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Katrina hits close to home for Heidenreich
John Heidenreich pleaded with his father.
With Hurricane Katrina bearing down on the entire Gulf Coast, Ronald Heidenreich's home in Harahan, Louisiana, was sitting right in the path of the impending storm that eventually devastated parts of three states on Monday.
Harahan, which is 10 miles north of New Orleans, was rocked by Katrina, which left most of the historic city and its surrounding suburbs destroyed, flooded and under as much as 20 feet of contaminated water.
New Orleans, a city of nearly half a million people with a metro area of 1.3 million, was under a mandatory evacuation order over the weekend. However, many residents, including Ronald Heidenreich, defied that order and remained home.
"I wanted him to take my (Ford) Expedition and get out of there," an emotional Heidenreich told WWE.com Tuesday afternoon. "But he has a lot of pets and two homes down there. He's been through Hurricane Betsy (1965) and Camille (1969). He's a trooper. But I wanted him to leave."
Instead, Ronald decided to weather the vicious storm. Two days later, John Heidenreich is still trying to contact his father.
"I just wish I could talk to my dad," said Heidenreich, a New Orleans native who lives in nearby Meterie, Louisiana. "I can't get in touch with anybody. I just wish I knew if he was alright. I even tried to call the police station in his hometown, but no phone numbers in the area are working."
Heidenreich, who is one half the WWE Tag Team Champions, was in Jacksonville, Florida, Tuesday. With nobody able to enter or exit New Orleans for at least the next two weeks, if not much longer, Heidenreich plans to stay with friends in Louisville, Kentucky, while the city dries out.
Still, Heidenreich has no idea if the two-bedroom duplex he rents in Meterie is still standing. He left his cat Caramella, both his cars and nearly everything he owns back home. His only contact with his hometown comes via the disturbing footage shown on television and over the internet.
"I've been watching the footage," Heidenreich said. "A helicopter was flying over an area near where I live. I saw a mall I shop at was flooded and the front of the building was ripped open with merchandise all over the place. I had no idea it would be this bad."
Heidenreich's mother lives in Picuyane, Mississippi, which is also part of the Gulf Coast region that got hammered by Katrina. Fortunately, Heidenreich has been able to reach her on her cell phone since the storm touched down.
"I spoke to my mom twice on her cell phone," Heidenreich said. "Her power is out, and she had about 12 trees fall in her yard and one busted a window. Down trees are blocking her entire street and she can't leave her house."
While his hometown begins to pick up the pieces, Heidenreich is doing his best to focus on wrestling. SmackDown! live events are scheduled for Macon and Albany, Georgia over the next few days and SmackDown! will be in Atlanta next week. In the meantime, Heidenreich doesn't even recognize the city he grew up in.
"I was born there, I played high school football there, I played for the Saints, New Orleans is a big part of my life," Heidenreich said. "I have all these phone numbers of friends and I can't get through to them because the towers are damaged. It's weird to know so many people and not be able to get in touch with any of them. Hopefully, the footage they've been showing on television is the worst of it.
"My heart goes out to everyone out there," Heidenreich added. "You just can't believe it's happening. It doesn't look real.
Given its location, New Orleans has always been a city under the constant threat of dangerous tropical storms or hurricanes. Up until Monday, many of the most recent storm threats never fully materialized.
"It's like the boy that cried wolf so many times," Heidenreich said. "You always hear the big one is coming and it always weakens or goes somewhere else. But this was our time. You don't realize how much damage Mother Nature can do. It almost feels like the end of the world."
Even so, Heidenreich would feel that much better if he could just reach his father.
Click here to find out how you can help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.