The Unexpected Gift Katrina Gave Me

In August 2005 I was an 18-year-old college sophomore who had just decided to move back to New Orleans. A few days before the storm I evacuated with friends and family, as we had done so many times before. I remember watching the news and weather reports as the hurricane made landfall. Some destruction, but overall, not too bad from what I remember… until the levees broke. As Gentilly residents, when that happened, we knew we were doomed.

The following days and weeks were heavy. We learned we had lost it all. Gone were cars, homes, possessions and memories in a matter of moments.

What to do next?

Displaced for an unknown amount of time, I had to figure out what to do about school. I was in the middle of transferring universities before the storm and this added a paperwork nightmare. I decided the easiest option was to go back to the school I was transferring from. The admissions office confirmed I could return, I just needed to get back to Florida. Great news. But there was a major obstacle – I didn’t have anywhere to live. I had given up my campus housing spot and they were working to secure options for displaced students, but nothing was in place yet.

Ugh. I literally had nowhere to go, no actual home and no college home. 15 years ago, it wasn’t as easy to handle everything remotely. I was young, inexperienced with decision making and overwhelmed. My mom and every other adult in my life were as supportive as possible, but they were figuring out their own next steps. They were battling insurance companies, securing temporary housing, and grieving a life that was no longer.

The Call

I remember the day I got a call from an administrator at Florida State. She said that some students reached out about wanting to help and were willing to house a displaced student, and she thought of me.

Wow. I was in Texas at the time and I needed to make a decision pretty quickly. She told me their names and gave me their contact information.

I did what limited stalking I could do in 2005 and scoured their Facebook pages. They seemed normal… I guess, and they were offering exactly what I needed.

I hesitated. I called. I agreed.

What had I gotten myself into?

rear view mirror

My mom made the drive from Texas to Florida with me to drop me off. I remember every detail of them opening the door to greet me. What they were doing, who was there, what they said, etc. It was basically a roommate blind date.

I didn’t plan on staying long. Just long enough to figure things out. But “not long” turned into months living rent free in their living room. It sounds crazy to think of now, but it worked. Over time we laughed together, partied together, and grew up together. They were older than me and took me everywhere with them, like the little sister you’re stuck with, but actually kind of like. They shared their home. Their friends. Their lives.We built organic friendships that I don’t think any of us expected.

While my loved ones back in New Orleans were focused on rebuilding, I was blissfully back to living a typical college life. It was the distraction I didn’t know I needed and they were the support and stability I didn’t have.

There were four people in the apartment that welcomed me in, and I’ll forever be thankful for each of them. Two of them I grew exceptionally close to and cherish our friendships to this day. Together we have celebrated, traveled, cried and matured. Since 2005 we have been through graduations, business ventures, weddings and babies.

Angels on Earth

We were strangers who grew to be true friends.

Hard times are just that… hard. But they have a unique way of connecting you to who you need. Thank you to the strangers who opened their home and their hearts and changed my life. You are truly the unexpected gifts that Katrina gave me.

group of friends at graduation


Danielle Blanco
Danielle is a native New Orleanian. She graduated from Ben Franklin and attended the University of New Orleans' undergraduate and graduate schools. She and her husband Abraham married in 2017 and welcomed their son Blaise in 2019 and son Beckham in 2021. She balances motherhood with working full time as the Director of People and Culture in the local healthcare and education industries. She is learning to embrace the chaos of life as a Mom. Danielle’s current struggle is navigating preschool options for her oldest and managing the endless appetite of her youngest. This type-A mama can usually be found on the go with a to-do list and a plan. She enjoys trying new things, thrifting, and is always in the middle of glittering or a DIY project. Additionally, she never turns down a happy hour or beach vacation. She is excited to experience New Orleans as a mom and is truly proud to call it home.


  1. Life comes at you fast! But support and kindness from others makes it so much more bearable! God knew that I needed your friendship in my life and I’ll always be grateful for that huge bit of sunshine after that crazy storm. I love you more than you know! Thanks for sharing this!!


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