It was on this day, 17 years ago, that my beloved New Orleans was torn apart and drowned. More than 1,800 people lost their lives. I was living in Fort Lauderdale then and gazed in horror watching televised reports of the devastation filmed just blocks away from where I had lived.
It wasn’t just New Orleans. St. Bernard Parish, which abuts NOLA to the east and southeast, and where I lived on my shanty boat for almost 3 years, was completely destroyed when the levees there gave up the ghost and a tidal wave from Lake Bourne engulfed the Parish. Depending on which report you choose to believe. less than a half dozen buildings were left undamaged there.
The area of death and destruction is hard to comprehend. If you got in your car and drove along I-10 at 70 mph you wouldn’t be in the clear after driving 4 hours in either direction from the Big Easy.
Katrina made landfall in Florida between Hallandale to the north of Miami and Aventura to the south of the city. It passed over Fort Lauderdale on its way to Louisiana. A dozen people died in south Florida including three in Broward Country where I lived who were killed by falling trees. She left a mess. North and south along the turnpike it was a landscape of blue roofs…hundreds of houses covered with polytarps from Home Depot, Walmart, and Lowe’s because the storm had blown away the shingles.
My roommate and I faired well. We’d bought a generator a few days before and were able to keep the food in our refrigerator cold. We charged our neighbor’s cell phones. We wouldn’t go hungry. Growing up in the hurricane-prone areas of Cape Cod, Louisiana and Florida, at the start of every hurricane season when I’d do my grocery shopping I’d always pick up a little extra. Instead of two cans of tuna I’d buy three and put one aside for when stores would be closed. I also learned to fill the bathtub with water. Not for drinking, but because when the water was shut off because of a storm it you didn’t have all that water you only got to flush the toilet ONCE!
One thing that has always angered me is when I hear someone say that the 26,000 or so people who sought shelter in the Superdome were fools for not evacuating. Most of those people were poor. The majority of them didn’t even own a car with which to flee the oncoming storm. And where would they have gone, anyway? I ran a large yacht in New Orleans for several years. The wealthy owners packed their Lincolns and Mercedes and fled inland. But you know what? They had NOTHING to come back to. Their houses out near Lake Pontchartrain were sitting in water up to the eaves. Were they really better off?
I haven’t been back to the Big Sleazy since the storm. Parts of the city and surrounding areas have not been rebuilt and I recently read that many are STILL living in the FEMA trailers that were trucked in so people would have a place to live while rebuilding. It would break my heart to see that.