By Erica Staab
“How It Feels” is Style on the Hill’s newest series of first person stories from students at KU who have had incredible experiences. We launch the series with one student’s memory of surviving Hurricane Katrina. Check back each Friday over the next few weeks for new installments.
Ten years ago, KU senior Kinsey Roberts and her family fled from Hurricane Katrina, leaving behind their home in the wake of a super storm that took nearly 2,000 lives.
Sunday, August 28, 2005
The morning before the storm, I sat pouting and watching the news with my family. I was devastated because my cheer competition had been canceled. We knew the storm was coming, but in my 11 years of life I had watched 13 storms roll through my suburb of New Orleans, and not once had anyone evacuated my quiet neighborhood on the North Shore.
I had been expecting the usual: A few missed days of school and my parents throwing a hurricane party that consisted of drinking and fun as families waited out the storm together. It wasn’t until the storm went from a category three to a category five in four hours that I realized this wasn’t like any storm I had seen before. That’s when the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, issued the first ever mandatory evacuation of the city.
It was around 11 a.m. and I remember chaos. We had less than 24 hours to evacuate and my mom was in tears saying, “We aren’t going to have a home after tomorrow. It’s going to be gone.”
I packed up a small suitcase and debated on which beloved Barbie would get saved, since I only had room to bring one. I was upset and concerned about my two white rabbits, Sugar and Cinnamon, who had to be left behind.
My mom was desperately trying to stuff her wedding dress and the family photos into our white Kia minivan and hauled what wouldn’t fit to our attic in a vain hope it would be safe. Dad was out in the yard, trying to barricade our house with sandbags stacked up in hopeful wall. Erica, my younger sister, was packing a bag too, but little Matthew, who was only 4, was obliviously watching cartoons. He was excited he didn’t have to go to preschool.
At 7 that night, all was calm and the sky was clear as I sat cramped, stuffy, and whiny in the third row of our van. I was packed up with the rest of my family’s precious possessions as we abandoned our home and fled towards safety in Baton Rouge.
What normally was a 45-minute drive to our family friends home, took nearly four hours. I remember my mom changing Matthews diaper on the side of the highway. We couldn’t risk exiting just to get stuck trying to get back on.
I felt like I was at sleepover when we finally arrived that night. Tucked up in bed next to my sister in a second-floor bedroom, I drifted off to sleep a little after midnight to the sound of drizzling rain on the window.
Monday, August 29, 2005
I like to joke that I slept through Hurricane Katrina. The storm hit around 6 a.m. and I’m such a heavy sleeper that it didn’t even wake me. When I did get up, New Orleans was already flooding.
When the eye of the storm reached Baton Rouge, we decided to move to another family’s house that didn’t have trees standing in the yard. Even there, the winds were so strong we worried the trees would fall on the house. But for that one hour it was as calm as it could be.
When the other side of the storm hit, I began to hear whispers that the levy had broken. I wasn’t sure what that meant at the time, but I knew it was serious.
It wasn’t until the helicopters began to fly over the city and show the damage on the news that my tears came. I was terrified my home had been destroyed and Sugar and Cinnamon were dead.
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
I’ll never forget my brother waking up that morning. It was his fifth birthday and he kept asking, “Where is my cake? Where are my presents?” We had to leave all his presents behind.
The husband of the family we were staying with in Baton Rouge worked for the LSU’s football team. A few days after the storm, he took our family to his office so we could all get out of the house. I was looking out the window of his office which over looked the football Stadium, foundly named Death Valley, when the trucks came.
Workers in hazmat suits opened up the trucks and unloaded hundreds of dead, bloated bodies and began to lay them out on the turf. End zone to end zone. Some of them didn’t even look human anymore. I can’t forget the smell. I had never even attended a funeral before and this horrific image of death still haunts my nightmares.
I stood wide eyed until the adults in the room realized what I was witnessing outside the window and pulled me away quickly trying to shield me from the horrendous sight.
Monday, August 5, 2005
It wasn’t until a week later that I got my first look at my damaged neighborhood. We drove onto our street and the third house we saw was demolished. When I saw my house, bruised and battered, but standing strong I was relieved. That didn’t keep me from bursting into tears the second I walked in and saw the flood damage.
There was mud and trash covering the floors. It was a mess and it smelled so bad. I couldn’t believe that this was the house I had left only a week ago.
That’s when I saw it. A glimpse of white outside the window. It was Sugar. But it seemed that Cinnamon didn’t make it through the storm. Apparently our neighbors, had thought it would be best to let Cinnamon and Sugar out of their cage to give them the best chance of surviving the flooding.
We got to stay in our house that night. There was no electricity and our house was hot with the 15 other people that stayed with us. My parents invited co-workers and friends that had all lost their homes to stay with us. We were one of the lucky families.
Things weren’t the same until January. My mother, sister, brother and I moved to Ohio to stay with relatives until after Christmas when the schools in my town began to reopen.
I don’t remember being scared of hurricanes after Katrina. Nothing could ever compare to the super storm I survived.
Graphic by Allison Ellis
Photos provided by Kinsey Roberts and family