Online Story Contribution, Hurricane Digital Memory Bank

Hurricane Katrina and the Flood of a Century:\r\nDoes It Have Meaning?\r\n\r\nFor me, Hurricane Katrina is like a bad movie. It’s a terrible cliché; but that’s truly how it registers for me. My children and I were out of town when the storm hit. So, we lived the storm and its aftermath through the television set.\r\nMy husband and I were separated at the time so the kids and I had gone on vacation on our own in August. I delivered my two daughters to their grandparents in Atlanta and I took my three-year-old son to Haiti with me for ten days. When I returned to the US, I had made the decision to stay in Atlanta for a while. I went back to New Orleans to talk to my estranged husband and to collect what belongings I could gather on short notice. \r\nA few days before the storm, I returned to Atlanta. I had to go back to New Orleans for the remainder of my things but I figured I could get settled a bit and then go back in a couple of weeks. I had no idea a Category 5 storm was headed our way until late Saturday afternoon when I received a telephone message from one of my husband’s clients. She called to ask if he could board up the windows on her house and the houses of a couple of her friends. This is the kind of call we get two or three times during hurricane season so I didn’t think too much of it. \r\nI called my husband to relay the message Saturday evening. He seemed completely unconcerned about the storm, so the kids and I went to dinner at my dad’s house without a worry. We went to sleep late with all our stomachs full of barbeque and root beer. On Sunday morning, CNN showed Mayor Nagin urging everyone to leave New Orleans. I called my husband and he still was unconcerned. I recall it now as one of those conversations one only has with a husband who was reared in Central America. It went something like this: “No, esto es puro negocio por la cuidad. El gobierno solo quiere asustar a la gente. No me voy. Tengo trabajo aqui.” Translation: No, this is purely business for the city. The government just wants to scare the people. I’m not leaving. I have work to do here. \r\nMy husband called me as the storm rolled in Monday morning. I could barely hear him speaking over the wind. He sounded excited, not at all scared. That happens to be one of the personality traits of his that I admire and fear at the same time. “¿Escuchas?” he asked me. (Can you hear?) He wanted me to hear the wind blowing over the central city apartment where he decided to wait out the storm with friends. I begged him to turn off his cell phone to conserve battery power since the electricity may be out for days afterwards. After all, that nasty little tropical storm we’d had earlier in the season knocked out our lights for four days. I said for him to call me after the storm had passed. I didn’t hear from him.\r\nFrom that moment forward, I watched the news in horror. I couldn’t sleep and I had to answer questions from my twelve-year-old who was worried about her friends, her school, and the family members we had left behind. I watched the Internet bulletin boards, both English and Spanish, and posted in Spanish looking for my (estranged, but loved) husband. There was no news on the boards, no contact by telephone. No word from anyone. I woke up with CNN and I went to sleep with CNN. I drank red wine in order to get a couple of hours sleep. I checked online at WWL-TV for local information. My conclusion: National news does not understand who we are in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region. I raged at the government. I cussed at Bush. I cussed at FEMA. I watched people who look like me swimming and fighting for their lives for four days before anyone tried to lift a finger to help. I cheered Nagin when he said some of the things I wanted to say on national television. I prayed for the people, the city, the government and the nation. I begged the same God who inspired me to remain in Atlanta only days before the storm hit to save the lives of my husband and others just as he had mine and my children. I think he did…not because of my prayers but because of the prayers of so many others as well. I watched. I waited.\r\nMy husband called me after midnight on the Wednesday after the storm. He and one of the guys who worked with him had finally escaped the city. He was in Alabama and was headed to Atlanta. I slept.\r\nFor days afterwards, I remained glued to the television and the computer trying to get as much information as I could. I gradually began to hear from family and friends. My aunt, her grandson, one of my cousins and his pregnant fiancé, and my aunt’s cocker spaniel were in Texas; they would soon be headed to my dad’s house in Atlanta. My aunt lived in New Orleans East and had, most likely, lost everything. Another cousin was in Mississippi with friends. My grandfather and his wife were in a hospice in Baton Rouge. Their youngest daughter and her family were in Texas. My grandfather’s wife died a couple of days after the storm and he was not holding up very well according to the reports I received. They had lived in the 7th Ward and may have lost almost everything they had built up over approximately 40 years. \r\nMy neighborhood is right off Carrollton Avenue but on the “bad” side – away from the city toward Jefferson Parish. I lived approximately three blocks from the park on the corner of Carrollton and Claiborne where the streetcar line starts. We had several feet of water in the house according to my husband. The neighbor across the street who didn’t like us (because he was trying to gentrify the neighborhood and our landlords had the audacity to rent to an African-American woman and a Latino man with three mixed-race children) must be quite happy now. We won’t be living there anymore. A friend of mine who went back to check on the house and the neighborhood for me said the guy had boarded up his house and spray painted “Looters will be shot” on the plywood. Of course, there’s virtually no one in the area, so I’m not sure who he’s threatening.\r\nWe had lost all the equipment and tools for the business. My husband lost all of his clothes and shoes, including the Harley Davidson boots that he loved – the only non-tennis shoes I could get him to wear besides work boots. We lost some furniture and other stuff. We are lucky compared to so many others who lost everything and/or lives also. I have not been back to the city myself but my husband went back to work as soon as his clients started calling. \r\nThe client who left the first message called again to see if my husband would be coming back to the city to work. She wanted him to take a look at her house and repair any damage. I assured her that he would be back although the kids and I would be staying in Atlanta for a while longer since we have no place to live in New Orleans right now. My husband is living on one of the job sites while he works there cleaning up and repairing the other people’s property while his own family has no means to return to the city. His client is a lovely middle-aged white lady who works for a prominent company in the city. I like her. She said to me, “No offense but I feel safer now than I have in a long time. There’s just nobody around.” Translation: I’m not talking about you because you’re one of the good ones but I’m scared of black people and I feel much safer since they’re gone. I smiled over the phone and said that I understood what she meant.\r\nOver the last several weeks I’ve heard all sorts of analysis about what happened. I know a few conspiracy theorists say the levee was broken on purpose. There are some who say the government conspired with terrorists and allowed all this to happen just like 911. There are people who say the levees were broken with small bombs placed in cracks in the walls by the CIA or US Special Forces. Other people believe that God is punishing New Orleans for her sinful ways – which I find ironic considering that the French Quarter was high and dry and the beer, although warm, flowed throughout the ordeal. There are those who say the spirits are angry because there is so much death and destruction in the world through the work of man, especially by the hands of the US government. And, there are environmentalists who say that global warming and other negative impacts to the world environment are causing the storms to get larger and stronger – kind of the earth’s way of fighting back.\r\nI’m not sure that I have formed a conclusion about the whys and wherefores of the storm. I’m still trying to work through why my life and the lives of my children were spared. Why was I at the right place at the right time when so many clearly were not? Do I have an obligation to the people who suffered so directly and profoundly? If so, what is it? If not, why not? Is life that random? And, if life is that random then why do we spend so much time in churches, synagogues and mosques? If life is not so random, when do we get a script to help us move to the next scene and to be on our marks? I’m still waiting for the answers to these questions. In the meantime, I get my kids to school each day, cook dinner, clean the apartment, make groceries, talk to my husband and help him run his business as best I can from 500 miles away. My family is living life while taking the small steps to try to get back to New Orleans and back to ourselves. What else can we do?

Citation

Michele Barard, “Online Story Contribution, Hurricane Digital Memory Bank,” Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, accessed August 21, 2018, http://hurricanearchive.org/items/show/1.