affected by Katrina will continue to haunt us, even as debris is removed and
reconstruction begins. These stories will remain and the effect of the damage,
displacement and loss will also affect people into the future.
The stories of the evacuees and others affected by Hurricane Katrina continue to haunt me, not only those on television and radio, but those first person stories I heard during a recent visit I made to the affected area.
One young father told me matter-of-factly of not yet knowing where most of his extended family is located. This isn’t unique, of course. But what stuck in my mind was the harrowing tale he tells about how they got separated.
As the floodwaters crept higher in New Orleans they knew they had to flee their home and decided they would “swim” to safety. By this time the waters were chest high. As they made their way, one of the fathers in the group held an infant girl above his head. She was frightened, of course, but she became terrified when they came upon rats struggling to swim to safety themselves. It was then that he feared they might not make it, he said.
This fear became heightened when he realized the family had gotten separated. Some who had started together were no longer nearby, but there was no turning back, and he, along with his wife and two daughters, found safety at a highway overpass. In time, they did find high ground at a highway overpass and were able eventually to make their way to a shelter in Meridian, Mississippi.
A young mother told me of a harrowing escape that continues to cause me to flinch when I think of it. Her family left New Orleans prior to the storm. They numbered nearly 50 people in seven cars. They moved north but discovered the roads clogged. They turned west but roads in this direction were also at a standstill
As darkness approached they were tired, the wind was driving rain in horizontal sheets and it was nearly impossible to see the roadway in the torrent. They were sure they were trapped in the hurricane on a stretch of highway unknown to them. Death seemed imminent, she said.
Traveling in the darkness, blinded by the driving rain, a tree blew between the lead car and and the next in line. The lead car continued on, the driver unaware the caravan had been split by the huge tree.
As quickly as the uprooted tree came crashing down, however, the wind lifted it up and cleared it from their path. They worked their way forward, eventually re-connecting with the lead car.
But the wind lifted the tree and the remaining cars were able to continue and those family members in the lead car never knew the danger that had nearly trapped the rest of the family.
As they drove into the outskirts of Meridian, Mississippi they flagged down a vehicle to get information. Miraculously, even in these conditions, the woman driver stopped and told them to follow her, she would lead them to a safe place.
She led them to Central Avenue United Methodist Church which had set up a shelter for hurricane evacuees. As the young mother told this story she smiled and said they feel safe here.
“Now, this is home,” she said, sitting on a cot in a large auditorium in the church’s educational building.