This morning I woke up and during my ritual checking of Facebook, I realized something: today is the eight year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. How could I forget? For me it’s personal but foreign at the same time—I’m not exactly from New Orleans, but my entire family is and most of them lost everything. I grew up an hour from the area, but lived in the Crescent City for a few years while in college before moving to Lafayette. I have fond memories of the area and once knew it like the back of my hand.
I remember watching weather alerts before the storm hit and wondering what was to come, but never expected what actually happened. One of the most vivid memories I have is talking to my mom on the phone the evening before—they had decided not to evacuate because they not in the projected path and never had an issue before now with previous storms. “Ok, well, I’ll talk to you tomorrow Kari. Love you,” were the last words my mom said to me before going to bed. Something in me did not believe her—my subconscious knew I would not talk to her the next day. And I was right.
I woke up to complete utter chaos that was so silent. Here in Lafayette, we listened to the radio and words could never describe what pictures could convey. But none of that can explain how it really was for those who witnessed the worst. I remember sitting in front of the television and barely recognizing neighborhoods and landmarks I thought I’d never forget. But what I really remember is not being able to reach my family by phone for days and yet continuing to go to class at UL. How was I to focus on learning pharmacology when I didn’t even know if my family was alive?
Somehow I managed to receive a call from my Aunt who told me my mom, dad, and sister were fine—I could finally exhale. One of my biggest fears in life is that my entire family dies and I am the only one left behind. A few days later I finally received a call from my mom and the connection sounded like she was calling me from a third world country. It was a short conversation and I did little talking. “We are coming. We are on our way. We’ve got to get out of here,” she said. They had to pack up the car and leave in the middle of the night. They dodged downed trees and traffic to seek refuge in my one bedroom apartment—I’m guessing it seemed like the Ritz Carlton to someone who didn’t have power, air conditioning and had been bathing in a lake for a few days. I know why she sounded like she was calling from a third world country—it practically was one.
We eventually tracked down the rest of our family, including my elderly grandfather who did not evacuate either. He fled the house in his boat and then rescued neighbors. He’s a retired NOPD—it’s in his nature to rescue I suppose. Many of my aunts and cousins were living in Chalmette at the time and lost everything. I think to this day it’s still a feeling that haunts them. The feeling to know water sat inside your home to the ceiling and to return to see the water lines and pictures destroyed. To know you once had a hot tub in your yard and now who knows where it drifted off to. They have built new homes and continue to build new memories. I will never know what it was like to experience loss that day, but I am proud to see family grow from it and come back stronger.
The city of New Orleans and its people are brave, mighty and relentless. They believe in its history and strength to overcome. It’s the power of people who have made the city better than ever. Not even a Category 5 hurricane can keep the Big Easy down. And while many natives now are scattered throughout the country, they still call New Orleans home—because home is where the heart is no matter what wind and water try to destroy.
Pictures of damage from a family memeber's home in Chalmette. It took courage to return to rubble and face the reality.