My Last Normal Day in New Orleans

Hurricane Katrina? Throw a BBQ—at least we won't lose the meat in the freezer

Everything changed the next morning at 6:15 when my sister called me from Birmingham, almost hysterical, begging me to get out. She told me the wind speeds were now at 175 miles per hour and the track showed a direct hit on the city. We spent Sunday scrambling to secure the house and the yard, removed the pumps from the garden ponds, bringing in tools from the shed, and unplugging every appliance. We packed our cars with a week's worth of clothes, the computers, the animals, a few pieces of art that were of great sentimental value, and the hurricane kit—including all that meat from the freezer. There would be no hurricane barbeque.

At 3:15 p.m. on Sunday, 45 minutes before the interstates closed, we headed to Baton Rouge where we had gotten a place to stay. We drove away from our home as emotionally prepared as one can be to return and find it gone. We never thought it would be there and our city, or at least its life as we'd known it and grown up in it, washed away.

We returned to the city on Labor Day to find that we were among the fortunate ones. The water stopped two blocks from our home, and our roof held. We drove through an empty city the whole city was empty, every neighborhood empty, no people, a few stray animals. The entire population was gone no one was here. The French Quarter was empty save for the 82nd Airborne and reporters drinking at Johnny White's a bar that stayed open throughout the hurricane. We drove through the Quarter because it was the only way to get to my parents' house in the Faubourg St. John neighborhood, near the Fairgrounds; the Quarter and parts of Uptown, were the only dry areas. Every other neighborhood was inundated with water seven days after the storm hit. It would be this way until the third week of September. We ended up walking two miles from the edge of the Quarter in water that varied from a foot to a foot and half deep—the city's elevation changes block by block. Still rescuing people off of rooftops, helicopters hovered over us thinking we needed help. My parents' home was surrounded by water, but because it sits on the Esplanade Ridge one of the highest points in the city—and because like mine it is raised, there was no water inside.

Just trying to get home again
Just trying to get home again

We returned to the city for good on 9-11, and lived without power and with water that was safe only for bathing for more than three weeks. We didn't care; all that mattered was that we were home.

Some aspects of life here have returned to the normalcy unique to New Orleans. Many have not. Much has been lost to the floodwaters: lives, homes, local mom-and-pop restaurants and small businesses, our musical and cultural traditions, the tangibles and intangibles that make up the New Orleans way of life. Katrina took the same thing from everyone in our country namely the belief that our government will and can take care of its people when they are most in need.

But we're New Orleans. We'll keep going, even if we have to keep going on our own. It's our way. We'll find it.

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