Two years ago today, Hurricane Katrina pounded its way across the Gulf Coast. We lived in New Orleans at the time, but had evacuated early Sunday morning. It was an event that changed many lives forever. Many died, innumerable people lost their homes, their livelihood and everything they owned. It was a sad, sad time.
Today is a sad, sad day for me. I suppose the recollection of where we were this time two years ago is hitting harder than I thought. Our family evacuated to Austin where the Staybridge Inn in Northwest Austin became our temporary home. We watched the news almost all day and thought that everything was going to be okay based on early reports. Little did we know that would change dramatically early Tuesday morning when the news of the flooding of New Orleans hit the wires.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I had finally managed to fall asleep – exhausted from the emotions of the day and the stress that had overwhelmed me that day. Gibbons came in around 2 in the morning and woke me to tell me that the streets of New Orleans were flooding. The levees had been breached and there were whitecaps being reported on Tulane Avenue. My heart sank. In an instant, everything changed and we were swept into the vast world of the unknown. We had no idea whether our house was flooding, we had no idea whether everything we had left behind (that which we weren’t able to pack in the back of the car) would be gone. It was clear that we wouldn’t be heading home anytime soon.
We were extremely fortunate and had been blessed. Our decision to purchase our home that sat along the Metairie Ridge had saved us from the terrible flooding. The fact that our house was a few feet off the ground on piers was also a saving grace. We suffered absolutely no damage. Our house was even spared by looters (though I suspect that was a result of the National Guard troops setting up a command post on the bridge about 1/4 mile from our house).
Other than about 6 weeks in a very nice rented apartment in Austin, Katrina turned out to be a minor blip on the radar for us. Not so for our family in New Orleans. The damage ranged from some minor roof damage to one sibling losing their house entirely and everything in it. Two years later, everyone has pretty much settled except for my in-laws who are hoping to move back into their home shortly.
Hurricane Katrina changed our lives in its driving force for us to leave New Orleans. We did go back after Hurricane Katrina and tried our best to be part of the recovery efforts. After about 6-7 months of watching the city try very hard to recovery, we also saw a great deal of stagnation in many areas. We watched a handful of parents start numerous Charter Schools in order to jump start the education system while the local and state governments showed little to no progress in their attempts to reopen public schools. Those in charge of the recovery efforts for schools warned of the proliferation of charter schools. Sixteen months later, the Committee tasked with rebuilding the education system was still looking to hold town hall meetings to ask what was wrong with the education system and how it needed to be fixed.
The Committee tasked with looking at the Levee failures and what needed to be done wrote an extensive report that was presented to the Mayor. In spite of the Mayor selecting those on the Committee and establishing the Committee, he didn’t implement even one of their recommendations.
Then there was the Mayor. Here was a man who stalled and used a fear of being sued as a reason for not calling a mandatory evacuation, a man who moved to a hotel near City Hall in order to be safe during the storm (while most of the staff required to stay for storms like these rode out the storm at City Hall), a man who sat in his hotel room IMMEDIATELY next door to the Superdome – 23 floors up – and even Governor Blanco (no prize herself) managed to get to the Superdome to try and reassure the people there that help was on its way. She had a significantly longer trip than Nagin given that she was in Baton Rouge. Nagin was showing some pretty strong similarities between himself and Colonel Kurtz from ‘Apocalypse Now’ having people climb 23 flights of stairs to come and meet with him since power was out in the hotel. Somehow, in spite of 6 months of complaining about Nagin, he was re-elected. In yet another act of blatant irresponsiblity, Nagin – only a year into his second term as Mayor – is building up the coffers to run for a more prominent political office (which has yet to be stated). If I still lived there, I’d be knocking on his door reminding him that he was voted in as a leader to work toward resolving the issues of the city during a time of crisis, not further his own political career.
We felt frustrated and inable to participate in an effort to help implement change for the better. We felt depressed and stressed and anxious while driving through the city and seeing the waterlines on the homes day after day. We made the choice to leave. We miss our friends and family, and we miss many aspects of our life in New Orleans.
Its been just over a year since moving out of New Orleans and its been a good year. We love our house, our kids are in a wonderful public school, we have a wonderful parish, and have made many new and wonderful friends.
Is it all good – for the most part, yes. If I could just shake this nagging fear and anxiety I’ve had about leaving my kids anywhere since the storm, it would be a lot better. On days like today where the emotions are a little raw, its more difficult than others. Hopefully that will improve with time. I have seen it already, but it still comes and goes.