KATRINA MEMORIAL ELECTRONIC JOURNAL
 
 
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HURRICANE KATRINA 5 YEARS LATER:
REFLECTIONS FROM THE XAVIER FAMILY
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Submit Your StoryAugust 29, 2005, is etched into New Orleans history. Cataclysmic flooding from failed levees in the hours following Hurricane Katrina left hundreds of thousands of residents homeless, displaced, and despondent. Like most of the city, Xavier University suffered a devastating blow when every building—except the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament convent—was inundated with toxic flood waters.

From the mud and destruction arose an esprit de corps never before experienced in this historic city. Great leaders emerged. Resiliency took hold. With St. Katharine as our spiritual guide and under indomitable leadership, the university reopened its doors in January 2006. “That we were able to come back in such a short period of time is a credit to the faith, commitment and passion of our staff and faculty, who put aside their personal losses and problems to make this miracle happen,” Xavier President Norman C. Francis said in praise of the Xavier family.

To commemorate the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Xavier has established an electronic journal to chronicle the experiences and reflections of our community members—present and past. Selected submissions will be displayed beginning Aug. 20 and archived in this special memorial. Please, follow the prompts on this page and submit your reflections and photographs to the Katrina Memorial Electronic Journal. Be part of history—again.

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Linda Rodriguez

Looking back, what moment stands out from the time of the evacuation through the days of the early recovery? .....

Structure
Deadly quiet. I couldn't speak; I couldn't hear; I couldn't react. Images and smells of death permeated every fiber of my being as we slowly -and silently- weaved our way through downed trees, gray soot-covered vehicles, and someone's belongings. There used to be a house there. Nothing made sense. Everything was strewn so carelessly about, but with a permanency to it, as if it had been rotting and rusting for an eternity. Stagnant mute chaos.

With only 1-1/2 blocks to go, we could get no closer. Still without a word, we stepped mechanically out of the borrowed car, instinctively moving to clasp hands, desperately seeking some knowledge of life to ward off the encroaching heavy air that threatened to smother us.

"You ready?" I'd never heard Ned speak so softly, but I heard so distinctly his words.

All I could muster was a pathetic "yea," and even it sounded garbled to my own ears.

Never moving more than inches apart, we climbed and crawled over tree trunks that had never looked so big standing.

"Good Lord."

I looked up, following his gaze. The Pathfinder wasn't where we had left it only a week earlier, but now sat 30 feet away, on top of the truck, made part of this new world's scenery by the covering of a pasty gray film over it and everything in sight. Emotionless, I stood in awe.

Almost at the same moment, we fixed our stare on the huge, orange, spray-painted "X." Though that "X" and the numbers that filled each quadrant would come to both haunt and soothe us, we could not even conceive of the emotions our minds were protecting us from at that moment.

"It's standing. Our house is standing. Baby, baby, baby -we're home."  I could feel more than hear the relief in his voice. We were going to be okay. Our home was standing. For the first time since the madness started a week earlier, fear, grief, and overwhelming helplessness were overtaken by hope. We were going to be okay.

There was something about that structure that sustained us. We lost nearly every material item we owned, but we seemed to not even know it. From the moment we realized that our home stood strong; the home that we had worked on, together, for the last two years, putting the very last finishing touches on only weeks before the storm; the home in which one, or more likely both of us never let a day go by without saying "I love our home" - from that moment, something changed.

We began to notice how the now wrinkled sheetrock made shadows and highlights on the walls. Footprints we had unknowingly left in the murky brown sludge covering our once white-tiled hallway served as an epiphany of all we had retained. The shimmering subtlety of colors reflected in the oil-water swirls brought beauty to the dead fish on our bedroom floor. Gallons of paints that burst in the pounding of the flood waters created such glorious art that we could laugh when, trying to retrieve what I hoped to be a salvageable item, I lunged my hand into a pile of maggots, feeding on the chicken that had been dispersed by the overturned freezer.

We would have moments of despair long into the years that followed, but we learned to overcome those moments by grasping firmly ahold of that structure, for which our home only stood as metaphor. I still can't define the actual structure of which I speak, but I know that it is the core that binds me with my husband, my family, and my friends. Those flood waters could take away the stuff, most of which I've forgotten existed -but it could not wash away the foundation, so firmly rooted in place, that would allow us to keep standing.

On this 5th anniversary, like the last 4, I will not look back at the devastation and destruction that has already begun to claim the airwaves. I will do my best to avoid the the images of the dead that still creep into my head.  And I will not "celebrate" the anniversary of a storm that took so much. What I will do is look straight forward and revel in the peace of that structure that allows me to do so.

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Kendra W. Tircuit

How did Katrina affect your life? .....

An Original Untitled Poem
by Kendra Tircuit

Yesterday, I heard someone boldly proclaim,
"I'm over Katrina!"

and I exclaimed,

"Good 4 u!"

But, deep in my heart knew

I'm not.

I am not over Katrina...
at least not today...

4 everything has changed.

I have lost more than material things.
I've lost my sense of security.
I've lost my good neighbors, co-workers and friends.

My family has moved far away.

I've lost my bright-eyed optimistic view on life..

@ least today.

I've lost so much I can not say
or count.
Gotta pull that trusty calculator out!

One thing I have gained
& that is...

Total Dependence on Christ!

4 He kept me, never left me, won't forget me!

And, so, I guess I've come out on top.

But, sometimes I sit and just remember...

Remember when I ignored the flood warnings flashing while I watched my favorite TV show.

Remember when I didn't care that New Orleans is below sea level and sits in a bowl.

Remember when I ran & tumbled down the levees as a child laughing with glee.

Remember when the East used to be the sshhh! Child Please!

And, now, I can only remember and reflect and recall those good ol' days...my naivete.

Ignorance Is bliss!

But,

One thing I know 4 sure...

God IS in Control
&
He Loves Me.

HE has made me whole!

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Rita Dyson

What do you want people today and in the future to read and understand about Hurricane Katrina?

Katrina did not discriminate. It didn't matter if you were young, old, rich or poor. If something was in its path, it would be destroyed.

This was a time when the city was at its best and its worst.

After someone watches their home get demolished, they soon become panicked and angry. Violence became the special of the day. It was not uncommon to see people looting or fighting. Some did it for survival and some did it for reasons unknown. New Orleans was in a chaotic state.

However, it was also the time when the city was its strongest. Total strangers were helping each other. You had to be there to witness the random acts of kindness that were performed daily. We were a city fighting to survive, but in order to do that we had to depend on the help of others. We were united with one common thread: our great city.

I would like people to understand that the people of New Orleans will always survive.

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Rene Lunkins Magee - New Orleans, LA

Looking back, what moment stands out from the time of the evacuation through the days of the early recovery? .....

It was August 29; I was sleeping through the hard rain. We didn't know Katrina was coming through at the time. It was me, my son Charvarn, and my daughter-in-law Leatreonne.

Leatreonne was six months pregnant at the time.

The wind started blowing at first hard, so hard that it blew the power breaker out. I opened the door; the water was over the tires of the truck. I laid back down in the bed and didn't pay the storm any mind. Early in the morning we heard something go boom! The levees had blown. The vibrations from the blow shook our home. I woke my son up, and I opened the back door and the water started coming fast. We tried to sweep the water out, but it just kept coming in the house. I shut the door but the water kept coming in through the sinks, toilets, and through the bath tub.

We started to pour the water back out, but by this time the water was four feet high. The water kept coming faster. Next thing I knew, the water was up to eight feet high! We tried to open the door but it wouldn't budge. My son and I started swimming around the house; Leatreonne was afloat on a bean bag (she couldn't swim).

We stayed in the house three days and nights. All of my furniture had risen to the top of the water, except for my bed. My son said to me, "Ma, don't worry about me. I'll get you and Leatreonne out."

He went to my room and pulled my patio doors off of the hinges and swam out into the deep water. He heard the Coast Guard rescuing people. He brought the Coast Guard over to us. I asked the Coast Guard if I could bring my puppies, but the Coast Guard said no. I had to put my puppies up high in a cage.

Leatreonne went first into the boat, then me, and then Charvarn. Spike Lee was in the boat snapping away with his camera. They brought us to the Super Dome. I told my son and daughter-in-law, "We ain't going in there." I had heard that they were cutting up in the Super Dome. We walked over the I-10 to the Calliope Projects. We stayed by Leatreonne's mom's house. At least she had access to a stove.

We were at Leatreonne's mom's house for a couple of days. One night we were on the porch then all of a sudden helicopters were everywhere. Men jumped out of the helicopters by wire and told us that we had to leave. They were calling us refugees and telling us that we had to evacuate immediately. They started pulling us one by one into the helicopters by wire. We were taken to the airport and flown to San Antonio, Texas. We stayed in a San Antonio shelter for about two months. We were given housing to stay in after that in San Antonio.

Some people went to Houston and some stayed in San Antonio. As time went by, we began to get homesick. When the water went down we went back. It was a sad sight. I went to my house to find that my puppies were dead, nothing but their skulls were left in the cage.

Leatreonne had her baby early due to Katrina-related stress. Her baby girl, my grandbaby, was born February 2006 weighing in at four pounds.

I went to see my grandbaby and stayed in Houston with my son and daughter-in-law for about 19 days. When I went back to San Antonio, I called them every day to see how they was making out.

In 2007 we came back to New Orleans to try to get our house back and fix it up so we can have somewhere to live.

This was my time of Katrina. My grandbaby Charvon is now living with me and she is okay. She is four years old and healthy.

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Brittney Brown - New Orleans, LA

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Looking back, what moment stands out from the time of the evacuation through the days of the early recovery? .....

There was an unfortunate moment that stood out to me during the Hurricane Katrina evacuation. Every time I tell this story, it sends chills through my spine and  my eyes begin to water. My mentally challenged uncle Ronald Madison was killed on the Danzinger Bridge [shortly after Katrina]. Seven NOPD officers, known as the "Danzinger 7," have been indicted on charges ranging from shooting my uncle to falsifying reports. CNN recently did a segment called "Shoot to Kill," which also featured the death of my uncle and the false accusations towards my uncle Lance Madison.

My family evacuated to a hotel in Scott, La. We were anxiously waiting by the telephone to hear from my two uncles Ronald and Lance. Finally, we received the news Ronald was killed. My mother, Jacquelyn Brown, the sister of both Lance and Ronald, was informed by my uncle, their brother, Dr. Romell Madison. All I remember in that moment is my mother dropping the phone and my grandmother collapsing in my father's arms. Before we heard the tragic news, my mother spoke of two dreams she had prior to the hurricane.

Dream 1:
My mother woke up crying to my father. She told him that in her dream she walked out onto the front porch of a house. The wind was blowing and the sky was getting dark, then it begins to rain. It was like a storm was approaching. As she stood on the porch, a little girl walked up to my mother. She said she could not see the young girl's face because it was covered with a veil. The young girl held a flower up to my mother and said, "Everything is gonna be okay," then all of the petals blew away.

Dream 2:
Once again my mother woke up crying to my dad. This time she was at a funeral and all of our relatives were there. My mother walked up to the casket and her brother Ronald was laying there; she had no idea how or why he passed away.

These dreams eventually connected to our family's reality and displayed a powerful message to me. The reason my uncle was laying in the casket was because he was murdered by NOPD police officers. The little girl from my mother's first dream who told her "Everything is gonna be okay" represents the progress that has been made so far with justice being served. The NOPD tried to cover up the murders and falsify reports but the truth is beginning to unfold. We are far from justice being totally served but at least progress is being made. Police officers and sergeants have come forth and confessed to covering up the murder of my uncle as well as falsifying reports.

"For there is nothing COVERED, that shall not be REVEALED; neither HID, that shall not be KNOWN."--Luke 12:2

*The man holding the family puppy is my mentally challenged uncle, Ronald Madison.

*The group picture taken by Sean Gardner for USA Today, left to right: uncle Dr. Romell Madison, grandmother Fuki Madison, aunt Lorna Humphrey, my mother Jacquelyn Brown, uncle Raymond Madison, and uncle Lance Madison.

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Nannette Smith - New Orleans, LA

I've always tried to "find the lesson" in adverse situations. My faith tells me it is there, if I would only seek it.

After my family evacuated for Hurricane Katrina, 15 hours on the road to Katy, Texas, here are a few of the lessons that I learned:

  • I learned that no matter how much I love my family, we cannot all live together under one roof for a prolonged period of time.
  • I learned the real meaning of "saving for a rainy day."
  • I learned humility. Waiting in line for hours to receive food stamps and unemployment compensation was new to me.
  • I learned growing up Roman Catholic does not preclude me from worshiping at Temple, or hearing the Word from a Baptist minister or Episcopalian bishop. Wherever I am, He is there.
  • I learned that we work hard all of our lives to acquire many material things, and in a matter of minutes, they can be taken from us. My neighbor said that once the water came into her house, it took less than 20 minutes to reach the roof. She was rescued.

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Melinda Shelton - New Orleans, LA

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As a reporter, I covered hurricanes and floods and talked to people who lost everything—yet vowed to rebuild their lives. Katrina shoved me neck-deep into a disaster story. I wondered: Do I have what it takes to start over?

Day 1. The evacuation. Aug. 28, 2005. Late that Sunday, we left Gentilly. When westbound traffic stalled on the spillway, I looked back at our city. Swirling, jet-black clouds engulfed the skyline. Lake Pontchartrain heaved waves against the railings. “I don’t feel good about this one,” I told Eliot, a cat wailing in a crate. My cell phone rang. “I’m leaving, Pop, I’m leaving! But I’ll be back, I guaran-dam-tee-u.” I wailed with Eliot.

In Baton Rouge, my friend Monika took in 3 humans, 6 cats, 1 dog.

Day 2. We made it! No power, so what? Strangers became friends. We shared BBQ and batteries. About  noon, Pop  finally got a call through. What? It’s hot as Hades, but the weather’s beautiful. Limbs and debris everywhere but it wasn’t as bad as . . . What? What flooding? Where?! Pop, are you sure?

I called my house again. The answering machine stopped picking up when the power went out, but I wasn’t worried.  . . .  Uh, oh. The landline phone had stopped ringing . . . it was on the floor. . . ???

Day 3. Norman Robinson spoke from the  4-inch screen of a battery powered TV: NOLA is no more. People are dead, dying.  Looting. Shooting. Burning. Chaos.

Reality check: Norman said Gentilly is flooded.  We don’t have flood insurance. Dang. 

Children on rooftops. People wading in fetid water. A body wrapped in our nation’s flag. The images seared our souls. Where’s the cavalry? Isn’t this America?

From dawn to dusk, the chilling thwop-thwop-thwop of helicopters taking evacuees to medical triage at LSU nearly drove us mad.

No longer the detached reporter, I was one of THOSE people from New Orleans.  Horrified at the images, enraged by the ineptitude, shocked by the callous “Well, you knew it would happen.”

Day 4. Roger Lee from Delacroix down in The Parish knocked. “Neighbors sent me over. Said you need a project. I’m it.” No shoes, dirty shorts and T-shirt, red skin peeling after hours in poisoned water. “I can’t find my wife. They didn’t let her in the helicopter with me.” Sobs wracked his damaged body.

Hooray for Whitney Bank! Mama Shelton bought underwear, shoes,  shorts, shirts. Roger talked incessantly and called everyone he knew. “The kids are fine.  Got ‘em out early.  Have you heard from her?” Hope burned.

Day 5.  That evening, unusual silence. I ran next door. The gentle giant was crumpled on the floor, scenes of his shattered boyhood home on the TV screen. Norman, haggard and hoarse, said The Parish is gone.  It was my birthday.

Day 6: Totally lost.

Day 7. Roger’s wife arrived. Miracles still happened.

Week 3: An SLU colleague introduced me to Clare Lee Miranne, who at 78 opened her door to strangers—and saved my sanity and faith. Moved to Hammond. Classes started again. The new normal began.

Week 5: Went home, put our life on the curb, joined the FEMA club.

Week 6: Linda Rodriguez, an English instructor at Xavier, moved into my SLU office. Coincidence? I think not.

Days turned to weeks turned to months turned to years.

Week 88: Packed up the cats and the dog’s ashes. Pontchartrain was serene. A brilliant azure sky over the Crescent City welcomed us home.

Yep, I have what it takes to start over.

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