It’s been said that memories are retained depending on their value. Hearing something like this makes you think highly of those vivid images of past times that seem to remain embedded in your mind yet it’s the adverse memories that tend to affect us the most. I share memories with thousands of residents of southern Louisiana. Memories of a time when fear was my alarm clock and despair kissed me good night. Memories when praying for the best but fearing the worst became your daily attitude. Memories spawned by the effects of Hurricane Katrina.
Why didn’t we leave sooner? Some may call it stubbornness but to us, we chalk it up to being products of our environment. From the perspective of those who aren’t from southern Louisiana, let alone the New Orleans area, the logical thing would’ve been to leave days prior to the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. Sadly when you’re from that area, you’re accustomed to one or two things, “riding out” the storm or evacuating not knowing whether or not the hurricane will even cause significant damage. Power outages become second nature and for my family hurricanes tend to mean one thing, a “hurricane party”. Those in the immediate family would gather at one house and we’d ride the storm out with food, games, and laughs ensuring that everyone is safe and most importantly saving us the time and money from trying to evacuate.
Your senior year in high school is supposed to be filled with memorable moments but I would’ve never thought that it would’ve started off with Hurricane Katrina. Coming out of my junior year I had received recruiting letters from a few universities within the state who had an interest in me playing football for them so you can only imagine how excited I was about this upcoming year. Just the thought or being scouted had me anxious let alone the idea that I could possibly obtain a scholarship. As a student athlete these are the moments that you anticipate. You see it happen on television shows and in movies but for it to begin to manifest in your life is a surreal feeling, however, my excitement turned from joy to fear following our annual Jamboree game the week before the season would officially begin. Just like any other game, we took a knee waiting for coach to give his postgame speech while we looked in the stands to see where everyone was yelling for us to meet up at and eat to enjoy the night like typical high school seniors. Our coach greeted us with a flaccid tone and, in short, told us that he’d be contacting us all individually to let us know what the plans were for the following week. Little did I know that this would be the last time I’d see everyone for a while.
That next week I’d find myself sitting in the backseat of my parent’s car with my sister as the darkness of the early morning hours covered us like a childhood fort. Gazing out of the window, headlights lined the interstate like Christmas lights yet the anticipation of the sunrise didn’t come with joy. Instead it came with the frustration of knowing that it would begin to get warm in the car as we sat stuck in dead traffic trying to conserve gas by not using the A/C. We had the immediate family following us as we all piled into three vehicles taking our clothes and important items not knowing when or what we’d return home to. I remember stopping at gas stations along the way to Texas and people were swarming to grab snacks, water, and just a moment to stand up and stretch after having sat in traffic for hours upon hours. There would be people urinating in the sinks of the bathrooms because the lines were too long to stand in. Fights would break out over gas pumps and looking back on it these were all signs of desperation. If I had to compare the images of what I witnessed as we traveled west the only thing that comes to mind is the movie of the Titanic. Thousands of people fleeing a sinking ship we all called “home” as the threat of hurricane Katrina began to live up to its hype.
We settled at a hotel in Katy, TX. I highly doubt that this was the plan but it had taken over 12 hours to make what would usually be a 6 hour drive and fatigue and hunger were settling in for everyone. Cell towers were overwhelmed with service from the immense amount of people trying to call or text loved ones to track them down to see if they were alright. It was like being removed from your life. You had no idea where your friends were, no idea what type of damage was about to take place back at home, or what was about to happen from this point on. I was removed from everything besides the loved ones who were with me.
Sleep became nonexistent. You were either watching the news or responding to texts and voicemails that were coming in after being delayed for hours. There’s an image in my head that I will never forget. My grandfather had chosen not to leave and we sat watching the news as helicopters showed footage of the flood waters rising and little did we know, they panned over his neighborhood. He lived near a canal that had begun to overflow and with phone lines being shot it was tough to get in contact with him. The waters were rising and we had no idea if he was there, if he had made it out, or what would transpire from here on out. I remember seeing my mom breakdown as this happened. It was as if the fear of what could possibly happen hit her like a bullet. Her posture sunk as her fears began to roll down her cheeks. Naturally, seeing your mother cry is one of the toughest things to deal with and at this moment it was too much to bear. I left from around everyone and went sat in the stairwell of the hotel looking at my cell phone and crying. Seeing my mother like that hurt and reality was beginning to settle in. What was there to look forward to? We knew that as hurricane crawled onto land the devastation was only going to get worse, so we watched. Glued to the news, we watched as the place that we called home was destroyed. We watched people loot out of desperation as well as ignorance. We watched our armed forces keep us captive as we tried to flee. We watched our President characterize us as refugees. We watched as our city died. Each day, each hour, each video of news coverage seemed like the last breaths of New Orleans and surrounding areas. Our hearts went out to the families that lost their homes, the lives that were forever changed from the time being trapped in the superdome, and well, the lives of those who will never get the opportunity to read this story.
In the days following the hurricane, we returned to Louisiana to stay at my grandmother’s house in Laplace. She had electricity there so we packed up and decided to all stay there until it was safe to go back to our home. Curfews had been placed in affect due to the rise in criminal activities that had taken place during the days leading up to and following the storm but soon after, we were allowed an opportunity to go home. The ride from Laplace to Kenner was quite dismal as we sat quiet in the car. We had learned that my grandfather was alright but no one knew what to expect of our home but it was clear as day that we had all feared the worse. As we turned onto our street trees were laying baron in the street as the neighborhood seemed lifeless. The block that we lived on in the neighborhood didn’t flood but portions of our roof caved in allowing rain waters to fill our home. Mold covered the walls like the spots on a Leopard, furniture was covered in film from water and wet sheetrock, and it was as if time had stood still. We would return to our home multiple times after that to begin to clean but to us it was therapy. You never realize how much energy you have until you’re frustrated.
The rebuilding stage was tough. Not just the physical labor but the mental aspect of rebuilding your morale was a challenge for everyone. My mother and aunts would get up at sunrise in efforts to get in line for government assistance only to be turned around and having to repeat this routine the following day. We relied on nonperishable food items and government handouts for water and personal items. My dad, a minister, would do his best to save face and uplift the family but you could tell it was tough even for him. There were days when the water would pressure would be extremely weak so we’d have to leave it dripping into the tub all day allowing enough to fill up for us all to share in order to bathe at night. Our family had been scattered all over, from shelters in Lafayette, LA. to Atlanta, GA. Phone calls were few and far between but just knowing that they were ok made us realize how blessed we were.
Regaining that sense of normalcy was tough but we made it though. Our situation was nothing in comparison to what others had to face and to this day we’re thankful for the blessings that covering that God blessed us with. Ultimately, I left the school I had temporarily enrolled to and returned to my high school to graduate. We moved back into our home and was fortunate to have family and friends to shelter and assist us for a year. The devastation faded away but the memories will last a lifetime. This is just a glimpse of what took place that sparked a year long journey that tested my family’s faith and patience.
Dorian Price is a Transmission Engineer at Dashiell Corporation Houston, Texas. He is a graduate of Louisiana Tech University and currently resides in Houston TX.
(Photo Source: Associated Press)