Thank You, Houston {A Katrina Survivor’s Story – 10 Years Later}

10 years ago today, on August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina roared ashore, and in the matter of hours, thousands upon thousands of lives were forever changed.

My husband Matt and I were just two of those who experienced the devastation first hand. Our marriage is now marked by “B.K.” {Before Katrina} and “A.K.” {After Katrina}. B.K., we had just settled into our first home, the one we scraped together every penny to buy. We were about to celebrate our 2 year anniversary. Our lives were so sweet, so quiet, and filled with happiness over this married new life in Slidell, Louisiana – just 25 minutes north of New Orleans. We worked, we worked out, we met friends for cocktails, and we embraced the South Louisiana culture – cajun cookin’, bead throwin’, parade goin’, and easy livin’. Never did we imagine that WE would lose it all.

But we did. I remember sitting in a hotel room in Alexandria, LA, where we had evacuated to early Sunday morning. I remember talking to my uncle in Covington who was bound and determined to stay behind and take care of the family house. I remember having one too many drinks at Chili’s, almost delirious because surely the path of the storm was going to shift. It always did, right? During our time in NOLA, we evacuated 2 other times only to lose maybe a leaf off a tree. We slept through tropical storms and one Category 1. And everything was always fine. It was going be to the same this time. It had to be. Only deep down, I knew this was different. The fear was palpable in that hotel. About a hundred of us sat, eerily silent, in the breakfast/lobby area as we watched the storm make landfall in Mississippi, the eye literally crossing right over our little town. Hello, game changer. I looked at my husband, both of us speechless, and we immediately made our way upstairs to pack our pathetically small bags and head to my parent’s house in Dallas. Remember, we had done this before, so we packed very few clothing items, a few valuables, and insurance paperwork. We were sure we would be back in a day or 2. Ha. We left literally everything else behind, although we did secure the house with our hurricane shutters. Blame it on ignorance, but we figured the biggest danger to our possessions and home would be wind damage.  We didn’t expect the flood.

But flood it did. Five feet of storm surge from Lake Pontchartrain rushed into our airless condo, sitting for 2 days before it finally receded, leaving utter devastation in it’s wake. It was over a week before Matt could finally travel down to Louisiana with my brother, shotguns loaded because of all the looters. It wasn’t safe for me to make the trip, so I waited for the call. The shock in both of their voices once they were inside shook me to my core. Two days later they rolled up in a rented 12 passenger van that was supposed to hold everything they could salvage. It wasn’t even a quarter full. Matt grabbed some clothes from our closets and a few other odds and ends. The stench was horrendous. Mold had invaded and permeated every crevice. In a desperate attempt to save something, anything, we laid out the clothes in my parent’s cul-de-sac trying to air them out. When that failed, I begged the dry cleaners around the corner to help me clean them. They did, even comping the $300 bill, but almost all were a complete loss. Looking back, it wasn’t the clothes I was trying to save. I was trying to salvage some semblance of my former life. Here I was on the edge of “A.K.”, and I wasn’t handling it well, to put it mildly.

Insurance claims, rebuilding plans, shopping trips, and a 6 month stint in Baton Rouge followed. Finally after commuting via charter bus 2 hours each way, 6-7 days a week, Matt was understandably over it. We were not even close to getting into our house {it would be another 6 months before the repairs were complete}, and we had zero desire to stay in a FEMA-issued trailer. It was time to move on. In early February 2006, we packed up a car’s worth of belongings and headed west to Houston. Suddenly, there was light again. We had purpose. A.K. was looking better.

And here’s where you come in, Houston. You welcomed us with open arms. Besides the occasional off-color “refugee” remark {ohhh, I detest that word!}, y’all were incredibly kind. Everywhere we went, people wanted to know our story and how they could help. You offered friendship. You offered a hand up. You gave us a new beginning. You breathed fresh air into our hurting hearts. Thank you will never be enough.

Ten years later, Houston is home. It is where our marriage got a fresh start. It is where we birthed our babies. It is where our daughter got a new chance at life. It is where we have made life-long friends. I’m not going to lie – a part of my heart and soul will always remain in New Orleans. Sometimes I daydream about going back one day and once again embracing everything about that amazing city. NOLA is a place that never leaves you once she touches you. But for now, we settle for annual weekend trips revisiting our old haunts and cheering for the Saints on Sundays. Houston has the rest of our heart and will for years to come. From a Katrina SURVIVOR, we thank you for your hospitality and love. Our A.K. is happy now — and now, we realize the overflowing of blessings that emerged from that horrible day 10 years ago. Funny how life works sometimes. When the water recedes from the storms in your life, we all have an opportunity to be better, to do better, to care more about people and less about things. Thank you, Houston, for helping us in our journey to do just that.

Hurricane Katrina - Part 2

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One Response to Thank You, Houston {A Katrina Survivor’s Story – 10 Years Later}

  1. Regan August 29, 2015 at 6:34 pm #

    I live this Meagan! Slidell is my hometown. I was at college in North Louisiana when Katrina hit but my entire family stayed in Slidell. I remember talking to my mom on the phone that morning before the storm hit and her saying that they were preparing to lose the roof of the house and that my room would be destroyed. She asked what I wanted out of it. I remember crying as I hung up and telling her I would talk to her in a few hours. I didn’t get to talk to anyone in the family for 3 days. Those were the longest 3 days of my life. All reports coming out of that area was that everything was gone. I am so thankful that my family did indeed make it through the storm but it forever changed all of us.

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