Moving to New Orleans in July of 2005 was going to be the biggest adventure yet for me and my new husband. We had just settled into our new house on Palmer Street, only blocks from where my husband would be attending law school at Tulane, and I had just found employment at a salon on Magazine Street. We spent most of July shopping for furniture and little pieces to make our new house a home. After weeks of hard work settling into our new home, we were ready for a little relaxation that weekend. We headed out for a late night, and the weather was one of the last things on our mind.
So when my dad called me that next morning (the Saturday before the storm) to ensure that we were in fact leaving town, I had no idea what was to come. With very little urgency or worry, we packed 3 days worth of clothes and food for our beagles and set out on our way for Houston. When it came to prepping the house, we knew nothing. We grew up in Colorado where water is scarce and floods unheard of. I thought we would maybe get some rain through the roof so we stood most of our furniture up on its end! HA! I also tried to store things on the floor and under tables where I thought they’d be safe. sigh. That was NOT the right way to prep for a hurricane.
We headed for my uncle’s house in Houston. Once we arrived, I threw on my bikini and settled nicely into his pool, not thinking twice about the storm. In my mind, we would simply hang out for a few days until the power was back on and then head back rested and ready for work and school. I had no idea what was about to happen. After seeing the devastation and hearing that we would not be back in the city for months, I was in shock. I really couldn’t fathom the magnitude of what was happening. Tulane informed us that the semester was canceled and gave us a list of options. Now we were truly homeless. No money, no belongings and really just very naïve.
My husband made arrangements to attend a semester at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, so days later, that’s where we headed. Three days of clothes on our backs and a small UHaul carrying some secondhand furniture and donations from the generous community in Houston was all we had. All those wedding gifts, as well as the new furniture and little bits of decor we’d just purchased to make our home ours, were gone. They hadn’t even been used yet. It was devastating, but it was just stuff. We were lucky. Really lucky.
Our house took on several feet of water. We lost almost everything and didn’t even have our flood insurance yet (we were new to town, stuck with a one month waiting period and then unable to secure a policy with a storm in the Gulf). But we were ok. I’ve yet to rebuild all the things that we lost. Our wedding registry sits as though it was not ever purchased, and I’m ok with that. It showed me how little you really need all those things. My heart went out the the people of New Orleans. They lost their memories, the lives of loved ones, their childhood home, their school, their city. I had yet to bond with anything from the city and none of my family was here. It was just us and ALL that we lost was stuff.
Being a part of the “New-New Orleans” has been amazing to me. I don’t know what the city was before, but I’ve been here since the days of the MP and curfews. We were at Cooters and Madigan’s when the menu was nothing more than a hot dog and chicken fingers. I’ve seen all of it come back. We left briefly for NYC, but the draw of this great city wouldn’t let us go, and it wasn’t long before we were back.
I’ll never forget the first night we came down the Causeway after Katrina and landed late at night at our friend’s house on St. Charles where they were high and dry. It was already October, and the streets were eerie and dark. Stop signs were in the middle of the road and Humvees were all around. I’ll never forget the refrigerators and debris in the street, seeing our home completely destroyed, and even finding my belongings a block away from the house. Living through the cleanup and seeing the homes being rebuilt was inspiring and devastating all at once. Each piece sitting ruined in the street was someone’s memory. All those piles of debris were years of memories lost to the storm.
I have a great respect for the perseverance and dedication that the people of New Orleans possess. An entire city is being rebuilt. Everyone here has dedicated so much time and energy into the rebuilding effort, and they, we, are fiercely (and rightfully) proud of what we are creating. There aren’t any other cities in America who can say that their city was built the way New Orleans was.