5 Year Anniversary.

29 Aug

Today is the 5 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and subsequently, the 5 year marking of when I moved to New Orleans.  Four days after I moved into my dorm room at Loyola University, I left.  Thankfully my sister’s friend, Trish, was a New Orleans veteran and invited me to evacuate with her. I threw a bathing suit, my laptop, and a pair of underwear into my purse and hoped in her car wearing a tank top, shorts, and flip flops.  We drove to Houston and it unbearably took 9 hours (instead of 6) to get there thanks to my constant need to visit the bathroom due to my first night ever drinking at a bar…  I’ll never forget pounding rum and cokes at Friar Tucks, age 18, watching my very first hurricane wind its way toward me on the radar map on TV. My friends and I were loving it. ‘Can you believe it! We live in NEW ORLEANS now! Hurricanes threaten us here! So crazy cool!’ Not so crazy cool at 9am the next morning, getting woken up by my new BFF telling me that that awesome hurricane we saw on TV last night was getting huge and there was a voluntary evacuation.  This was Saturday.

Flash forward to Houston Saturday night.  At one point, there were almost 30 people staying in one amazing family’s home. This family was amazing as well as their friends and neighbors. Every mealtime someone would come knocking on the door with a casserole, pizza, beer, and other forms of sustenance to keep us refugees as content as one could be.  I was the only freshman in a group of all seniors and juniors. I’m not gonna lie, it wasn’t all bad. They taught me what Hurrication was.  We woke up at 10 am and started hitting the Bud Lights while lounging around the pool in the backyard, which beautifully backed up to a golf course.  Trish and I hit up the mall and Starbucks and began our very own friendship. No longer was I ‘Nancy’s Sister,’ we were friends.

The party ended very quickly when the status of Katrina was upgraded to a Category 5, the worst a hurricane can get.  I had only been in New Orleans for a few days yet it had very quickly become a part of me.  The people I was with had been there anywhere from a couple years to their whole lives. There’s something about New Orleans, though. Whether you’ve grown up there or only called it home for 2 weeks, it gets to you.

When the hurricane hit on Monday it was clear we weren’t going back. My mom booked Trish and I flights back home to Portland. While I was on the plane and traveling back to my parents home, the levees failed.  My mom pulled up to the house and I ran downstairs and turned on the TV and watched, like I’d been doing in Houston for the previous 3 days.  I cried. I cried for the people who stayed. The people who thought they could ride it out in their homes and when the water came in under the door, they went upstairs. Nothing like this had ever happened before, so it seemed okay to go to higher ground. No one could have imagined how high the water was going to get. I cried for the families who drowned in their homes. This will never fail to bring tears to my eyes and unbelievable pain to  my heart. Never had I experienced such devastating sadness.

I went back in October, one month later. Flying over I saw hundreds of houses covered in blue tarp and hardly any cars on the freeways. I could already feel that it was a ghost town.  Loyola was the headquarters for the National Guard and they looked like they hadn’t seen a woman in ten years. Every home had a ten foot pile of debris and a refrigerator out front. Hundreds of cardboard signs littered the streetcar tracks, letting whoever was around know what numbers to call for mold removal, pitting, electrical service, etc. The girl I was with and I went into several friends apartments to retrieve certain items. One obviously hadn’t had her refrigerator taken care of yet. Curious, we opened it. Rotten meat, vegetables, rodents, bugs and the worst smell I’ve ever inhaled gushed out.  We grabbed her stuff and bolted.  That night we hit up Bourbon Street and other local bars. National Guard littered the streets and only several dozen people were around. Years later I was still learning where I went that night. I’d walk into a bar and would be instantly hit with the memory of that night. I’d been here in another lifetime.

In January, school started again. Almost every friend I’d made those first few days came back. You’ve never seen a more proud, excited bunch than my freshman class. We were there to stay. At my graduation four years later, the governor pointed out how proud he was that we came back. We came back to a city that had been destroyed and drowned. And we were there to make sure it didn’t stay that way.

The recovery process was so gradual that it was hard to describe to anyone who wasn’t there what it was like.  My family didn’t understand why I went back, and I suppose in a way it called to me. How could I not go back? It never entered my mind. Where else would I go?!

The five years that I spent in New Orleans had an enormous impact in who I am. That city will forever be a home to me.  From the destruction, to the rebuilding, to the renewal, to the Saints finally winning games, to the Saints WINNING THE SUPER BOWL, and back down to the oil spill, I was there.  All of that is a part of me and I wouldn’t change any of it.

5 years…

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One Response to “5 Year Anniversary.”

  1. Trish September 13, 2010 at 2:51 pm #

    Seriously Kate- why did I read this. Tears in my eyes. Great writing, great ‘mems’ 🙂 ALSO- Let us not forget the amazing nick name I gave you during our crazy adventures following Katrina. KATE THE BAIT. That one is gonna follow you. I will make sure it finds you in LA. hahaha 🙂

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