It’s No Longer an Evacuation Vacation

“Oh, I’m sure we will just evacuate for a few days for nothing.”

This was the gist of what family and friends were saying the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. See, before Katrina, hurricane evacuations were sometimes dubbed “evacuation vacations.” I remember as a child my parents would be scurrying around locating valuables, boarding up windows, and making sure our house was secure before leaving town. Then we would be in traffic for what seemed like days and make it to a hotel hours away to just quickly turn around to come back home to a house that was still intact. As a child, I would just be excited to have a few days off of school. Well, Hurricane Katrina changed all of that.

For the spring semester of 2005, I was an intern at the Happiest Place on Earth, also known as Walt Disney World. I came back during the summer and, starting in August, I would be finishing up my last year of college. My first week back at UNO was spent buying books in the bookstore, getting my park pass and, oh yeah, worrying about a possible hurricane threat named Katrina.

The Night Before

The Friday night before Katrina, my family and I were out to dinner eating seafood and across the televisions flashed warnings about the hurricane. The whole restaurant became silent and that was my “oh my gosh” moment when I saw that cone on the screen. When I got back to my apartment, I started to pack and freak out a bit. I remember then thinking numerous “what if” questions and began to worry. The next day, I ran to Target to get a few items before we evacuated. Obviously, it was empty of most the essentials, but I purchased what I could and we began our “evacuation vacation” to Natchez, MS.

Katrina 1To conserve on gas and to limit the amount of cars on the road, my parents, boyfriend (now husband) and I piled into my mom’s van and began the journey to Natchez. We sat and sat and SAT on the interstate for hours to get there. Normally, it would only take 3 hours but it took over 10! It was crazy, but thankfully we arrived safe and sound to our hotel. Little did I know that this Ramada Inn on a hill would be our home for months to come.

Waiting in Natchez

I remember sitting and waiting for the hurricane to hit. Everyone around us was nervous and doing the same thing. While Katrina was destroying our beloved NOLA, we also lost power in Natchez. All the evacuees had our hotel rooms open to have some air flow during the crazy wind and rain we were experiencing. There was a fear among us of not knowing what was happening at home. Once we regained power hours later, we were able to hear some news about what is going on in our city. As the hours went by, the news stations began to report more and more devastation. We felt hopeless. We were told not to come home yet, so what were we left to do? Worry. That was about all we could do.

Thankfully, once we heard the news about our area, we found out that we had very minimal damage done to the properties in my family. If the levee would have broke on the other side, it would be another story. I can’t begin to think of how lucky and fortunate we were and, in a way, I felt guilty that we were spared while others were not. I knew many people who weren’t as lucky.

Generosity of Strangers

The generosity from strangers was abundant. We had people offering to buy my family meals, and a family even opened up their home to us. While I admit that I was a bit nervous to spend weeks in a house with people I just met, I couldn’t get over the generosity of strangers.

Katrina 2I’m fortunate that my biggest problem from Hurricane Katrina was that I had to take my fall semester online. While taking 18 hours online wasn’t easy, I was happy that my university had this option for me to continue my education. After finally returning to NOLA after months in Natchez, I spent most of my time at the PJ’s Coffee Shop on Jefferson Highway. I’m lucky that this was my biggest problem and inconvenience from Katrina.

While it has been a process of rebuilding the NEW New Orleans, there is no other place I would rather be. The city has bounced back and is now better than ever. I’m lucky to be able to raise my children in this incredible city we call the Big Easy. Nothing can keep us from swimming home.

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Mary is a caffeine addicted boy mom to Noah, Liam and Luke. This “stay at home” mom can typically been found cruising in her minivan, jamming to Beyonce with a Starbucks in hand on her way to carpool or after school activities. Mary has been married to her high school sweetheart since 2007. She is a founder of Delivering Hope NOLA and the Vanessa Wolff Scholarship Fund at her Alma Mater. Mary is passionate in the local preemie community and has been heavily involved with the March of Dimes since her sons Liam and Luke were born premature.

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