10th anniversary of devastating hurricane

Normally for hurricanes my family would just have hurricane parties. My whole family would gather up-town at my grandmother’s house and ride the hurricane out. School days off and fun with my cousins are what a hurricane meant to me. I didn’t feel the urgency that my family needed to evacuate, until I saw one of the local weathermen on the news in a wife-beater T-shirt saying please leave; this is the big one. 

After watching the alarming warning I started pressuring my parents to leave. Soon the news was full of pre-Katrina coverage. Everyone kept repeating the same thing, mandatory evacuation for the whole city. My parents did not have a reliable car at the time or money.

The day before the storm was to make landfall we were packing to go uptown. My oldest sister called my mom and told her we needed to go, because the storm was serious. 

Next thing I know we were headed to Atlanta. A few of my family members were already there for a wedding. The drive was so long. It was serious bumper-to-bumper traffic for 10 hours, and that was just to get out of Louisiana. 

My family made it to Atlanta around 3 in the morning. I remember waking up seeing some images of the storm, thinking, thank you God we left. For a while we did not know the depth of what was going on. There was no way to get in touch with anyone. The next day came and we were going to my aunt’s room to eat. 

My uncle bust in the room and said “They broke the damn levees. “ I said wait what! What you mean broke? At that moment a part of me went numb. We didn’t know what levee or what street; we just knew the levees broke. New Orleans is like a bowl. So if the levees break it’s like filling a bowl with water.

I went outside to pray. I was not physically in New Orleans, but the thought of losing the rest of my family brought this terrible fear that I could not explain. We stayed in Atlanta for one more day. The family planned to go to Texas. My stepfather made a wrong turn different from the family, and we got lost and ran out of gas. We were stuck in some country town for hours. 

By this time I was exhausted. We pulled up in Grambling Louisiana to my aunt Darlene walking outside saying I’m happy all made it. I was sick of being in the car. I wanted to go home, but I knew I couldn’t. I asked my mom if I could just stay in Grambling. To my surprise, she said yes. 

After my arrival that morning the rest of my mother’s side of the family started coming. It was literally three generations in one three-bedroom house. And some of my family members brought friends. Aunt never complained once. People in her neighborhood were so nice they brought food and clothes. Some even gave us money.

But all that hospitality quickly ended once my cousins and I enrolled in Grambling Lab High School. We would walk down the halls and people would yell “refugees.” Not everyone was mean. Now, I just say they were immature. Many people are confused by a native New Orleans person’s nature. They assume that we think we are the hardest and the meanest people in this country. When in actuality we are easy-going, carefree people, who don’t mess with someone until someone messes with us. 

Students were asking me what project I was from, automatically assuming that since I was from New Orleans, that I was poor and lived in the projects. As if that wasn’t bad enough, then they were saying the hurricane hit because New Orleans is the most sinful city in America, that God had to wash away the evil people. 

The situation at the school was not good. There were rumors of fights, and I remember being called to the principal’s office because a parent called the police on me, believing that I was a danger to her daughter.

By this time, two weeks had gone by and I still hadn’t heard from my biological father’s side of my family because they all lived in the Lower Ninth Ward area. I finally got in touch with an older cousin who said my father was in Mississippi. She said everyone was OK except that my great-grandmother had been left behind in her house. One of my cousins lied and said he picked her up from the house when in actuality he left her in the city, in the house by herself.

I later found out that my great grandmother drowned. Her body was found a block away from her house, so it had been an indication that she did try to get out. The storm was real. I saw everything on TV, but to know someone who actually died is something else. That’s a horrible way to die, and to know that the death could have been prevented is even more hurtful. 

After the death of Madea, everyone on my father’s side of my family started dying. Just dropping like flies. My father was the first to die. Then my uncle, next my cousin, then my aunt… 

Because of Katrina a lot of my family still live elsewhere, some in Texas and some live in Chicago. As for me I ended up here at Grambling for undergrad where I am impatiently waiting to graduate in December.  


Courtesy photo Mary Hall, Mary Sanders’ great-grandmother, was one of the many victims claimed by Katrina. She drowned near her home in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. She was in her 90s.

CapCourtesy photo
Mary Hall, Mary Sanders’ great-grandmother, was one of the many victims claimed by Katrina. She drowned near her home in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. She was in her 90s.