4th Anniversary of Katrina Update

Dear friends, every year I write a Katrina Anniversary letter.  It’s been 4 years since she hit and New Orleans had federal levee failures which flooded our city.  There has been lots of healing over these years, but there is still much healing to be done.  I guess the same could be said of our rebuilding as well.

I watched a Weather Channel special two nights ago with Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News and his Katrina experience. As I watched it took me back to those horrible weeks that followed August 29th, 2005.  It was a tenuous time for New Orleanians.  Those of us lucky enough to have evacuated watched helplessly from afar as our city and her people struggled to live.  And, I mean that quite literally!  It was the most helpless feeling I have had in my entire life.

I evacuated to stay with my older sister in Tulsa, OK.  She was the only one in my family to leave New Orleans.  I was very sad to see her leave many years ago, but now her home in Tulsa was my only saving grace.  I was so relieved on that day in early September when I got her phone call at the hotel.  I was exhausted from watching hours on end of my city being destroyed.  On the verge of an all out breakdown, the phone rang.  It was my sister saying, “Pack your things and come live with me in Tulsa.”

I got to Tulsa along with my two dogs and boyfriend.  (my mother in father were elsewhere. long story!) I remember being in her backyard with my dogs.  Relieved to be out of a hotel, but emotionally distraught about what my future would be. Her neighbor peered over the fence and started to talk with me.  He worked for an electrical company in Tulsa.  He proceeded to tell me, “Yeah. I just talked to a friend and he told me that the main electrical grid for New Orleans is destroyed. It may be 6 months or longer before it is repaired.”  I couldn’t tell you what that man said after that.  I just stood there dumbfounded and sickened to my stomach.  It’s a feeling I hope to never have again in my life.  All I could think about was HOME.  New Orleans.

I ended up being evacuated for 3 1/2 months in Tulsa. I was home just in time for Thanksgiving.  That was a very special Thanksgiving for our family in 2005.  I remember on the ride home from Tulsa we came to point where the Cypress trees grow in the swamp.  Yes, many of our beautiful ancient Cypress trees were cracked in half by Katrina’s wind, but they were still standing.  Just as they had been for hundreds of years.

One of my dogs died while I was evacuated in Tulsa. She came evacuated with us, but an unfortunate accident occurred and I had to put her to sleep.  It has taken me 4 years to get another dog.  Louis (named after Louis Armstrong and Louis XIV) will not ever replace my Boo, but he is an integral part of my healing process.  Dealing with the aftermath of Katrina and then to lose one of my dogs was almost more than my soul could bear.  I suppose I got through it all by grace of God.

I go back to Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News.  After we got back home to NOLA, he would come quite often to give the country updates about Katrina recovery.  One evening, we found out he was here and where he was reporting from! We drove like mad in the car to get to him. We got there just in time to see him finish his news report.  He was reporting from the London Avenue Canal breech in Gentilly.  And, I remember Harry Lee sitting in a chair nearby.  This neighborhood was besieged with over 8 feet of water.  When Brian Williams was done, I went over to thank him for his commitment to NOLA.  I couldn’t get 4 words out before I was overwhelmed with grief.  Mr. Williams gave me hug and held me for a moment. He said, “Everything is going to be o.k.”  I will not forget his words.

We still have much rebuilding to do. As I have said in past Katrina letters, our rebuild is marathon not a sprint.  Every few months a grocery store, library or post office opens.  New Orleanians rejoice at these events b/c we know what it is like for them to be gone.

It has taken me 4 years to deal with the emotional trauma of Katrina.  Only months ago did I begin to write down my memories of the storm.  I still haven’t finished doing it. I have to stop sometimes b/c it is just too hard to remember those things.  But, it is helpful.  If any of you reading this are trying to come to grips with your Katrina baggage, I highly recommend writing it down.  It’s been a great release for me. Also, it is very important for all of us to document history for future generations.

I will close with a few words.  Any of my fellow New Orleanians who are back at home and struggle with our recovery remember the words Brian Williams said to me, “Everything will be o.k.”

8/28/2009 Development: CNN Headline News called me today about my Ireport that I had posted on their network.  They asked if they could do an interview today.  Of course, I was thrilled to talk about New Orleans. Click here for the video of the interview I did with Chuck Roberts and click here to read their blog about my 4th Anniversary letter which you are reading now.  Thank you for not forgetting New Orleans, CNN!

And, for those interested in my handcrafted NOLA photograph jewelry and accessories for the home, please click here.

Much New Orleans Love to All,

Heather Elizabeth

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