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Three years after Katrina

All week long I’ve wondered about today – about how it would feel to look back on three years since Katrina roared through the U.S. Gulf Coast. For days I’ve been thinking about the people I met and what I experienced during my seven trips to the disaster zone as a CBF writer and photographer. I’ve been reading my old reporter’s notebooks – reliving some interviews like they happened yesterday. I’ve been looking at my photos, which so easily bring some powerful moments to life.

 

As we all remember Katrina today, there are dozens of stories I could share – these two stick out most. 

 

The first time I visited a large evacuee shelter in Baton Rouge I was a little taken by what I saw. It was a gymnasium with about 200 little bedrooms – no walls except for a few camping tents some families pitched. People slept under bright florescent lights amid loud public service announcements about children’s play hour or how the first bathroom on the right was closed.

 

 

In this place, I met a woman whose name I can’t remember but whose story I can’t forget. She wouldn’t let us come back to visit at first because she wanted to clean her home – all eight square feet of it. I squatted on the floor and listened to her story, taking notes as she described how she and her two children were rescued from flooding in New Orleans. Lifted out by helicopter to Baton Rouge, they had been here ever since – now a month after the storm. Everything they had was gone. Her voice choked and the tears came.

 

And I stopped writing. I never took her photo. Instead, we gathered around this brave woman and prayed.  And there was something about that moment that sticks with me, that represents everything that Katrina did – not just to buildings and landscapes – but to lives.

 

But amid all the pain and despair, I encountered some true heroes, who not only survived Katrina but made sure others did as well.  I met Warren and his family on the other side of Baton Rouge, only weeks after the storm.

 

Warren was a fisherman who wouldn’t evacuated because his mom was recovering from surgery. She was immoveable, and he couldn’t leave her behind. So he and his family weathered the storm in her five-story apartment building – and they recorded Katrina’s landfall on their video camera.

 

They showed me the chilling video footage of winds sucking metal doors open and of the tsunami-like wave that flooded the area when the levee broke. Vehicles floated past the building, as did people. One man was able to land on the complex’s first floor overhang, Warren said. Others did not.

 

But their family’s survival is only part of the story. For the next four days, Warren helped rescue people from roofs and those stuck in attics, bringing them back to the apartment complex, where everyone was finally evacuated five days after the storm.

 

Talking with Warren and his family left me speechless. Their willingness to respond and help showed me another side of what Katrina did.  I guess sometimes the worst things can bring out the best in people – and while that doesn’t make Katrina any less of a tragedy, it does give us all a little bit of hope.

 

So today I remember these two stories and the dozens of others that emerged in the aftermath of such a destructive storm. I remember the despair, the chaos, the confusion, the uncertainty of what would happen next. I remember people coming together, whether it was out of desire or necessity. I remember the Fellowship Baptists who traveled hundreds of miles to help in whatever way they could. I remember that amid all the destruction and despair Katrina brought, there were some remarkable people who overcame the odds, defied the norm, and did things most of us couldn’t or wouldn’t do.  I went there to tell their stories and their Katrina story became part of mine.

 

 

4 thoughts on “Three years after Katrina

  1. Carla,
    Thanks for helping us to remember the stories of people affected by Katrina. I can’t help but think of all those stories and more with Gustav hitting the coast again.

    I was in Little Rock over the weekend. On Friday night, Tim and I felt like the only people in our downtown hotel. On Sunday morning, the hotel was full of evacuees who had driven all day on Sat. to find shelter. I met a 15 year old young man at breakfast who just needed to talk. He talked of leaving his home in southern LA at 7am on Sat. and driving all day to escape the storm. He told me that he had never been out of LA. What an adventure for him. He also said he was sad about leaving behind his bike. I was so touched by his conversation and all the people he represents who are leaving behind everything in order to flee for their safety somethink I know nothing about. I prayed for God’s comfort on the people I met in that hotel in Little Rock yesterday.

  2. Thank you Carla – your stories are a beautiful tribute to these amazing souls – the ones you met and the thousands they represent.

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