I live in West St. Tammany Parish, about 30 miles north of New Orleans. I was in the car with my mom on the Lake Pontchartrain Bridge heading home from the last Saints game ever to be played in the Superdome when I heard what was coming.
Hurricane Katrina was heading into the Gulf and predicted to make landfall near us. There was a mandatory evacuation for our area. My parents are divorced and since I was with my father that weekend, I evacuated with him, my stepmom, my four siblings, my grandparents, my aunt and uncle, and two cousins. My mother went to Jackson, Mississippi with her parents, my uncle and his dog.
On Sunday night, we heard that Hurricane Katrina was a Category 5 and heading straight our way. Monday morning, we heard Katrina had made landfall as a Category 3. It had gone farther east than expected, so things looked better for both my parents’ homes. But things were different for my dad’s side of the family. A majority of our relatives lived in St. Bernard, one parish over from where the levee broke on the 17th Street Canal. They all knew that they would have to start a new life somewhere else.
Over the next few days we tried to get information about our houses. My uncle is the fire chief in St. Bernard, so he stayed during the storm. He told us that almost nothing was salvageable in St. Bernard. We were also looking for news about our house in St. Tammany because, even though we escaped the worst of the flooding, we still had wind damage. We saw pictures of my dad’s house and it was fine, except part of the patio had fallen. There was no word yet about my mom’s house.
A few weeks after the storm, people started returning to the parish. We asked them to check my mother’s house, but they could not tell us anything. Finally we got word that a few trees had fallen on our house. Then we heard there were five trees. The final count turned out to be twelve trees down on our property. They think a tornado went through our yard and that’s why so many fell. My mom and grandfather went home the following week and stayed in my grandparents’ house without power, but they were able to get our clothes and important things from my mother’s and moved it all to my grandparents’ house where we now live.
I was stuck in Houston but a month after the storm, I finally returned home. My grandparents’ house had power back, so I stayed there with my mom. My dad got power a few days later, and we had seven people staying with us for a month until they found an apartment.
Everything is now back to normal for me. I stayed at my friends’ houses and we started school a couple weeks later. For most of my relatives, things are very different. My aunt lost her teaching job and had to sign up as a substitute, but now they are even cutting substitutes because the school board cannot afford them. Their lives have changed forever; they need new furniture, clothes and toys for the kids. Even though I lost my house temporarily, I have all my valuables and clothes. I am at the same school, and we are working to fix our house.
I hope New Orleans will rebuild and be even better than before. I will be able to tell my grandchildren that I lived through Hurricane Katrina, my memories of how New Orleans was before the hurricane and how my family was lucky to come through the storm safely.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.