Hurricane Katrina: Our Lives Five Years Later

August 28, 2010

Judge Perez Drive 2 months after KatrinaLittle Elm, TX (DFW Catholic) - Storms come and go.  Some storms, like Katrina, have lasting and life-changing effects.  During such storms, a flood of emotions coincides with the storm’s raging flood waters.  How we respond during, but especially after such storms often means the difference in our lives and the lives of many others as well.  Five years after Katrina, I remind myself that the same is true about the stoms of life.

The following article has become my annual contemplation piece about both types of storms, slightly edited each year:

On August 28, 2005 at about 4 AM, my wife, our then 9 month old son, and I evacuated from our house in Arabi, Louisiana.  Arabi is a small community in St. Bernard Parish which rests near the Mississippi River.  You may not have heard of St. Bernard, but you may be more familiar with our neighbors immediately to the west; the “Lower 9th Ward” of New Orleans. 

Escaping the path of Hurricane Katrina, we took our dog, a few changes of clothes, and some personal belongings that we could fit in the car.  Living in an area which is 13 feet below sea level, it was not the first time that we had “run the drill” so to speak.  In fact, it wasn’t even the first time that we had evacuated that year.  Somehow, however, and I can’t quite explain it, this time just felt a little different.  Still, as we drove away, we did not realize that it would be the last time we would call that place “home”. 

We tried not to think about what could be in store for Louisiana and other areas in the Gulf region, so when we weren’t praying, we tried to keep the conversation light.  We had gone to the Vigil Mass the evening before, and we joked about the choice of the closing Hymn, “Rain Down”. 

For much of the next week, from a Houston hotel room, we watched the events which followed in the aftermath of Katrina.  It was really hard to watch.  There were pictures of places that were familiar to us our whole lives, now completely submerged by several feet of water.  There were pictures of rescues, some too late.  There were images and sounds of complete and utter chaos.  There were scenes of people living in subhuman conditions, and while many organizations and agencies were able to get in, it seemed no one was able to get out.   

Some St. Bernard officials remained throughout the storm and were posting updates on the internet.  Their reports were even worse than what we were watching on television, and they gave a pretty dim prognosis for the recovery of the area.   

I have 3 older children who, at the time, lived just a few miles from us.  It was becoming obvious that wherever we all “ended up”, it was highly likely that we would be seperated by a considerable distance for a long time, perhaps permanently.

With all of these things and more in mind, we discussed our options and prayed for guidance.  After a couple of days, we decided that we would not return, and that we would head to “Dallas” as we previously referred to this area.  My Godfather and his family have lived here for several years, and we had just visited the area the year before.  Ironically, I remember that at the time we thought it might be a nice place to live…”some day”.  That hypothetical “some day” was now upon us, and while we were uncertain about a great number of things such as housing, employment, and little things like that, we were definitely at peace and comfortable with our decision.  We decided to let my parents know of our plans.  My parents, as well as most of my family, also lived in St. Bernard and had evacuated to Memphis.  As I placed the call, I was a little concerned about how my mom might respond to us moving so far away.  When she answered the cell phone, my mom said, “Hold on.  Your dad is on the phone with Paren.  I think he’s talking about moving to Dallas.” 

On a temporary basis, we all rented a house in The Colony.  All of us, my mom, dad, wife, infant son, the dog, and I quartered in the same house.  As you can imagine, that in itself presented its own challenges and situations.  Although we had made the move, “at peace” with the decision, the tensions and pressures of various sorts began to mount.  It was around that time that I read these words from St. John Chrysostom.   

The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly upon a rock.  Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock.  Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus.  What are we to fear?  We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it.  Though the waves and the sea and the anger of princes are roused against me, they are less to me than a spider’s web.  For I always say “Lord, your will be done”; not what this fellow or that would have me do, but what you want me to do. That is my strong tower, my immovable rock, my staff that never gives way. If God wants something, let it be done!  If he wants me to stay here, I am grateful.  But wherever he wants me to be, I am no less grateful. 

The following weekend, we found our way to St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Frisco.  A month later, we purchased a house in the area, became involved in our new Church parish, and have seen how God has shaped our lives in ways that we did not expect and could only have happened here and now. 

At the top of that list are some of the most wonderful friends who provide the greatest support network I have ever had.  “Grateful”?  Indeed!


Note:  The pictures of the storm’s aftermath are all from St. Bernard Parish.

To my friends pictured; sorry, I know you’ll understand.  To my friends not pictured; sorry, I could never fit all of you here.



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