Sisters Rachel and Rikki Ray sat four agonizing days in their sweltering Hammond, La. condominium wondering whether Hurricane Katrina's wrath had finally ended.
"We're from Payson, so we don't know anything about hurricanes," Rikki said. "We'd never experienced anything like what was going on. We had no electricity; it was 90 degrees in our condo and most of the (town's) people had left."
The lack of telephone service throughout the state and the closure of all Hammond-area businesses, including gas stations, made the situation even more dire.
"We couldn't call our parents (in Payson) and we didn't want to drive and use up our gas because we knew we couldn't buy more," Rachel said. "About all we could do was sleep and wonder what was going on."
Prior to the area losing electricity, Rachel and Rikki watched -- on television -- as Katrina plowed into the southern coastal states, sparking one of the worst disasters in the nation's history.
Hammond is about 45 miles north of New Orleans -- a city decimated by the hurricane.
While the two Payson High School graduates hunkered down in disbelief about what was happening, their parents -- Ron and Nina Ray -- frantically tried to find a way to bring them home.
After scouring airline schedules and the Internet, Nina found a flight from Baton Rouge to Phoenix. She was able to electronically purchase tickets for both girls, but had to wait until they called home to tell them the news.
"We finally decided to leave the condo and drive to Baton Rouge to see what was going on," Rikki said. "When we got there, our cell phones worked, so we called mom and dad."
The two boarded the flight and flew to Phoenix where they were enthusiastically greeted by their parents.
Now in Payson, Rachel and Rikki remember the entire experience as being surreal.
The events began to unfold the day before Katrina struck, when they, along with Rachel's boyfriend, Trevor Kebodeaux, drove to the Tchefuncte River, where they watched a mass exodus of pricey yachts sail upstream from New Orleans.
"We guessed, they were tying up (the yachts) where they thought they'd be safe from the hurricane," Rikki said.
On the drive back to Hammond, the three quipped about the calm weather and how it might be a forecast of impending doom.
"The weather was weird, not like it's been since I've been in Louisiana," Rikki said. "There was no breeze, nothing."
Just hours before Katrina struck, Rachel, Rikki and Trevor decided it might be best to follow advice and evacuate the area. They decided to drive several hours to Beaumont, Texas, where Trevor's grandmother lives.
After a day there, the three believed the imminent danger was over and made the return trip to Hammond.
"We were still more than an hour and a half from Hammond when we first started seeing the (hurricane) damage," Rikki said. "Huge trees and billboards were blown down and roofs were torn off houses. It was awful."
After hours of creeping slowly along highways strewn with debris, the trio finally edged into Hammond. Much to their chagrin they found the once vibrant college town deserted, stores closed and homes damaged.
"It wasn't flooded like New Orleans but it was so depressing," Rachel said. "Right then we knew (the hurricane) had been really serious."
Unable to buy the gas needed to return to Beaumont, Rachel and Rikki decided to ride out the events in their condo.
They say they've enjoyed their peaceful respite in Payson, but are now ready to return to Hammond and continue their studies at Southeastern Louisiana University, where both are students.
"Hammond is now a National Guard center so we think we'll be safe," Rikki said. "We've been told there is some electricity. Some stores have reopened part of the day but only a few people at a time are allowed in. (School officials) are going to restart some classes Monday."
The pair plans to bid adieu to their parents Saturday, Sept. 10 and return to Hammond.
"We'd like things to be like they once were when we get back (to Hammond), but we know they won't be," Rikki said. "Katrina changed that. Katrina changed all of us."
See original story: PHS grads have close encounter with Katrina