Monday, August 30, 2010

Has it really been 5 years?

And yet it feels like such a long time ago, when Jorge and I were heading off to go watch "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" despite the protests of my mother-in-law that we would surely be killed the moment we stepped out the door. We were hours away from the eye of Hurricane Katrina by then, though, among the very few New Orleans residents who decided, against general wisdom, to go East into Florida to evacuate ahead of the storm. I mean, when a hurricane's a-comin', who decides the safest place is FLORIDA? Everyone else is usually trying to get to sunny Texas, not the storm-magnet state. But there we were, the rain pelting down, the wind whipping around us, and the news showing the same old shots of frantic palm-branches in the wind and giant waves. So we figured, what the hell? Why not go to the movies?

It wasn't for another full week before the enormity of the situation finally dawned upon me. As we all did after the storm, Jorge and I spent much of our free time watching the cable news channels, trying to decipher what was really happening. And I said to Jorge, "So have you talked to work? When do they want you to be back?" And Jorge looked at me like I'd just grown another head and said "Baby? There IS no work." And it hit me that everything we knew and counted on - friends, jobs, homes, Tuesday nights at the Maple Leaf Bar - all that was gone. At least for the time being. And back then, you never really knew if it would all come back. And finally I cried.

We counted ourselves among the lucky ones. We lived in a two-story apartment that only got a couple feet of flooding, meaning most of our home stayed dry. We had friends and family who happily took us in while the landlord gutted the place. Jorge's employer managed to accomodate the changing needs of the community, and suddenly he temporarily found himself in the tree-removing, blue-tarp-laying, mold-killing business. After a few weeks, we went home to a very desolate, lonely place. Where if you wanted to eat out, you had better plan ahead, because the few places still serving food shut down at 8 for the night. Where the shuttered coffeeshops seemed to have left their modems on, so that when the power came back, we could join the lines of people sitting on the sidewalks to catch up on e-mail.

Some of our friends were not so lucky; a couple of them lost their entire homes and everything in them. Some went away and never returned. We all coped with the scars of going off one day, feeling like we were just having a weekend holiday and waking up Monday with our city just disintegrated, all our friends gone. (What did I pack with me for the 6 weeks I spent evacuated? One miniskirt, one pair of shorts, a few shirts, and TWO bikinis. I'd be useless in a nuclear holocaust, I tell you.)

In honor of the city we love, our second home, here are some photos from that time:

Just another beach weekend, right?

Jorge got home early, before any of the really basic clean-up could be done. There were power lines and trees down everywhere. And still a few bodies on the streets.

Cleaning out the apartment. Notice the bath-tub ring of mold.

Dora watching over all our ruined junk. The city looked like this for months, discarded refrigerators and ripped out carpet everywhere.

Our apartment after being gutted.

Our friend Jonathan's neighborhood was one of the worst-hit. This photo was taken six months after the hurricane.

Jorge had the unfortunate job of searching for Jonathan's passport in this mess. What you see all over the floor is sodden insulation from the ceiling.


Joan said...

what a story. What an experience.

Louise said...

Thanks for sharing this Gwynie! As someone who also love NOLA and has done a small bit to help rebuild - via Habitat - it is a real milestone to realize it has been 5 years! So much has been done to help and yet so much more still to do.

I miss you guys! AND am so happy you soon will be 4!
xoxoxo, Louise