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Friday, August 29, 2014

Katrina anniversary: nine years

In some ways, Katrina seems so far away, a disaster that happened to another city, in a long-ago time before people used text messaging (that's true: it's how we started texting, because texts were more reliable than calls with so many cell towers down and airways jammed).
A lot has changed in the city since Katrina, and much of it is for the better. We're still working to protect ourselves from future floods, but the levees are taller and stronger. Most businesses, all hospitals, and many families have disaster plans. Young, intelligent, energetic people moved here to volunteer, open businesses, or join start-ups. We might at some point even get a handle on crime and political corruption (probably not. But the police chief resigned last week, and I think that's a good thing). 
Yet I miss the innocence of pre-Katrina, the days when we would roll our eyes and say, "Storms always turn!" as we chose not to sit in contraflow for 8 hours to move 100 miles from the storm's path. We can't help but take storms seriously now, as we reflect on the death and loss that Katrina spilled down on the city. It's out of respect for lives lost that I maintain a hurricane plan at work, that I hand out prescription records to all my patients during peak storm season, that I never miss an opportunity to visit a historic site in New Orleans, in case it's not there next November. And even though Katrina fades from our day-to-day conversation, she left constant reminders. 
Every day, on the way to work, I drive past Baptist Hospital.
I re-opened Baptist hospital after Katrina, working with two pharmacists and one tech to ready the facility for patients. Baptist was hit particularly hard, due to a combination of poor planning, poor location, and federal neglect. Patients died unnecessarily, deprived of therapeutic interventions they needed, sitting hungry and thirsty in unbearable heat. Rumors of euthanasia still circle, and charges were brought against some doctors who stayed through the storm. The parking garage where I used to park had been used to hold patients waiting for evacuation as the waters rose, mostly because it was better ventilated than the hospital itself. Some patients died waiting for a boat or helicopter.
This week, I read a memoir by a local doctor, who stayed for the storm. He was chief of medicine at Baptist, and his view is a startling read: as one of the very last people out of Baptist, it's like when I went to work we picked up where he left off. That experience feels richer to me now, and more symbolic. He also reminded me of those days before the storm, when we took so much for granted. 
People like ourselves sometimes say, "We didn't lose anything in Katrina." We mean that we lived in an area that didn't flood, so our houses and cars were safe. But the statement isn't true. Out things might have been high and dry, and looters may have stayed far from our doors and yards, but we all lost something in Katrina. 


  1. That was such a sad day for your city and for our country. So much mismanagement. It truly is hard to believe that it's been 9 years. Glad to hear things are on an upswing, even if some innocence has been lost.

  2. I remember feeling so sad and helpless watching the news coverage.

    Thank you for sharing.

  3. I love your reflection here Gracie. 9 years! Wow. Yes, so much was lost and in so many ways. And you know, I don't begin to know the extent of it considering I was far away and didn't experience anything first hand. I just remember what I heard on the news and with a student or two that moved into my classroom from there. Thanks for your words/post.

  4. I remember Katrina really well. One of my dearest friends lives in Biloxi. We both had 6-month old babies. She lost her house and everything in it. I remember seeing her pictures and corresponding with her in the aftermath. I was so glad she and her baby were unharmed. I seriously can't imagine living through it. Glad you are okay and in a place to have powerful and meaningful reflection. May the coming season be kind to your region!

  5. Even across the world we remember Katrina. I personally remember being horrified at how long it can take a first world nation to react to the needs of its citizens after a natural disaster. That was a huge lesson that we all learnt. It doesn't matter how well developed your country is, a natural disaster can bring it to its knees for a while.

  6. Much love to all my NOLA neighbors! As someone from from the Gulf Shores area, I'll say that it's very easy to become neglectful in preparations and evacuations b/c you face so many threats that are not really serious. (I blame the media for that.) I remember everything we faced during Ivan, and it wasn't near at bad. However, those memories will stay with me forever, and like you, the experience taught me a LOT. Wishing all of us along the Gulf Coast a peaceful few months.