It was a Saturday. I stayed at a friend’s house for her birthday. We spent the night prank calling boys we liked, watching movies and eating delicious food (her dad was a chef). The next morning, in a haze of having stayed up into the wee hours of the night, the door busted open. In a panic, another friend’s mom’s voice beamed into the quiet room where were all sleeping – “GET UP! We have to evacuate. We need to go now.”
None of us had any idea what was to come. We were freshman at Mount Carmel Academy. To us, we had survived year one. We were no longer the babies. We got new classmates, we were taking on new classes and the new challenges that face most 14-year-olds.
I immediately called my mom on the humble cell phone I had been gifted as I transitioned to high school – I believe a very low-resolution version of the game “snake” was all that set me apart from most. I was grown up with my cell phone at my friend’s house. But I wasn’t grown up when I used the phone that morning. “Mom! Sally’s* mom said there’s a really bad storm coming, and we have to leave. Are you coming to get me?!?!”
Something was different about this one. In my 14 years of life, this was not the first time I left for a storm. It was second nature. We had hunkered in place, we had evacuated – we did this many times before.
You knew what to pack, you knew to pack for at least a week. I even brought my schoolwork for the homework and tests I scheduled in the next week. I was blissfully unaware that the homework would be irrelevant, and those tests would never happen.
Hurricane Katrina was huge. She was a monster of a storm and none of us knew what would happen to our city after she blew through.
She hit as a Category 3 storm but had festered in the Gulf as a Category 5 for longer than anyone felt comfortable with at a size unlike anything we had seen before – then came the panic. As she hit, she had winds of 125 miles per hour with hurricane force winds stretching 110 miles from her center. Oy vey.
(In comparison, Hurricane Ida hit as a Category 4 with winds of 150 miles per hour. She was smaller in size than Katrina, with winds only stretching 45 miles from the center, but she moved slower than Katrina.)
The biggest difference with Katrina was the levee system. Katrina produced storm surge that overtopped levees in Orleans and St. Bernard parishes, which led to failures and breaches. These levee failures and breaches are what devastated the city. After Katrina blew through, about 80 percent of the city was flooded up to 20 feet.
Mount Carmel Academy – the school I had just come to know and where I began my high school career with new friends and new opportunities, the school I left Friday afternoon to celebrate a birthday, the books and homework I took with me, expecting to return the following week – was part of the 80 percent of the city under water.
I am now 30 years old and having Hurricane Ida hit on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina felt like a cruel joke from the universe. I was no longer that high schooler. I was the adult now. I don’t have children, but my friends do. This time, we were the ones making the decisions. We were making plans, buying water and setting our homes up for success for whatever we may face.
Physically, we were no longer those young high schoolers, but I couldn’t help but feel small and powerless again. Not being in control of what was to come and how my life could possibly change once again brought suppressed Katrina trauma back up to the surface.
Unlike Katrina, I stayed in the city. My mom and one of my uncles – the Hurricane Betsy generation – were refusing to stay. I was refusing to leave them. So, me and my chiweenie pup Hugo packed up our stuff and headed to my mom’s apartment.
Our power went out before the storm even made landfall. Luck for me, that was the worst part of the entire situation. Anyone that knows me questions how I grew up in New Orleans because of my aversion to being hot. I can’t sleep. I can’t eat – not that we had any real food because we are not great preppers. I can’t function properly.
It wasn’t until the wee hours of Monday morning that the reports came in about the Entergy transmission tower now residing in the Mississippi River, which you can probably guess is not where it is supposed to be. Go home, tower, you’re drunk. And this particular muddy river is not the ideal drunk swimming location.
Additionally, reports, like the water, started flooding in that the city of LaPlace – among many others – was in despair. The city was flooded, and people were begging to be rescued from their destroyed homes. As I listened to former Jefferson Parish police sheriff Newell Normand, I began to cry. Though it was not mass city-wide devastation in my home, this was still someone’s city. Someone’s home.
Minus losing my entire home and belongings, I knew what these people would face in the coming months.
After Hurricane Katrina I moved to a suburb outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Because of the unknown of power being restored and the boil water advisory for Jefferson Parish, I have now fled to Houston, Texas for the foreseeable future.
This time, however, I know I will return.
I know that my city will come back to life. I know that we will persevere.
When lived in Georgia, a few comments were made questioning why I live in a place that is threatened each year by natural disasters. But something has always threatened New Orleans. We are the city that we are and the people that we are because of our resiliency.
New Orleans has and always will bounce back. We will always come together as a community, lift each other up, crack open a beer and get to work.