected as possible. Tying the canoe to the house is an act of great foresight.
Zeitoun had bought the canoe, an old aluminum model, from a client a few years before for 75 dollars. He had been intrigued by the 16-foot-long canoe, which seemed associated with escape and exploration. At home, Kathy had shaken her head at her husband, but knew that it wouldn’t hurt to keep it in the garage as a connection to her husband’s seafaring past. A few times Zeitoun had tried to teach his daughters to row on Bayou St. John, but they were not interested.
For Zeitoun, the canoe is a small but powerful reminder of the many years he spent as a seaman, and even before that, of his childhood in a seaside town where boats and activities associated with boating were ubiquitous. It seems that this is a sentiment he hasn’t been able to transmit to his own daughters—but one that will come to serve him very well soon enough.