The city smells like it is burning. It acts like an unwanted reminder to this date in New Orleans. There is haze and fog today, not unlike the weeks and months after Hurricane Katrina. There was this sort of (for lack of a better term) stank in the air for almost two years after Katrina in New Orleans. Everyone had a cough from it.
It was strange coming back to the city after the storm. I had actually moved just a few weeks before the storm. My husband stayed behind to sell the house. I remember not paying much attention to the storm growing in the Gulf.
I asked my congregation to pray for New Orleans, but I thought it would be fine. I really did not know or understand the scale of the impending hurricane blowing toward New Orleans. The news I heard after made it seem okay. Sure, things were a mess, but often after a big storm in New Orleans, things were a mess and you started to clean up until the lights came back on. Then I heard the former Mayor speak about the levees breaking and that the city was filling with water.
Now, frankly, I thought that was just crazy talk. I looked on the internet at pictures from my former neighborhood, but I still did not want to accept what I saw. I thought that my little house off Claiborne Avenue was fine. Sure, the picture I was looking at was from my front lawn looking out, and there was water filling the whole picture, but it surely was not in my house.
It would not be until I watched Harry Connick, Jr. riding in a boat around my old neighborhood, checking on his parents’ house, that the truth started to sink in. My house was flooded. Financially, my husband and I could be ruined. Still, I would not believe until I looked at a video shot by some friends who sneaked into the city. Indeed our house had had four feet of water in it (the house was about three feet off the ground).
I felt so powerless. What would we do? In November, I flew back to New Orleans to see for myself. My mother drove me to my old house. By this time, my husband and I were able to sell it, but I could still walk in to see for myself. The floorboard had buckled, mold covered the walls, and the items that we left behind were covered in filth. The one piece of unbroken back fence was covered with graffiti that stated “Dog Food back here” with an arrow to our backyard (to the idiot who wrote that, we did not have a dog, and thanks for damaging the one unbroken piece of back fence). When I saw that, I broke down in tears.
“I want to show you something else,” my mother said. She drove me to Christ Church Cathedral on St. Charles Avenue. The church’s front lawn looked like a garage sale. People milled about, picking the items they needed or leaving items for others. All was free. I cried again.
Looking back on the storm, I am amazed at how far the city has come, and how far I have come. I often wonder “what if,” but I realize that you cannot live in the hypothetical. I think about the lessons of Hurricane Katrina, lessons, not for the city or the nation or the world, but for me.
Certainly there were lessons. I can tell you what type of insurance to buy and which to avoid. I can tell you what type of bleach to use to remediate mold (outside bleach- there is a difference). I can also tell you that someone else is going through something much worse than you. And I can also tell you that in the very midst of a disaster, hope still shines through.
Hope does shine through. Help is on its way. Bit by bit, the wreckage is cleared, and you start rebuilding. Slowly, painfully, something new emerges- not what it was, not better, not worse. Eventually, healing happens. You find yourself looking back, remembering what was, and you look forward to what is new.