10 years ago today, my friends and I hunkered down for what SHOULD have been a routine hurricane. We were prepared. We were stocked. We were ready.
For most of us, this wasn’t our first rodeo. People would hop on I-10 as they always do and evacuate to Baton Rouge. People would complain contraflow wouldn’t be enough to move people quickly and safely out of Orleans Parish. We would do what we always do. You see, this wasn’t our first rodeo.
As dawn broke on August 29, 2005, this wasn’t the same.
Nothing was the same.
We weren’t prepared for when the levees broke. We didn’t understand the gravity of the crashing waves as they descended upon the community we had all grown to love. We didn’t understand we were saying goodbye to what we knew.
Days and weeks and months passed. Seeing Blackhawk helicopters and tanks on the road became normal. It became normal to volunteer for 16 hours straight, only to collapse for a few hours only to head back to triage/emergency room/shelter.
It was normal to see empty shelves at WalMart. People grasped onto rumors of grocery store deliveries as eagerly as they grasped onto rumors of when gas stations would be refilled with gasoline. Seeing the vast emptiness became normal.
We tiptoed on the heels of panic. Our nerves balanced on the finest needle. Our daily movements were punctuated by unease. Being uncomfortable had become normal.
There were nights we would leave the PMAC (the ER/morgue) or the Track and Field House (the triage unit) and we would collapse on the sidewalk, mustering the last bit of energy to give a hug to another friend who had seen things no one should ever see.
There were days where we felt all was lost. When helping someone who had lost everything, we found hope. There were days where we walked into destroyed houses, where we would hold photos covered in black mold before we took a sledgehammer to whatever memories lingered in the damaged drywall.
Hurricane Katrina brought out the best and worst in humanity. These were our darkest days and brightest nights. They’re the moments I’m most proud of and the most afraid to think about again.
As we reflect on what happened 10 years ago, I ask you reflect on the simple concepts of kindness and compassion. I ask you reflect on communities that need kindness and compassion. I ask you reflect on people who deserve kindness and compassion. I ask we treat people better than we have.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last ten years, it’s we need each other.