My Katrina Experience

Ten years ago today was a day that I will not forget. While I wasn’t in NOLA at the time that day was relentless at the way it came at me. The Thursday before my Fiancé, John was rushed to the emergency room for chest pains. I called my Dad and there was no mention of what might be coming. So my attention was focused on John, my material Gram was save in a hospital and my other Gram was living with my Dad on the Westbank so everything should be peachy.

When I talked to my Stepmom, Cindy to let her know that John’s surgery went well we talked about Life Insurance and how important it was. How she and my Dad had taken care of it and we should do the same. She was seemed happy and in a great place.

It was the Saturday when John was released that I turned on the national evening news. It was the first news I’d seen in days. There is was the larger than life Category Five storm named Katrina and it was headed toward NOLA and the Mississippi Coast. There was an evacuation order. So I called my Dad’s cell. “We’re fine”; he said. “I’ve got your Grandmother, Cindy and Naomi(my Step-Sister) and we’re headed to Tunica. We should be fine.” A deep breath and a sigh of relief, at least partially, my other Gram was in the hospital still. When I called she seemed to be in good spirits and she said they were making plans. No further details were given.

My immediate family would be safe. NOLA had weathered several storms. The family pictures I left in my Gram’s apartment would be fine. Everything would be Okay. Monday, I was going to be in charge of the Office as all the others managers would be out of the office and it would be just like any other day. I could do this.

Saturday night, John and I went to sleep and around midnight I woke up and said, “I can’t breathe.” John asked me what I had said. I shrugged it off. “Nothing”; I responded. I couldn’t go back to sleep so I went and played Star Wars Lego. Mind numbing entertainment as I just felt that something was off. Finally around three I went back to bed.

It was six o’clock, when the phone rang. It was my Dad and he was crying. My Dad, isn’t the type to show his feelings so I was taken aback. “She’s gone.” I knew he must have been talking about my eighty-nine year old grandmother. No, to my shock it was my Stepmother. She had woken him in the middle of the night and now she was gone. “I couldn’t save her.” This coming from a man who received the key to the city for saving someone. Most of his career as a Fireman had been trying to save or rescue yet the woman he loved he couldn’t. This still effects him today.

I offered to take my Grandmother from him as I knew he was going to have his hands full. “No, we’re a team and we will make it through.” This tragedy gave me a glimpse of my Dad that I had never seen. It allowed me to see the man and his real emotions. I talked to him everyday after this for almost three months. Him allowing the person I always craved to know again back into my life.

Almost a year after Cindy passed I asked my Dad what happened that night. He said they checked in ate dinner and went to bed. Then Cindy woke around Midnight and grabbed my Dad’s arm and said; “I can’t breathe.” She kept saying that she didn’t want to die but there was nothing he or the Paramedics could do. She had a pulmonary embolism and it killed her.

Monday, was a somber day. I was at work there was nothing I could do for anyone and I had to be responsible. So as I assigned all the loss files both regular and litigated and approved checks, among other things. I watched as Katrina inched closer to New Orleans. Trying to get through to my Gram to make sure she was okay. There would be no contact. Everyone else went about their daily normal routines but my mind was not where it should be. My heart had it refocused to my family far away.

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On the third day after Katrina, I finally was able to reach nurse at the hospital. I asked her how my Gram was and they said they really only had oranges and water for the patients. There was no power so it was hot but there was nothing they could do except try to keep them comfortable until they were rescued. The first floor and basement of the hospital were flooded. When she paused I took a moment that I felt she needed. “Thank you, for all you doing.” There was something that pushed me to reach out to her further. “How are you? How is your house?”

“I’m hanging in there. I have no idea how my house or any of my family is?  Last I heard my family was evacuating but I don’t know.” She broke down in tears and I tried to offer what little comfort I could nine hundred plus miles away. “Thank you for asking. No one has even bothered to ask how any of us are so it means a lot.” I don’t know what her outcome was but I was glad that I could be there as she was for me and my Gram. They were stuck in that hospital for four days under those conditions. My Gram went to Lake Charles where eventually my Dad would pic her up for me.

All while going through this stories started coming in about the devastation. The people in the Superdome and the flooding stories that were reported with certain slants. I was walking down my units aisle and there were two African American girls talking about how this was a Black thing. They had never lived there much less visited and it pissed me off. I stopped and put my two cents in. “This isn’t a Black thing. It is a Poor thing. If my Grandmother wouldn’t have been in the hospital she might have been stuck at her apartment. She wouldn’t have gotten out. So while the larger sect of the population is African American it is hardly a black thing.” They acted like they understood but who really knows.

So as days progressed my Dad couldn’t handle his Mom. Right after Cindy passed she slapped him on the back and said, “Donnie, sometimes you just have to get over it.” She got worse with he negative talk about Cindy and my Dad started drinking more. Eventually, I got both of my Grams. Dad was spiraling and was drinking a self professed case of beer a day. When he got back to NOLA he discovered his shop was underwater so his identity was gone. HIs house was fine though and had they staid Cindy would’ve made it.

My company wanted to contribute to the Red Cross fund relieve efforts. KUDOS, great I’m all about helping. However when I asked HR about having time off to go and get my Grams I was told no. So, I thought about it and went and not on the President of the Company’s door. I was terrified but I know I had too. I explained that it was very nice for them to be helping the victims. “However, it is pretty bad that and employee that has been effected directly by it can’t have time off to help her family.” He was pretty mortified y my statement and said he would look into it. When I was called back into his office later that day, he had come through. “Take as much time as you need in getting them setup and you’ll be paid.” Wow, I was very thankful as it took sometime to get them situated. My Gram that was at the hospital had only the clothes on her back that were given to her and nothing else. Her glasses were broken and she would be starting from scratch. She needed a Birth Certificate and everything else.

As my Dad cleaned up his shop he found an untouched receipt with my new Stepmom’s name and number and eventually he would call her. He would find his anchor with her and a way to get back on track. He would have restart his life after Katrina and has done pretty good, even though the loss of Cindy still haunts him.

My Dad’s Mom eventually went back to NOLA before moving to Mississippi where she passed. My other Gram stayed up here which had been my plan for years. Her apartment was gone and I still to this day beat myself up about taking the pictures out oft he suitcase that February before.

While there was a lot of loss with Katrina, I try to embrace the gifts I got from it. I got to have my Grams live with me. Good and bad times yes and at times it was life having two kids. No matter looking back it was an adventure. I got to see a different side of my Dad and I got a wonderful new Mom. So, while everyone wants to look at the pictures of destruction, I like to think of the positive.

© 2015 copyright D.M. Needom

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3 thoughts on “My Katrina Experience

  1. It is always difficult to imagine how destruction can be positive or how struggles make us better people. I think you’ve done one helluva a job explaining. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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