My Hurricane Katrina Story
Despair. The one word that I would use to describe my feelings following the destruction of Hurricane Katrina as it made landfall in Louisiana on August 29, 2005.
I was fortunate enough to have the means and resources to evacuate with my mother, Ann, my sister, Lauren, and my 10-month old nephew Camron to my brother’s one bedroom apartment in Jackson, Mississippi. Only 188 miles from New Orleans, we almost instantly lost power as Jackson began to receive heavy wind gusts.
Calling any 504 (local New Orleans area code) number during the aftermath of the storm was futile. We did figure out quickly that text messaging worked and that we could communicate with the Nextel walkie-talkie feature. My family had evacuated to Houston or Dallas, and my friends were as far away as Chicago. Scattered across the country but everyone that I knew and loved was safe. Well, besides my hard headed father and friend Devin.
An army vet, my dad Curtis appeared to be thriving in the chaos, eating grits with his coffee on the morning he was finally rescued. Devin, making his television debut from the balcony of an apartment complex as he attempted to waive down a rescue helicopter, was featured on the now infamous telethon ad where Kanye went off script and criticized President George Bush.
While everyone I knew was physically safe, a blessing when so many lost loved ones, the storm was not over. I was in my first semester of a graduate psychology program at Nicholls State University. The university reopened for classes a few days after Katrina had passed. I was the only student in my program who resided in New Orleans at the time.
I was fortunate enough to reside with my brother’s in-laws at the time. Besides my beloved Impala SS that I evacuated in, I lost every physical possession that I had. My childhood home was inundated with 4-5 ft of floodwater. Once the water receded, that which the flood did not destroy was covered with toxic mold by the time the city allowed residents to return to see their homes.
Needless to say, I didn’t have books for class nor could I prioritize the dwindling resources I had to purchase new ones. However, life at Nicholls State had returned to normal and I was expected to attend and perform in class like everyone else. That period of time was one of the darkest in my life. I felt like no one, other than those experiencing a similar pain, cared or could relate to our reality. While I had a roof over my head and food to eat, this was the closest I’ve come to homelessness.
Now, a resident of Los Angeles, I don’t have to drive far to see the estimated 65,000 homeless residents. While I don’t know the circumstances that led to their plight, in an infinitesimal way I can relate to their reality.
Last week, on behalf of Ann’s Creole Candies, I had the opportunity to volunteer with an event organized by The R.E.A.C.H. Foundation of Maryland. We passed out toiletry kits and some snacks/food to homeless teens at Covenant House. I could not imagine experiencing true homelessness at that precarious age in a city like Los Angeles. We even dropped off some of our New Orleans Original Pecan Pralines for the staff and volunteers.
Every resident of New Orleans in August 2005 has a Katrina story. Likewise, I’m sure there is a shared experience amongst the homeless in Los Angeles. I hope my Katrina story helps you better understand the circumstances of others. I leave you with a proverb I first heard from my not-so-religious father, “But for the grace of God, go I."
Empathize, be kind, and get involved in your community.