Dear NOLA, Thank you.
They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.
– Mexican Proverb
Ten years ago today, marks the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. With massive flooding from the failure of our city’s levees unleashed what would become the worst “natural disaster” of our time on US soil. Over 1,500 of our neighbors died during or after the floodwater took the city.
I started writing this article a few weeks ago and never finished. I stopped and started maybe half a dozen times as I deleted and back spaced my words out of existence. Nothing I typed seemed to give justice to what I felt. Not then and still not now.
There is no doubt that Katrina was life changing to everyone in New Orleans and across the Gulf region. There is also no doubt how the events that took shape in the aftermath of the storm would forever change our lives and leave a mark on the world.
I spoke with individuals through out the week during events that took place across the city commemorating the 10-year anniversary. It was confirmation that we had survived what was meant to break us, but it was also confirmation that the city we once remembered was changing.
After all, how could a city that faced mass devastation and then an unprecedented $126.4 billion for relief, recovery and rebuilding efforts (shared with neighboring cities and states) not change? There are over 200 documentaries capturing the impact of Katrina on New Orleans told from various perspectives from those who lived it and those who didn’t.
How many ways can you tell this story? Their story? Her story? His story? Our story?
I recall my own story in the days leading up to Katrina. I was a college student at LSU at the time. We when heard news that a Hurricane was forming and coming our way as normal we didn’t panic. After all, if you were raised in Louisiana there was a shared sentiment of “we’ve been here before…. we know how this goes.”
Hurricanes and tropical storms meant canceled classes and stocking up on water and batteries incase the lights went out. As college students, it also meant a few more days to be around your friends without the constraints of classroom schedules, study groups or emails and constant weather advisory alerts. It meant fueling your gas tanks and stocking up on non-perishable foods.
What seemed as fairly the “norm” for most quickly turned to confusion, frustration, helplessness and then sheer anger. Our apartments became homes for our family members who were evacuating the city. At LSU our athletic facilities became homes for those who did not have anywhere else to go. That experience along with many others of displaced family members, friends and loved ones I will save for another day if ever at all.
Katrina catapulted dreams, it awakened people’s hearts and souls, it made our world a little more human and showed the level of sacrifice people would make for their families and neighbors.
It also crushed dreams and cast light on issues of poverty and racial tensions far too prevalent to ignore. Although many universities and cities opened up their doors, not everyone was welcoming to New Orleanians now flooding their cities as they evacuated from homes that many would never return to.
People often ask me, “what keeps you in New Orleans”?
Have you ever watched the rebirth of a city from your window? Watching the rebirth of New Orleans, its culture and its people has inspired me like few other things. The authenticity of those who were born here and those who are transplants that now call it home creates this melting pot of resilience, innovation and energy in a city that continues to evolve.
As a friend of mine who recently moved to New Orleans once told me with all the excitement and enthusiasm in the world, “ I woke up and stepped out of my front door, looked around and thought to myself ‘I’m home’”, and it is simple, genuine sentiments like these that really capture the true essence of New Orleans and what it does to people. As I ride through the Bywater or along the Riverfront the city breathes life into me over and over again even on my worst days. There is no place like it in the world.
Through the highs and lows, there will never be a place that has captured my heart with so much purpose and intent. To those who experienced and witnessed Katrina and its aftermath whether we care to or not, here is to 10 years of promise, purpose and rebuilding. We are still here; standing, beaten but not broken, with clipped wings that still fly casting light on better years that are still on the horizon. There’s no place like home.
Dear NOLA, thank you.