Katrina and Me: 10 Years Later

August 2005. I was new to the age of -teens, getting ready to enter my freshman year of high school, and my life revolved around preseason field hockey, new notebooks, and cute boys. I was following 24-hour news cycle coverage even then and witnessed the wrath and destruction of Hurricane Katrina — and the subsequent Hurricane Rita that only added insult to injury — via the 32-inch screen my parents had in the living room. I sat, fixated on the destruction and the stories of despair, hoping to hear just one story about a rescue that was a success, a story of someone that had survived.

I waited.

And waited.

And. Waited.

And there was one. One that has stuck with me even after all this time. The story of Fats Domino, the singer-songwriter made famous throughout the 50s and 60s with songs like “Ain’t That a Shame.”

His story is similar to many I’ve heard and read recently about Louisianans during the storm — staying through evacuation orders to “ride out the storm.” Many believed it would be just like storms before; forecast worse than it was. Domino’s wife was ill at the time and evacuating would’ve been difficult for them.

After the storm, communications channels were out for extended periods of time. It’s something that happens after many disasters, including Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey in 2012. While the media were able to get into Louisiana and get photos, many residents and survivors couldn’t reach out to their family — in and out of the affected areas — to let them know if they were safe and well. This led to rumors circulating about Fats’ death. These rumors spread so widely, so quickly, that graffiti expressing condolences for Fats after his death appeared on the front of his home.

Photo: Graffiti on Fats Domino’s home after rumors of his death circulated following Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Source: Wikipedia

In reality, Fats had been rescued via a Coast Guard helicopter and was in a shelter in Baton Rouge. While all of his belongings, including many gold records, were lost in the floodwaters, his life was very thankfully not.

It’s now August 2015. People around the country and around the world are looking at Louisiana, Mississippi, and the rest of the Gulf Coast in a new light, seeing just how far the region has grown and changed since the storms of the 2005 hurricane season.

My life now revolves around my work as a digital storyteller, new notebooks and a cute girl. (Some things change, some things stay the same.) I’m now a captive audience to one 24-hour news channel for 40 hours a week but it doesn’t make me hate the news. It just makes me look at it a little differently. (And I continue to be annoyed by typos in headlines.)

As I’ve been researching and writing Katrina anniversary-related stories for work, I’ve learned a lot about writing, storytelling, and the human experience. I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I value in a good story — digital or otherwise. I’ve learned a lot about other people. I’ve learned how important, cathartic, and therapeutic the art of storytelling is.

There have been some sad stories. Stories of families lost, of unclaimed photographs, of missing children. Stories of destruction and despair. Stories of poverty, systematic racism, government failure, and gentrification.

But those aren’t the only stories.

I’ve found stories of animal rescues. I’ve found inspiring stories of volunteers, of small-time drug dealers saving the elderly, and my favorite story of them all (so far): a story of Louisiana’s then-Governor Kathleen Blanco reuniting a fourteen-year-old boy with his mother at a shelter in Baton Rouge.

When a lot of political finger-pointing was happening, people were losing perspective on the fact that there were real people — public servants — that were doing these things. A lot of the news around government at all levels was talking about how inept and poorly managed it was. But there are stories like Ms. Blanco’s reuniting a family that can help bring in some perspective on the fact that our government is of the people, by the people, and for the people.

As this week marks the ten-year anniversary of Katrina, I hope to continue gaining perspective and insight. I hope that the inspiring stories are the ones that get the most retweets and shares, the most clicks, the most pageviews, the longest average time on page stats.

We all could use a little bit of good news. And we all love a good story.

Photo: Statues in Louis Armstrong Park, Louisiana Source: FEMA.gov