Hurricane Katrina devastates New Orleans

By Kristen Catalanotto
September 9, 2005


I was home just three weeks ago, enjoying the unique city that is New Orleans, the city that I call home. You always see disaster stricken areas on CNN and on the cover of USAToday, but I am finding it hard to believe that the streets of my city are now being shown on every channel and on the cover of every newspaper. I was born and raised in the city and it is the place I want to return to after college.

Many seem to be shocked by the events that have occurred in the past week and a half, but for those who have grown up in and around the city of New Orleans, it is exactly what we have feared. In New Orleans, you grow up looking up at the boats passing by on the Mississippi River, always knowing that the river could one day be in your backyard.

Every year at the beginning of hurricane season every local news station broadcasts a hurricane special, so it’s no secret to New Orleanians that it was not matter of “if” a devastating storm would hit, but only a matter of when.

One of my first memories is sitting in front of the TV waiting for the electricity to go out during a hurricane. I remember the whistle of the winds from Hurricane Andrew and Georges, but nothing could compare to the devastation that Katrina brought ashore.

The streets that I learned to walk on are now covered with as much as 20 feet of water, and my house is patiently waiting to be drained from the floodwaters. The coffeehouse that I have worked at for four years is also submerged.

I have asked myself several times, “How do you go home, when there is nothing to go home to?” I haven’t figured out that answer yet. I’m guessing it may come with time. My entire family lost everything. The photos are what hurt the most to lose. We can replace the material things, but it’s hard to imagine not being able to pull out the old photo albums and to laugh at the VHS tapes of me and my cousins running around in diapers.

I have been able to get in con-tact with many of my friends, one a Cabrini graduate. Ashlee Lensymyer, who graduated this May with a degree in English and communication, evacuated to McComb, Miss., before the storm hit. “I feel lost and confused. I left my home thinking I would be gone for two days and now I have no idea when I will even see it again. I want to cry, but at the same time I want to yell and scream,” Ashlee told me. The Lensymyer family was forced to leave McComb after the storm tore some of the roof off of the house they were in and rained poured into the home.

I think home is the key word. These are not just “houses” being affected, it’s “homes”! It’s their lives. It seems that as children we are always trying to get away from the place we grew up: the places, the walls and the people that we memorized. Once out, we realize that it’s the little things that matter. Sitting at the long red light, the sight of a southern sun-set, the humid days that seem to burn right through your skin, and the smell of the place you call home. “Everything I know of home is gone,” Ashlee said. It’s a painful yet true reality for those from the Gulf Coast.

I think my biggest fear is that home will never be the same. I use to love the reaction I would get when I told people I was from New Orleans. I still take pride in saying where I am from, but I now hate the look of sorrow that appears on people’s faces.

I know that I will never know the true fate of some of my elder-ly customers at the coffeehouse. I know deep down inside that many did not get out, and that they were perhaps some of the over one hundred bodies that were found three blocks from my home. Mr. Billy Joe, who was the kindest older man you could ever hope to meet and who gave me money every time I went back to school, is missing. What keeps me going is the possibility that he got out, or at least he died in peace with dignity.

It seems that we get bad news every time the phone rings, but what is really sad is that I find comfort in knowing that almost everyone from the city of New Orleans is in the same situation. That fact shouldn’t give me com-fort, but it tells me that we all need to stick together,

Some say that New Orleans isn’t worth rebuilding, but how can they say that when millions call it home. At times, it might be a dysfunctional home, but dysfunctional is better than nothing at all. New Orleans is one of the most unique places in the world to visit. The smell of pralines, boiled crawfish, and the sound of jazz bands can be heard on every street in the French Quarter.

We will move on, and we will rebuild. The people of the Gulf Coast need your support. It’s important that the help does not fade with the headlines, but that it is continuous until we are finished re-building. Disasters destroy many dreams, but I have also learned that they teach you to dream bigger.

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Kristen Catalanotto

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