Hurricane Feelings

I have been having trouble getting out of my own head since I first heard about the superstorm we now know as Sandy. I have had feelings and thoughts rolling around and finding the words to express them has been a challenge. I tried to explain it to some friends today, but it all came out wrong, it all came out wrapped in a blanket of intense feelings and frustration that completely muddled and overshadowed all the things I meant to say.

Having lived in New Orleans post-Katrina, any talk of hurricanes immediately raises my heckles. When I lived there, I worked at a school that was 1/4 of a mile from one of the levees and it was 13 feet underwater in the days after Katrina. When I began working there, almost a year later, you could look in either direction and see for miles because there were almost no houses left. And the ones you could see were condemned, with the spray painted x showing whether someone perished within. Though I wasn’t in New Orleans for Katrina, it had a profound impact on my life.

I saw what Katrina did to New Orleans and to New Orleanians. And it’s from that, from the stories of my husband, of my students, of my friends, that I have come to have these feelings.

My first thought above all else has been concern for those effected. If I’ve learned anything about hurricanes it’s that even those whose houses survive without a scratch are not unscathed. You cannot live through a storm like this one without feeling a little changed. There is the obvious worry about physical safety and damaged homes and all of that, but I also have deep concerns about the mental and emotional wellbeing of those in Sandy’s path and the emotional state of their loved ones because I’ve been in those shoes too, and it is awful.

The other feelings I have are more…complicated.

On the one hand, I am SO glad that the government is already intervening for those on the east coast. I truly am. But it brings about these weird feelings of jealousy. My husband had to wait weeks to even be let back in to New Orleans to get any of his possessions. He had to wait longer for FEMA to get their act together and to help him pay double rent while he was displaced in Texas. Many of my friends were largely homeless, living in hotels hours away from home because FEMA was painfully slow to act. I know jealousy seems like the wrong emotion and maybe it is, but that’s the thing about feelings, they’re kind of messy.

And then there’s the snark I see and hear around me. I have seen several of my New Orleans friends tweet and update facebook with the same thought that many of us have been thinking, however briefly. When New Orleans flooded, when Mississippi and Alabama were destroyed, the public opinion was not overwhelmingly that of loving support in the way it has been for those in the northeast. There was a very strong feeling of superiority from those who lived away from the gulf. New Orleanians were told that the damage they experienced was their own fault. It was what they deserved for living below sea level, for living in a hurricane zone. They were told not to bother rebuilding their lives, that they just needed to leave their homes behind and move somewhere else.

It was never an argument that made sense to me. Californians live along active earthquake faults and periodically this results in catastrophe. Midwesterners live in tornado zones and periodically, there are devastating storms. And southerners and east coast dwellers live in hurricane zones and the results of that are often among the worst natural disasters of them all. And so the argument of you deserved it, or you should not rebuild is flawed to me. We all assume risk, regardless of where we live. It’s a part of living, period.

I imagine I’m not the only one who gets bombarded with complex thoughts about these storms. I realize that not all of this probably seems to make sense, but putting it here gets it out of my head and organizes it in a way that makes things make sense again.

I hope that those who are living through this nightmare are able to find some escape, that they are getting the help and the support that they need and deserve. And I hope that they feel that they can and should rebuild their homes and pick up their lives right where they left them before the storm clouds rolled in and changed everything.

8 Responses to “Hurricane Feelings”

  • You’re not the only one with complex feelings. My mother lives in S. Florida and 2 back to back hurricanes destroyed her house in 2004. She was living in a hotel when I went home from college for Christmas. It really does change you when you know what can happen. I wrote a few times on my blog that The Lawyer and I didn’t care how much other people wrote off Sandy and said preparing was just overreacting…once you go through a bad one, you don’t forget. I was also really anxious and not myself before the storm was coming.

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  • Melissa:

    Anyone who could feel that a fellow human being somehow deserves a tragedy is disgusting. My thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by Sandy as well as those who are still struggling to put their lives back together from Katrina and other natural disasters. No matter what your political persuasion, religion, gender or race, we are all human beings and deserve that which God has commanded of us, which is to love our neighbors as ourselves.

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  • What I posted at FB

    “This post is amazing. Honest and with a thoughtful perspective from someone who’s been there. Reflects some of my own feelings, as well as calls out this notion that somehow the NE imagines itself to be more resilient than most. Maybe they have more self esteem in NYC than they do in New Orleans, but that doesn’t mean the trauma won’t be there, and at least folks in NOLA have real-world experience and a grand sense of humor as well as community to get them through. All the same, I hope for the NE’s speedy recovery; from my side of the continent, reports of devastation continue.”

    https://www.facebook.com/tamarakayesellman

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  • sian:

    I lived through Katrina and evacuated to Boston. I am now living in New Orleans again. I actually planned to post at some point this week about the complex feelings I’ve had surrounded both tragedies. I lost everything I own in Katrina and now write a blog mostly about living simply. I think a lot of good came out of my Katrina experience. That said, I wouldn’t wish something like Katrina on anyone as a personal growth motivator. I’m glad I came across this post – even more to think about.

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  • Lis:

    I think the main difference between Katrina and Sandy is that New Orleans was not terribly well prepared for a mega hurricane, even though it is an area that has a reasonable expectation to get one. The levees were not in the best shape, the local (state) response was nowhere near prepared for the massive disaster and a lot of the buildings just weren’t made to withstand that kind of brutality.

    If New York received a storm that lasted as long as Katrina, perhaps it would be different. But yeah, NYC is better prepared – is some of that due to Katrina? Probably. Probably a lot. But in general, I think if Sandy had happened ten years ago, the amount of response and preparation would be fairly similar. It is just in general a place that has disaster preparations down pretty good and is ready to expect the worse at any given moment. And that said, while New York does get hit by hurricanes and storms with a not-uncommon regularity, it obviously is not in a place to get storms on a Sandy or Katrina level on a regular basis… we expect that (for right or wrong) in places further south.

    Oh and just for the record – I know plenty of people who think it is dumb anybody lives in California. :)

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    Katie Reply:

    Ha, but it’s so preeeeetty here!

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  • mr:

    Feelings are messy. I have felt all that you have written and I am in Philadelphia, having “survived” Sandy and have never been to New Orleans, yet feeling all that complexity and yes, anger.

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  • Amy:

    We evacuated from NOLA two days before Katrina, and our ‘safe haven’ was hit by Rita three weeks later. It was pretty bad, but all things considered, my family got off lucky. It’s amazing how many of these feelings Sandy has brought back, and how I vowed– silently, to myself– to act in a way towards those affected by Sandy as I had wished people would have acted towards me. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of amazing people after Katrina and Rita, but there were a choice few who were so careless with their words that it still stings a little. I simply will not do that to anyone else. I guess Katrina and Rita are still teaching me all kinds of lessons.

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Welcome!
I'm Katie, a 30-year-old, wife, mom, former teacher-turned PT, who also had brain surgery in November of 2007. This blog chronicles my daily life, from mundane to crazy, often with far too much detail. Sit down, get comfortable and stay for a while.
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