Friday, August 29, 2014

Katrina: 9 Years Later

Happy Anniversary, Katrina. Today, we are nine years stronger.

If you live in Louisiana, or anywhere in the surrounding region, then I'm sure you've seen your social media blow up today with posts about the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

I remember my Katrina experience like the back of my hand. I had just started eighth grade at my new high school. I was excited about being a "big kid," and I was excited about the new adventure I was about to embark on. After maybe a week or so of class, school was cancelled for a routine hurricane evacuation. Growing up in Southeast Louisiana, this was nothing new for me. In fact, I think I can speak for most people who grew up here when I say that, as kids, we looked at evacuations as vacations. "Wooo! No school! No homework!" And we thought this because, at least in my 13 years of living, we had never experienced a hurricane in which something actually happened to our city. Or family. Or friends. Or home. In fact, I figured that, at most, we'd get a little rain, have a few days off of school and call it a day. 

Boy, was I wrong. My life took a complete 360 on August 29, 2005. I remember sitting on my aunt's couch, watching footage of the water, the winds, the damage, the looting. It didn't seem real to me. About a week after, my parents went home to check on everything. While our damage was not nearly as bad as others, it was certainly enough to ruin pretty much everything. It's crazy to think how 4 feet of water practically washed away a lifetime; my childhood would never be the same. 

I remember the first time I went back home with my parents. We had gone as a family to clean out our house, and I was not prepared for what I saw. On the outside, my home still looked like my home. But the inside... the smell. That horrible Katrina stench of swampy water and debris that had been marinating in the Louisiana summer heat. It is permanently embedded into my nasal cavity. 

Walking into my bedroom, the carpet was completely drenched with brown water. I remember I had a photo bulletin board in my room. Some of the pictures had fallen off of the board during the storm, and many of them faded into the blank, white photo paper they once were before my memories had been imprinted on them. I think that's what hurt the most--the childhood photos, the mementos that had captured every stage of my life, my brother's life, my parent's life--they were all gone. Now, the first thing I pack before I evacuate are my photos, or anything tangible that holds a special place in my heart. Because at the end of the day, that is what matters; not the house, furniture or clothes.

When it came time to clean everything out of our house, I requested that I do the carpet. Here I am, a 13 year old going at it with an X-Acto knife and some gloves. I did almost all the rooms in our  house. My mom was cleaning out the kitchen, and my brother was helping my dad with the furniture and outside clean up. I was inside, channeling all my grief, frustration and anger into cutting up this water-soaked, heavy, smelly, brown carpet. I managed to do all of this without shedding a single tear. Finally, I walked outside to go get some fresh air, and all of the sudden members of the Coast Guard and American Red Cross drove down our street providing water, meals and first aid to those who needed it. That's when I lost it. At that moment, I realized that this was something so much bigger than me, and that no matter how much I tried to get revenge on Katrina by taking it out on our damaged carpet, this was something that we would be coping with for a long time.

If you think about it, it's interesting to hear people talk about Katrina today. Most people talk about it like it was yesterday. I went to a conference for work this week, and I took a walking tour of Gretna, Louisiana. There were so many quaint museums and old homes, and so many antiques from when the Germans immigrated to the area hundreds of years ago. I didn't know what kind of damage (if any) Gretna had received during Katrina, so I asked the tour guide, "Did y'all just get wind damage after Katrina? Did y'all receive any flooding at all?" As soon as I asked it, I caught myself. How could something that happened nine years ago still resonate so strongly with me? How can it still resonate so strongly with a community? Shouldn't we all be over this by now? Shouldn't we just move on?

But the thing is, you can't "just move on." So many of us were affected and impacted. And if you were lucky enough to not be physically impacted by Katrina, then I'm sure your life was shaken up just a tad bit--whether it was relocating to another city for a temporary amount of time, going to a "transition" school, moving away completely, watching people in your neighborhood pick up the pieces and attempt to rebuild their lives, or simply realizing how important your home is. 

If you haven't read the book "One Dead in Attic" by Chris Rose, I highly recommend it. It was one of my summer reading books in high school, and I had a strong love/hate relationship with it. It's a compilation of anecdotes and articles recounting the first few months in New Orleans after the storm. To this day, it is one of the best books I have ever read. Now, how could I speak so highly of a book I had a love/hate relationship with? Well, I hated how it took me back to that horrible time of despair, but I loved that it made me remember. 

And sometimes, remembering the bad stuff reminds you of how far you've really come.

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