I remember standing in my bedroom watching the TV in tears. I turned it off, sat down, and grieved… for the city I knew, for the deserted ones, for my own daughter. On Sunday, August 28, 2005, Hurrican Katrina reached Category 5 and barrelled down on the coast of Louisiana and Mississippi. We were a safe 120 miles from the storm.
One thing I have learned from experiences with hurricanes all my life is that the stronger the hurricane, the more it sucks into itself, thus leaving outlying areas in a strange calm with virtually clear skies. And yet, the horror was showing up on my TV screen.
My daughter was packed and ready to return for her junior year at Loyola University in uptown New Orleans. The schools closed. Every thing closed. The city was completely shut down.
Maggie wasn’t going to let this disaster ruin her college plans. She got online and watched the Jesuit schools all over the U.S. open their doors to Katrina victims. We had a talk with her. She said, “I have my choice of schools. I want to go to New york City.” By Tuesday, Sept. 6th, Maggie had chosen Fordham in the Bronx of New York City.
I insisted on going with her. All flights from Houston and Baton Rouge cost close to $1000. (Total price scalping, if you ask me.) We decided to travel to Jackson, MS. where my parents live to get a cheaper flight. We drove to Jackson on Wednesdy and flew out on Thursday.
Students at Fordham were asked to open their doors to these victims. Maggie was welcomed by a wonderful group of girls who took her in and are her close friends even now. This experience changed her life, widened her experience, and tested her adventurous spirit.
Leaving my oldest child in New York City was hard. At the same time, I was grieving for the loss of a favorite city and a treasured coast line. I cried all the way home. There are many tragic stories of Katrina. This is not one of them. Maggie’s experience in NYC was great. We call it her semester abroad.
All three of my children love New Orleans. Two of my girls live there, and the third will be moving there soon. It’s a special place.
Recently, I visited my middle daughter, Katherine, in NOLA. She took me to an outdoor display in her neighborhood of Gentilly near the London Avenue Canal levee breach. The panels told the story of the devastation of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. What saddened me most was that all of the flooding that occurred, destroying homes and taking lives, was caused by human error. For years the Army Corps of Engineers maintained the levees below standards. The levee could not handle the weight of the water. The water did not flow over the levee, it flowed through a subwall that gave away.
So much of the aftermath of Katrina could have been avoided. This disaster exposed a tragic weakness in levee structure and government infastructure and the blind neglect of people living in poverty. The city is reviving. Young people want to be there. The culture of arts and music is alive and growing. You can walk down the street and feel the energy. Keep New Orleans in your heart. Once it gets in there, you will never be the same.