On Sept. 21, 2005, National Park Service park ranger Rob Turan and his team found a plastic bottle containing a message on South Lopez Street in New Orleans. Inside was a handwritten letter from 14-year-old Angela Caballeros marked Uptown New Orleans, 8/29/05, 9:15 a.m., reported Sheila Stroup of the Times-Picayune.
Stranded in her home waiting to be rescued, Caballeros wrote that her grandmother was pacing back and forth saying, “Our roof is gone. Our roof is in the water.”
Eight years later, Turan drove from Chatanooga, Tenn., to return the letter to “the unknown Angela,” now 22.
“This is the actual letter,” Turan told Caballeros, his voice full of emotion. “I took it home and had it framed, and for almost eight years I’ve looked at it every day and wondered about you.”
All Turan could do is hope that Caballeros and her grandmother had survived the storm. Their roof was gone, they had no power and the water continued to rise.
“For me, it put an exclamation point on the storm and gave it a human face,” he said. “You became our symbol.”
At the end of her message, Caballeros wrote, “I guess I’ll have to wait and see what happens next. If anyone is reading this, keep me and my family in your prayers, and I will keep you in mine. God Bless.”
Caballeros lived with her mom and stepdad in one half of a double home. Her grandmother lived on the other side. She wrote the letter in her grandmother’s home, put it inside an empty Big Shot bottle and dropped it in the rising water just off the porch of the home.
Shortly thereafter, water flooded the first story of the house. The four of them took refuge in the attic with food, family papers and photographs. They eventually climbed onto the roof to get out of the heat.
The storm hit Monday morning. On Thursday a helicopter arrived, but her mother, Karen, sent them away to another house nearby.
“Get them. They have a baby,” Karen Caballeros-Bacchus yelled.
Friday, the helicopter returned and rescued the Caballeros family.
“I will never forget that ride, just looking back,” her mother said. “It was like the end of the world.”
“It was like ‘The Walking Dead,’” Caballeros said. “People walking through water, just trying to survive.”
Turan was amazed that after everything she had been through, the teenager was worried about everyone but herself. She wrote that she prayed for family and friends and hope they would be all right.
“Your letter went all the way to the head of the Park Service,” Turan told her. “Once I got her blessing, we were able to help people however we could."
Turan was stationed in an area he called the “dead zone” where the “bathtub ring” was.
He told her family that he assisted a woman as she returned to her home.
“She fainted, and I had to catch her,” he said.
Turan said the letter helped his team through a lot of hot days that September.
“I’m glad I could do this for you all,” she told him. “It’s pretty amazing.”
She never dreamed anyone would find her letter and had nearly forgotten all about it.
“I didn’t know my letter was going to mean so much to somebody,” Caballeros told Turan.
“I almost fainted when I heard you’d been found,” Turan said.
If it were not for Times-Picayune reporter Sheila Stroup, the two might never have met. In the letter, Caballeros she said she went to Ben Franklin High School. Stroup contacted the school and discovered Caballeros was now a senior biology student at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond.