The first thing I saw this morning were images of flooding in Japan: water sweeping away everything in its path, people being rescued from rooftops. Coming so soon after the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it nudged me to write a little something here. I hadn’t planned on noting the anniversary of Katrina on any blog post because ten years on it still feels too tragic to write about and the media coverage of the anniversary felt a bit like opening an old wound. Katrina was bad. When we evacuated for Hurricane Rita not too long after Katrina, we stayed in a hotel with Katrina evacuees. I got a first-hand look at the face of Katrina. They had food, water, their dogs, a place to stay, and each other. They had no idea when they’d go home or, in some cases, if there was a home to go back to. Have you ever lived in a refugee camp and watched as a pickup truck offloaded supplies to refugees? How many people have you met who have lost everything and just barely escaped with their lives? For most people Hurricane Katrina is a historical event, something that happened on the Gulf Coast, far away from their own lives. For other people Katrina is a political event, with lots of finger pointing, fingers that are ticking off the ways the system failed. For some Katrina is a media event; the subject of documentaries and news stories, the source of dramatic footage and photos. For the people of New Orleans and surrounding areas Hurricane Katrina was a life-altering event, and for some a life-taking event. The survivors, whether they returned to New Orleans or not, are living in a Post-Katrina epoch. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who survived it whose life didn’t have an altered trajectory as a result of that hurricane. Phrases like “picking up the pieces” and “rebuilding” are weak words that cannot even begin to convey the reality of the Post-Katrina era to those people who lost everything.
I was born and raised on the Texas Gulf Coast. I’ve been aware of hurricanes my whole life. I’ve ridden out storms, I’ve evacuated ahead of storms, I’ve been hip-deep in debris cleaning up after such storms. But I do not know what it’s like to be a Katrina survivor. Not even after having met some survivors when we evacuated ahead of Rita. Katrina isn’t just a hurricane or a bit of history; it’s a community of people. Real live human beings like your neighbors, like you. Let’s never lose sight of that.
Be kind to strangers. You don’t know what they may have been through just to be standing beside you.
I have a small album of music dedicated to the survivors and rescuers of Hurricane Katrina, as well as the survivors of the Indian Ocean tsunami. Proceeds go to the Red Cross, who are so often first on the scene of tragedies of all kinds. You can read my liner notes here: A Tropical Depression. You can get the album from iTunes, Amazon and other online stores.