Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hurricane Katrina: 7 Years Ago Today . . .

It started late last night and has continued throughout the day today -- a heaviness in my chest, a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  Even now, 7 years and 500 miles removed from New Orleans, it affects me.  Every year on Katrina's anniversary, I find myself a bit contemplative and quiet and prayerful.  But, this year as Isaac pummels our old hometown and countless other cities along the Gulf Coast, it's much worse. 

Every year on this day, I go back.  . . .  Let me take you with me.

Like everyone else in New Orleans, we'd been watching the news off and on for days as the storm formed and headed toward shore, thankful that Katrina's path would mostly miss us.  Then, that Saturday morning, it changed course and grew sronger.  As the cheerleading coach for the high school where I taught, we had a swimming party at one of the cheerleader's houses that day, so I went.  At the party, everyone was talking about where they'd be evacuating to, and it occurred to me that maybe we ought to be making plans.  By the time I got home from the party, the news stations were all abuzz, and it seemed the entire city was headed out of town.  Once school had been officially canceled for Monday, we packed 3-days-worth of clothes, threw in a couple of photo albums for good measure, and hit the road. 

In our time living in New Orleans, we'd evacuated several times only to come home from our little mini-vacation to no damage and sunny skies.  My students got excited about school being called off for evacuations the same way my kids today get excited about a snow day.  Nothing about this storm seemed any different from ones in the past.  We'd probably be back home and back to work by Wednesday. 

Headed out of town, the interstate was using "contraflow", both sides were headed out of New Orleans.  It was the most bizarre thing to see people coming up the exit ramps onto the interstate.  Traffic was bumper to bumper, but moving.  One-year-old Girl 1 needed a diaper change, and (the only time I ever did this) I actually took her out of her car seat and changed her on the floor of the minivan as we kept on truckin'. 

We went to Plano where we stayed with my brother- and sister-in-law, waiting for the news that it was okay to get back home.  But, the news never came.  I remember falling asleep listening to the radio reports saying that the water just kept rising.  We listened to the mayor explaining that the levees had broken and that the water in the city was rising and falling with the tides.  It wasn't until later in the week, when it was announced that school would hope to resume after Christmas that I truly understood the gravity of the situation.  Google uploaded aerial views of the city, and we were able to zoom in on our neighborhood, our street, our  house.  The water was so high that you couldn't even see my Jeep, which we'd left parked in the drive behind the house.  And, the water just sat there . . . for a couple of weeks. . .  as rescuers traversed the streets by boat attempting to save those who'd either chosen to stay or hadn't the resources to get out.

I remember that when we finally realized that everything we owned was in the suitcases we'd packed, we took a trip to the book store.  The first thing we bought was a Bible (why hadn't we packed ours?), and we read to each other from the Psalms as we drove away from the store. 

We spent that first week in Plano, then moved on to Fort Smith, where we stayed for a month with my parents.  Once we realized we would need a place to be for several months, we moved into John's grandmother's house in Batesville.  She had recently moved out of it and into an assisted living home. 

John and his dad eventually went in to our house in New Orleans once the waters had receded to see what could be salvaged.  The photos from their walk through the sludge-filled house have to be seen to be believed.  I'd left behind my wedding ring, in a jewelry box sitting atop a tall book case.  Because Girl 1 was pulling up on everything, all bookcases had been bolted to the wall, which kept them from falling down and floating around the house like most of the rest of the furniture did in the floodwaters.  And the top of that bookcase was just above the water line.  Amazingly, he was able to find the ring exactly where I'd left it.  He brought back a few other things, most of which we determined were unfit to be kept after all. 

So, from September to December, we lived in that little house in Batesville.  John, who was a graduate student at Tulane, would go to the library at Lyon and work on his thesis.  Little Girl and I mostly stayed home, I think.  In fact, I have very little memory of those months.  I've heard of that happening to people during traumatic times in their lives.  In fact, those months are like a haze in my memory.  I was jolted out of it in December when John's mother died suddenly.  My memories basically pick up there.  Weird, huh?

In light of his mother's death and all that we'd been through, we eventually decided not to go back to New Orleans.  A series of decisions led us to make a life here in Cave City instead.  And, though it's a far cry from the life we were living in NOLA, it's a sweet life -- one that is full and rich.  We are blessed indeed.

In the wake of the storm, we were loved well by our family and friends.  We were given housing and money and clothing and prayers.  My parents' church gave us a shower where they basically restocked us with towels and sheets and cooking items.  John's aunt gave us a truckload full of furniture -- We eat on that kitchen table still today.  We were simply overwhelmed by the generosity of people we knew.  A stranger even brought over a trashbag full of clothes her daughter had outgrown and outfitted Girl 1 for the fall. 

Experiencing Katrina affected us each deeply.  But, the biggest way it's changed us is obvious.  At different points in our lives, John and I had both felt a "calling" toward adoption from another country.  But international adoption was expensive.  Once we'd itemized to the best of our ability the items that had stocked our New Orleans home (quite a daunting task), our insurance agency cut us a check.  It was quite a check.  It was quite possible that we'd never again have that kind of money in the bank again --  I mean, liquid cash.  Sure, we could've gone about buying back all the stuff we'd lost, but, as I remember, that wasn't even discussed.  We had our adoption money.  And before we even had a permanent home, we had found an adoption agency and set about bringing Girl 2 home from Guatemala.

It's good to personally know that even as Issac is reigning down his destruction on the Gulf Coast, that Good can follow in his wake.  Today may bring pain and heartache, but tomorrow is beautiful.  At least it has been for us.  Praise the Lord.

For more on what our Katrina experience taught us and how it affects us still today (even in my housekeeping), check back in tomorrow!  ;)

(By the way, if you read this entire post, I'm very impressed!  Thanks for sticking with me.  :)


  1. This post just leaves me speechless. I talked to Girl 1 this morning about being a Katrina survivor. Such an amazing story. Without Katrina, we may have never known Girl 2... I can't imagine that! and I know you can't either. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I read it Ashley..thanks for taking the time to write this and share..very touching!! Madonna

  3. This post touches me to the bottom of my heart. I can't imagine all that you have gone through. However, as you said, God carried you through and look at the blessing you have been to each other and to your children. If you had not been forced to endure all this disaster, you may never have gotten to where you are now. Sometimes we have trouble seeing through the haze to find the blessing. I am thankful to know you and your sweet family!

  4. Hi Ashley, I was just talking to Sara today about you and your experience, I had no idea all of these happened to you guys. I did read the whole post and enjoyed it.... great testimony! hope you come back again to LR so we can run another race together sometime!! Blessings!

  5. Love the post! I still remember all the updates from Ben at the time. (PS - we were not dating yet....but I'm sure glad he finally asked me while you guys were in town that month! :))

  6. I remember visiting you in NO the summer of '04. Your house had that charactistic charm of an older home, and of course you had decorated it so well. I remember looking through G1's baby book, admiring the wall of books and the beautiful doorway arches. I can't imagine losing everything, but I could definitely use some lessons in clutter-free living. I am impressed by your resiliency and thank you for sharing.


  7. Ashley thanks for sharing this beautiful post. I was moved deeply by what I read. I for one am very thankful for getting to know you and John and your sweet family. So thankful God planted you into our community! May God continue to bless you guys!


  8. Thank you for sharing your story.

  9. Thank you for sharing your story.