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The Speckled Palate
August 28, 2015

On Katrina, the before and the after

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The day before Katrina, I made enough spaghetti and meatballs for an army of college students. And today, on the eve of Katrina’s 10-year anniversary, I want to share what happened during and after the storm.

For the hurricane, friends and I gathered at a friend’s boyfriend’s apartment, and we weathered the storm together. We climbed into bed late Sunday night after watching the news document the hurricane’s outer bands dumping rain on the state.

Overnight, Katrina took a northeastward path, sparing New Orleans and leaving a trail of devastation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

And then all hell broke loose when the levees failed in New Orleans.

In Baton Rouge, we fared the storm well. Even though our power went out, we had a generator, so we were able to stay cool and watch this travesty play out in real time.

Keep in mind, we were with people from New Orleans who were desperately trying to reach their families, who had evacuated. While everyone was OK, we didn’t know that until a few days later because the hurricane wiped out cell phone towers. 

We volunteered and took part in the relief efforts on campus, helping the first waves of evacuees, and when we were prepped for the evening at the PMAC, we were told to expect the worst, including people clinging to life and people who had died en route.

That night, we ended up taking care of a group of senior citizens. I spent time with a man who was originally from my hometown. Mr. Bill and I talked about our high schools and what brought us to Louisiana.

As I wrote in my journal, “I was so scared before the people got to us because I thought that for sure we’d have to take care of people bleeding, etc. It was a blessing to talk to Mr. Bill about Memphis–he definitely made my evening and I’d like to think that I made his a little better.”

The Katrina semester–yes, that’s what we call it–was my first at The Daily Reveille, LSU’s student newspaper, and I should’ve been working, photographing the relief efforts happening on campus and around town. Instead, I called my editor and cancelled, scared because of the rampant rumors flying around about safety concerns on campus, looters, murder and other nonsensical things that seemed like the truth at the time.

To this day, I wish I’d been brave and gone out on those assignments, even though I have no clue how they would have played out or would have affected my career going forward.

But to this day, I’m proud that I stepped up and volunteered, even if I doubted about my ability to make good decisions and stay safe behind my camera during an assignment.

When I think back to the madness of Katrina and how it changed so much, I think about what I wasn’t doing, too.

I wasn’t working– because I was scared–and I wasn’t drinking–because I wasn’t 21, and drinking didn’t really hold the lure to me like it did some of my peers.

That semester, I spent more time with my newspaper colleagues, worked longer hours, discovered my love for photojournalism and was introduced to new things, including cocktails.

It’s hard to believe that Hurricane Katrina made landfall ten years ago. So much has changed. So many lives were forever altered by the storm and its aftermath.

And it’s hard for me to believe that communities that were all but washed away have come back strong, even though scars from the storm are still visible in both South Mississippi and Louisiana.

So tomorrow, on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I’ll reflect on life as it was, as well as think about life now. I’ll wonder what stories of the storm and its aftermath I will share with my daughter when she asks about it… if she asks about it. I’ll read articles shared by the people I love commemorating this 10-year mark. (I particularly love this editorial by a friend and former colleague, as well as this video of 9- and 10-year-old New Orleanians telling what happened.)

And more than anything, I’ll appreciate these last ten years and what I’ve learned.

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