August 28, 2010

Remembering Katrina: My Personal Account

As you all should know, as it has been on practically every source of media, this week is the "Anniversary Week" of Hurricane Katrina. This time five years ago, us Louisianians were bracing for the most feared storm of the century. A category 4 storm, formed rather beautifully in the Gulf of a Mexico, A textbook formation, a dream of nearly every meteorologist who has a passion for mother nature's power, was churning it's way to the Louisiana coast. Katrina was a beautifully tragic storm, sitrring up the life of millions across the United States, especially the Gulf Coast region and especially New Orleans. For the most part, we've all read the stories, saw the pictures, watched the videos, and listened to first hand accounts of the storm, so there's no need for me to go into more background information. Here's my story. Note: I am from Baton Rouge, and was living in Baton Rouge at the time that Katrina made landfall, and I of course, still live here.

A few days before Hurricane Katrina hit, I found myself staring blankly into the TV. It was tuned to The Weather Channel, and all day I was glued to the TV. The storm had already damaged parts of Florida, and was making it's way into the gulf gaining more strength. I watched the satellite model, twirl into a nearly perfect circle, with such a well defined eye, I didn't think it was possible for it to actually become anymore perfect. Eventually, I snapped out of my stare, interrupted by mom who was getting her things ready. "Come on, we have to go pick up some stuff, the storm is coming this way...We need sandwich meat, and maybe some tuna fish..." she said. I was listening in a sense, but my mind was elsewhere. I'd never experienced any major storms, I was scared but I didn't show it. "Yeah mama, let's go." I pryed myself away from the TV, as if watching it would make things better.

Once we got to the store, there were lots of people, which only added to my nervousness. It was about 2 days before the storm hit, and Walmart was nearly out of everything reasonable. As I walked through the store, I looked at people just to try to get a sense of what they were feeling. Some people were anxious, antsy, and scared but for the most part, people seemed unaffected as if it were just a regular grocery shopping day. I dragged along with my mom, trying to forget about the storm, but the bare shelves and long lines only added to my fear. I was thankful when a worker came from the back warehouse and brought two huge crates of water, he was my lifesaver. We picked up several cases of water, several loaves of bread, sandwich meats, chips, cookies, cakes, and canned goods and headed to the line. The lines were extremely long, waiting for two hours took it's toll, and immediately after we arrived home I fell asleep, letting my worries of the day subside with my slumber.

The next day, I remember being slow and painful, like torture. We started cleaning up early "In case something were to happen." All day as we cleaned up, talked, I couldn't seem to focus. My anxiety level hit record levels and every now and then I'd go into the bathroom just to cry. The countless satellite images I'd been studying, the hours of evacuation coverage, the warnings of "The worst storm to ever hit Louisiana" blaring on the TVs and radios broke me emotionally. I kept thinking about this huge tree that stood between our house and our neighbors house. The roots of the tree were in our neighbors yard, but most of its huge branches towered over our house. It was a nice shade in the summer time, but a nightmare during Hurricane Season. Since it wasn't on our property, we couldn't get the tree cut down, and our frugile neighbor wasn't getting it cut down anytime soon. I pondered the effects that the wind would have on the tree. Would it collapse completely onto our house? Would a huge branch smash my dad's truck in the driveway? Will it budge at all? My mind was racing all that day and it sickened me to even watch TV.

Later that night, while everyone was sitting in the living room I asked them "Are ya'll scared?". My question came out of the blue, and everyone looked at me as if I'd opened up a can of worms. "Baby, yes I'm scared. But it's coming if we want it to or not, it's God's will. We can't do anything about it but pray and stay together as a family. That's all. Don't let it scare you baby. It's just a lot of wind and rain," My mama said. Her words comforted me for the time and it didn't bother me as much anymore. I went to bed pretty early that night, because the storm was forecasted to be in the area in the early morning hours. I wanted to be asleep before things got too bad.

The next morning I woke up at around 11, the lights were out, and it was still somewhat cool in the house. I laid in bed for a couple minutes just looking around making sure I was still in one piece. I sighed with relief when I felt my body and I was all there. A couple seconds later I heard talking in the living room, it was my family, so they too were ok. I listened for rain, wind, windows breaking, cows flying, or just some sort of evidence of a hurricane going on, there was nothing. I got out of bed and ran to the living room. "What happened?!" I asked thinking the storm made an awkward turn and missed us. "You slept through the whole thing!" My brother yelled. I couldn't believe it was over. Stressing, crying, killing myself over nothing, so I thought. It was cloudy but there was still some light outside. I thought to myself how blessed we were, and all of that uproar from The National Hurricane Center, FEMA, Governor Blanco, The Red Cross, etc. was for nothing! I felt so blessed that Louisiana had dodged another one of the big ones. We had two small portable black and white TV/Radio concoctions. We put the batteries in and flipped on the TV that only caught 3 local channels. They were reporting that the levees were broken in New Orleans, and at that time I was ignorant about levees, and New Orleans. Thinking about it now, everyone seemed so calm considering what was going on in New Orleans.

It was a little over a week when the lights came back on. Through that week we would ride around town to get some AC for a while and just to see what was going on. I remember seeing real Army Hummers riding through the city, which was odd. Red Cross and Salvation Army trucks were everywhere, and the lines for gas and food were beyond overwhelming. Even though we were in Baton Rouge, it felt like a war zone, things weren't "back to normal" as I thought they would be. Something was wrong, but I didn't know what. As soon as the lights came back on, I turned on the TV to CNN, my primary newsource. I cried. All of those people, all of that water, all of the bodies. I remember Soledad O'Brien reporting from the Superdome. Or was it the Convention Center? I don't exactly remember, but it was one of the main shelters. There was trash everywhere, and she was describing the horrific smell of death in the city. It seemed as if she were in a third world country. How could a city that's an hour and a half away from Baton Rouge look so different? Why and how did this happen? I was glued to the set for days, until the buses came, it was unbelievable. I was so ignorant about levees and things like that, that I didn't understand and it was really baffling me.

The story on the news that I most remember, and I'm sure most people remember him, was this older man talking about his wife. His house flooded and they had to move to the loft in the house with their children. The water kept rising, so they had to go up to the roof while the storm was going on. Once they got on the roof, his wife was swept away, he grabbed her hand trying to save her because she couldn't swim. He couldn't hold her, and she told him to let her ago, and take care of the children. Even though he wouldn't let her go and tried with ever ounce of energy in his body to hold her, he couldn't, and she was swept away into the waters, which of course caused her death...Rest in peace to her, may God continue to watch over her family.

For weeks, everything seemed so gloomy. I could feel a difference in the air, even in Baton Rouge. For about two weeks, the radio became a hotline for missing family members to call in. It was sad hearing people who lost family members and didn't know where they were. Even people who were trapped inside their homes even called in for help. I remember my mama saying "I couldn't do it, If I had to go through that, I'd be for sure gone." A sad statement, but true for many. Many of us couldn't have endured such treatment and pain. I often put myself in their shoes, and if I were on the other end of the fence, I'm still not sure how I would've handled it. I respect EVERY single person who face Katrina, for all they've seen and been through. From "living" in overcrowded centers doused with the smell of feces, urine, sweat, mold and death, to walking the bridges and interstates trying to find help, to looting just to get the basic things needed for survival, to the long and crowded bus rides to strange places and sometime unwelcoming places, and to the cramped quarters of a trailer provided by the letdowns we call FEMA. THEY have been through hell and back, and they truly get my respect.

All in all, Katrina had a huge affect on my life. Over the years I've met some of the greatest New Orleanians (Or 'refugees' as they were called this same time 5 years ago). Even though I wasn't in New Orleans or on the Gulf Coast, I felt the pain. We were all in it together.