Here we sit in Colorado and our thoughts and prayers are with our friends in New Orleans. Seven years ago yesterday we were sitting in a hotel room in Jackson, Mississippi evacuated for hurricane Katrina and feeling the fear and trepidation that comes every hurricane season and occasionally comes to fruition and exceeds ones worst fears.
Seven years has meant a lot of improvements in the way of hurricane protection to New Orleans but does not erase the pain and scars. Everything is now referred to as pre-K or post-K. Hurricane Katrina is just referred to as "the storm" by locals; there is no need to mention her by name. The levees around New Orleans were rebuilt and the newspaper was removed (yes, they really did find old newspaper in one of the levees). Pumps were upgraded to handle a larger capacity. Some of the largest floodgates in the world lie perilously perched between the ever encroaching Gulf of Mexico and New Orleans back yard. Smart phones and social media allow us to get a play-by-play from our friends riding out the storm and we hear hourly updates – “the power just went out,” “generator is up and running,” “switching to martinis from beer,” “wind is pounding the roof,” etc. We sit in our motorhome in Colorado live streaming news from New Orleans and watching our good friend and anchor women extraordinaire Angela Hill broadcasting every detail of the menacing Isaac.
Katrina spared our home, jobs, and will. But many were left broken, but even more determined to return and rebuild. Seventy-five percent of the people I worked with lost everything…EVERYTHING! Nothing was newer than the date of Hurricane Katrina. Available housing (in the form of something dry and with minimal mold) was at such shortage two cruise ships were brought in to provide beds. River barges plowed through levees and were in people’s back yards. Cars were on top of houses. I helped a co-worker clean out her flooded house months after the storm and the smell was utterly gaging. As we put all her belongs on the street someone drove by and asked if he could have some of it; "sure", she said.
Many residents were dispersed and had no idea of when they would be able to come back. Schools and universities were closed and had no idea when they could reopen. My boss had to send his son to live with relatives in Memphis for nearly a year because schools were closed. Most grocery stores were looted so there was a short supply of basic needs. We were home three weeks after the storm and there was only one grocery store near us that was open. Thankful, yes; but very long lines. We took in friends who were very appreciative but longed to be back in their house and feel a sense of normalcy. Natural gas lines were on fire and making the flood waters boil. Helicopters routinely flew overhead carrying large “hesco baskets” trying to repair levees. Trees were completely defoliated. There were no birds to be heard. So many houses bared the iconic “X” scar that was left from search and rescue teams indicating if people were rescued or bodies were found.
|Mark is nearly 6'5" tall and pointing to the water line which is easily 7". Unfortunately, water sat and remained in|
the area for 3-4 weeks in some areas. Next to him is the search and rescue symbol that decorated so many houses.
Even though our house, jobs, and will were not destroyed there were many challenges to overcome. We felt for our friends that were displaced, homeless, distraught, and feeling the overwhelming pain of hurricane Katrina. The wetlands and barrier islands I worked so hard to protect were battered beyond recognition and are destined to a watery grave. The research center Betsy directed fared extremely well but had to make the difficult decision to ship animals to other zoos and lay off staff. Life was hard, but as true blooded New Orleanians taught us - will and determination cannot be broken by a little thing called a hurricane. Some even retained their sense of humor through it all.
We feel for our friends that are going through this event and agonize with them from thousands of miles away.
Thanks to Betsy's brother Mark who dug these pictures out of cyber space and offered to share them. I was only going to include two or three, but they are so telling of the aftermath that blanketed the area. Most of the pictures are from the Lower 9th Ward and Chalmette - two of the hardest hit areas in the city - but this kind of destruction went on for miles and miles. Thankfully, hurricane Isaac didn't do near the damage and, most importantly, all of our friends have reported being OK with minimal property damage.