Archive for the ‘The Hurricanes’ Category
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.
7 years ago, Katrina wiped out the city my husband had just moved to, a place I would eventually come to call home for several years. A city that still holds a special place in my heart.
4 years ago, we were in Nashville because a hurricane was bearing down on New Orleans, the first legitimate one since Katrina.
1 year ago, I got a positive pregnancy test.
Today, I have a 3.5 month old baby boy who is my everything.
This day is one that holds many emotions and memories. All that was lost and all that was gained. And most of all, it is a remembrance of how grateful I am. Grateful that my husband evacuated and was safe during the storm. Grateful that we had a place to evacuate to when we needed. Grateful that we have a perfect, healthy baby.
8/29 is, and always will be, a big day for this family.
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)
Five years ago, my husband had been a resident of the city of New Orleans for 3 weeks. He had just finished building all of his furniture and had completed the first unit of classes in medical school and was preparing for his first round of exams. I remember I had a plane ticket to visit him on September 1st, but he wasn’t in New Orleans that day, and neither was I.
Five years ago, I remember that I watched helplessly, with so many other people, and saw the images, the video on the news. The cities underwater. The homes, the lives destroyed.
I remember that I cried tears for people I didn’t know, for the lives and livelihoods lost. But I was living in California, my husband got out, we didn’t lose anything. Five years ago, Katrina made landfall on the gulf coast, but it hadn’t made landfall on my life yet, at least not in the way it did on so many others.
I remember the first time I experienced New Orleans was Mardi Gras of the following year. I was only there for a whirlwind weekend, and I will admit, my first impression of her, of New Orleans, wasn’t particularly great. I hadn’t really wanted Slappy to go to school there in the first place and now I was going to leave everything I knew to live somewhere that was rebuilding after so much devastation.
In August of 2006, I moved. I got a job in New Orleans and I started work.
I fell in love with my new home. And for first time, I saw the true face of Katrina.
I saw it in the devastated homes that laid untouched a year after the storm.
I saw it in the neighborhoods that even three and four years after the storm, were empty. Were virtual ghost towns. The shells and foundations of homes remained, but there were no children. Nothing lived there anymore.
I saw it in the faces of my students. Students who terrified of the next hurricane season, of the strong rainstorms that they didn’t know were coming. Students who were unsure of everything. Whose lives had been set on foundations that still seeped flood waters.
I saw it in the work of a community that was pulling itself up the best it could. Where people volunteered to clean, where they accepted the help of outsiders who tried to sort through the damp remnants of the storm, of the tears that fell after.
I saw it in the city that regrew, that stood strong and faced a new threat, another storm 2 years ago, on the very anniversary of the last one.
I saw it in the rebirth of my city, of my home. Of a place that I never wanted to live in the first place, but now can’t remove from my heart.
Though there are two thousand long miles between my life now and my former home, I will always love that city. She holds a piece of my past, of my heart, and hopefully someday, of my future as well.
And on this 5th anniversary of the day of such sadness and destruction, of lives lost, of homes and families devastated, I remember the face of Katrina. I remember the ashes and the beauty that has risen from them. I remember a city that refused to give up hope.
A city that refused to be washed away.
A sickness if you will.
Note: if you’re tired of reading about hurricanes you’ll probably want to leave now, because I’m gonna talk about them. I won’t be offended, I just recommend not returning until around November 30th when the season is over. Like I said, it’s a sickness.
Yes, I know I shouldn’t, but I cannot stop looking at the Hurricane Ike models. I can’t help it. Everytime the computer models shift towards Florida (sorry Florida), I breathe a sigh of relief. 2 hours later I come back and NONE of them are pointing at Florida.
I realize it’s too early to worry. I realize it’s too early to panic. And low and behold, I AM PANICKING.
I am supposed to fly to California on Friday afternoon to take a stupid test for a work situation I’m in. It’s sort of important, but obviously, on the scale of hurricanes hitting my home 2 weeks in a row, it’s not that big of a deal. But the flight was 500 bucks, the test was 200 and I’m likely going to lose both if Ike swings this way. Not to mention that it’s another hurricane heading towards my home. Did I mention that yet?
I’m not really sure how to best prepare for this besides not restocking our fridge and not moving everything back into our attic. Our next door neighbor told us to stop bothering with leaves and let Ike take care of it.
I know it’s not logical to worry myself, but this is the only thing I know to do to help control my fear. Ironic, I realize, but I admittedly have a diagnosed anxiety problem, I don’t cope normally. I watch, I prepare, I come up with plausible plans and then I wait and see. I feel like if I worry, then one of two things happens. If the scary scenario plays out, I’m prepared to deal with it, and if it doesn’t, then well, no harm or foul.
I just don’t know. I know that I’m scared and that I really don’t like what I’m seeing.
Yes, it’s a sickness. But what else am I supposed to do?
So yesterday I wrote about how badly I wanted to go home, even without power. Yesterday afternoon we spent an hour at Target buying 100+ dollars of supplies for a house without electricity (and with lots of smells). Someone on Twitter had mentioned some irony about the power not going out at work and I hoped (aloud, hi, have we met?) that we would find some of the same irony.
And I was rewarded. When I called our house at 6:30 last night, the answering machine picked up. I about cried. It meant when we left Thursday night we’d be returning to a home with power. It would still be hot (we turned our a/c off) it would still be smelly (I’m told that electricity does not make shrimp smell less badly), but we would have the electricity and supplies to rectify those situations. And we could return about half of that expensive crap we’d bought at Target. Our money situation, as usual, is not fantastic. We decided to wait and do it today.
Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I called our house again right before we left to go on our Target return trip, and no answering machine. I called again thinking surely this could not be right.
12 rings and then nothing. No answering machine, no anything.
And now? The phones are down. So I don’t know if we have power BECAUSE THE PHONE WON’T EVEN RING. OMG the insanity ensuing in my brain. I realize that there are a lot of people without power (like 200,000 or more in LA) and that I should not be complaining, but to dangle the dream and then take it away? NOT COOL universe, not cool at all. Both literally and figuratively.
We are leaving tonight anyway, because I just need to be there. I can’t play the waiting game any longer. And if for no other reason than because if my Republican friend we’re staying with makes me watch one more night of the Republican National Convention, she’s going to become that girl I once knew who got me locked in jail for murdering her with her NRA licensed rifle.
I have hesitated to update until today because I was afraid if I wrote something last night about being grateful for such minor damage (as compared to the predicted possibilities) that I’d awake to find something horrific as many did after Katrina. I cannot begin to tell you how happy I am to write this today knowing that my city is not under water.
It has been an indescribably rough few days. There are a lot of people who understand the emotional roller coaster of this past weekend, and thankfully a lot more who don’t. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as profoundly helpless as I did watching the news and seeing that big swirl of wind, rain and tornadoes heading towards my home. To know that there wasn’t a single thing I could do to slow it down, stop it or otherwise make it better was intensely difficult. To be so out of control in a situation that could’ve impacted so many lives was a kind of frustration beyond any words I can find to describe it. The whole weekend I would go from blissfully distracted one moment, to teary-eyed and desolate the next. I took a 2 hour bath on Saturday night just because I couldn’t compose myself enough to talk with my friends or even go to bed.
I was afraid that if the storm passed and did not leave the destruction we’d worried about that I’d feel like an idiot for being so emotional, but I think if anything what I’ve really learned this weekend is how important home is. I was not born in New Orleans, but for now at least, it is my home. It is where I got engaged, where I got my first real full time job, it is where my friends live, it where some of my favorite memories are. And while I have family elsewhere, I would be devastated if anything happened to New Orleans regardless of how my house itself faired. It’s just so much bigger than that.
That said, as far as we know, our home is okay. We had a rather gargantuan tree in our front yard and a hammock outside our bedroom window, so we’d love to know if they’re still in their original places, but as the story of this week has been, there’s just nothing we can do about it right now. Our schools faired well and we’ll return on Monday to work and school as usual.
Our parish (which is Louisianian for county, by the way) is not letting anyone return until Thursday at the earliest, so we’re still in Nashville playing things by ear. Our home is going on about 30 hours without power, which is not a huge deal except for the stuff in my fridge/freezer which is surely melted and smelly right now. I won’t bother listing everything, but let me just say that not throwing out the shrimp and ice cream was probably a horrifically bad plan.
What has gotten me through this weekend has been you. The internet, the visitors, the messages, the comments, twitter and all things related. There is a song I heard last week about how after Katrina “grace fell down like rain” to help rebuild the city and I can’t help but think of y’all everytime that song comes into my head. You were grace in my life and I thank you for being here, for reading, for commenting, for praying and for caring. I know I would’ve survived this weekend without you, but I’m so glad I didn’t have to.
Thank you for being my grace.
I wish I could find the words to tell you how scared I am for my home right now. Every few minutes brings a new wave of panic and fear. I get distracted every once in a while by normal life, and then, as if a tidal wave in itself, the fear crashes over my life, breaches my emotional levees and floods my heart.
I wish I could find the words to describe what it feels like to watch and wait. I have 10,000 internet pages of hurricane forecasts that I stalk hourly. I have news sources and stories and reports. But I still don’t know anything. I still don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
I wish I could find the words to tell you how much that city means to me. There just aren’t adjectives to describe the way it has welcomed me and made me feel like I belong there, even though I was born 2000 miles away. The job I don’t even like has given me friends, a home base and a place to go for support. The school I spend countless hours studying for has given me an education and a future. I can’t find the words to tell you how my heart might be ripped from my chest if our city floods and those places never open again.
I wish I could find the words to tell you how scared I am for my husband. For all the hard work he has put in to his school only to face such uncertainty with just 7 months to go. For how he can handle another serious disruption of his life, his schooling, his safety. I’m scared for what it does to him and how he struggles to rally from it. For the fact that he has lost a home to an earthquake, was forced out of a new home 3 weeks after moving there by Katrina and now is sitting in Nashville, willing the news to make it stop. Wishing he could pretend it wasn’t happening at all.
I wish I could find the words to tell you how much I wonder what might happen if our city floods. Where will all those people go? Who can afford to rebuild their lives a second time? How can anyone be expected to continue to pick up the pieces again? And where will we go? Where will be live? Where will I work? How will Slappy finish school?
I wish I could find the words to tell you how much I pray that tomorrow afternoon I’ll be here telling you how my city survived. And I wish even more that I believed that was a possibility, let alone a probability.
I wish I could find the words to tell you how much I need everything to be okay.
I wish I could find the words that would save my city, my home, my future.
We are safely in Nashville, so we have a beautiful change of location in which we can freak the fuck out until Tuesday when we see what this storm does. But I feel like something needs to be said before we get any further into this. It sort of ties into the fact that yesterday marked 3 years since Katrina destroyed New Orleans, and it also ties to what the future with Gustav might hold.
No one in New Orleans is ignorant to the fact that the city lies below sea level. We know this. We understand the our elevation (or lack thereof) is one of the main reasons we have to have an elaborate levee system, one which failed 3 years ago yesterday.
We do not know what Gustav will do. Right now, he thankfully looks to be far enough west of us that we might not get the full force of the storm, but as everyone continues to point out, there’s just no way to know right now. We are getting the “dirty” side, which presents its own challenges, but Morgan City seems to be taking one for the team.
If the worst possible scenario happens, if our city is flooded again, it will not rise up. I don’t say this to be negative, but to be real with you. New Orleans can’t rebuild the way it has these past 3 years. No one will be able to afford insurance, Tulane, the 2nd biggest employer will likely have to close in addition to many other schools and businesses, likely including the Saints (the 1st biggest employer). It’s a horribly stark reality, one that rolls through my mind about once an hour.
Here’s what I want to talk about, and please pass this on if you’re so inclined. I don’t pretend to be able to speak on behalf of the whole city, but I can’t help to think that I’m probably not the only one who believe this.
If this worst case scenario happens, I have a few rules I think you need to be clued into.
1. Do NOT say “I told you so.”
We know where we live, we know the risks. If San Francisco suffered another horrendous earthquake no one would tell them that they should’ve known better. If the fault line under Dodger stadium finally lets go, not a single soul would have the audacity to get on the news and tell Los Angeles that they shouldn’t have built their city there. So why do people feel compelled to tell us this?
We don’t need your patronizing comments. We do not need to be condemned for choosing to live some place with a risk. Iowa flooded this last year and somehow no one jumped on them about living in flood plane. Please afford us the same courtesy. It’s the very least you can do.
2. Do NOT tell us that we shouldn’t have rebuilt the city post-Katrina.
A lot of people spent a lot of time telling New Orleans not to bother, telling the citizens of New Orleans to abandon. But they didn’t, and the city did rise up. If you saw it today (okay, maybe last week), most of the city is fully functional. Depending upon where you are, there are plenty of places that look normal. Where you’d probably never realize that a hurricane had ripped through it.
New Orleans needed to be rebuilt. It is unlike any place I’ve had privilege of visiting, let alone living. It has traditions, customs, and a personality that cannot possibly be replicated. It is the home, the family roots for thousands of people. What choice did they have? It’s not that simple, you can’t just tell a million people living in a metropolitan area to pick what’s left of their lives and find somewhere else to live. To move away from their roots, their memories, their homes.
3. No matter what happens, do NOT tell us that it could be worse.
I promise you that everyone in New Orleans is aware of that fact and most likely you have no idea what you’re talking about. Unless you’ve driven down the streets and have seen the spray painted X’s and the water marks on what used to be a happy community, then I promise you, you don’t know how much worse it could be.
We are scared, and by we, sometimes I mean my husband and me, sometimes I mean my coworkers and me, sometimes I mean the city of New Orleans at large. We are scared. We are watchfully waiting and praying that these rules won’t be necessary. But if you know someone from New Orleans, or even if you don’t, please keep in mind that what we need right now is not your condemnation, it’s your support and understanding.
And if you can’t offer that, then please don’t offer anything at all.
So, as the day moves on and the storm slowly stays more or less on its projected path we’ve more or less firmed up our plans. Slappy’s school is closing from tomorrow at noon (after his test) until Thursday morning in anticipation of Gustav. I am out of work at noon, so we’re going to hit the road as soon after that as we can get the cat sedated. We’ll be driving up to Nashville to impose ourselves on my friend’s life until we can come home.
I realize that there’s still a reasonable chance that this storm will be weaker or nowhere near here, but it’s not a risk we’re willing to take. And understand that I’m not trying to inflammatory with my concerns over this, but that this is a big deal. I got an email at work today telling us to unplug all our electrical devices, but to not bother moving anything to higher ground because if the levees fail again, the school won’t reopen. It’s a really stark reality and while the chances of it happening should be low, the anxiety of it is high. Our livelihood could be destroyed by this storm, and God knows we’re not alone in that. This whole city is watching with bated breath because I think we all know what might happen if Gustav at all approaches the seriousness of the aftermath of Katrina.
As tomorrow marks the 3 year anniversary of the destruction that Katrina brought, let’s spend tonight praying, thinking good thoughts and otherwise willing Gustav to stop in his tracks. That’s really all we can do at this point. Besides take copious amounts of Xanax.
I need to go pack, I’ll keep everyone apprised of the situation as it unfolds.