6 years and a day ago, I was on the phone with my then boyfriend, giving him a lecture on why he needed to evacuate to northern Louisiana. He wanted to ride out what was then a Category 5 storm, because he had just gotten settled in his new home and didn’t want to leave. And also because I had tickets to fly out to visit him and he thought somehow that I’d be able to make the trip. After a lot of nagging and some time to let his deeply buried common sense activate, he gave in and packed.
6 years ago tomorrow, we talked on the phone as we watched news coverage of Katrina. She made landfall during daylight and initially we thought everything was going to be okay. My then boyfriend (now husband) even talked about heading home the next day. Obviously we knew there was substantial wind damage and probably some damage from the rain, but when we went to bed on August 29, we felt like we had dodged a bullet.
August 30th was a different story.
We turned on the news to see a city completely underwater. To see people in boats, others on their roof. To see homes, lives devastated. We woke up to commentary from people saying that New Orleans deserved this disaster because they chose to live below sea level, because they didn’t plan well enough. The entire gulf coast was drenched in heartbreak.
Less than a year later, I moved to New Orleans, where I would live for the next 3 years. I saw the devastation and I saw the restoration. I saw neighborhoods that couldn’t be restored, homes that were abandoned with the spray paint x and a number at the bottom indicating someone had perished within the home. I saw devastation that was bone chillingly sad and scary.
In my 3 years in New Orleans, I had a front row seat to the rebirth of a culture, of a people who are more resilient than any others I’ve ever seen. A people who rose above those who said they could not rebuild, those who said they should not, and they restored their city. A people who made the hard decision to start over, to come home and try to restart their lives.
There are still neighborhoods and areas that show the very real scars of the floods. And there are still families who have yet to come home, and others who will forever be incomplete because of that storm.
As the East Coast starts to assess the damage brought by Irene, I hope they look to New Orleans, to Mississippi, to Alabama, to Florida and all the people whose lives were forever changed by Katrina and they realize that everything will be okay. Maybe not right away, but with time. I hope they realize that homes can be rebuilt, roads can be repaved, power can be restored. That if there is a true fighting spirit in the people, there is almost nothing that can’t be overcome.
It has been 6 years since Katrina devastated my favorite city in the world. And it has been 5 years and 364 days since a city rose up together, reclaimed, and began rebuilding their city of ruins.
There’s a blood red circle
on the cold dark ground
and the rain is falling down
The church doors blown open
I can hear the organ’s song
But the congregation’s gone
My city of ruins
My city of ruins
Come on rise up
Come on rise up
(Lyrics from Bruce Springsteen’s My City of Ruins)