Remembering the day I left New Orleans.
by Amanda LeBlanc
Seven years have come and gone since Hurricane Katrina. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long. I remember it like it was yesterday. My oldest was 2 ½ and my baby was only 8 weeks old. It was Saturday, Aug. 26, 2005, three days before the storm hit, and by 5 a.m. the news said it was necessary for everyone who could leave New Orleans to get out. This storm looked ominous, and as my husband cut the grass and washed the dogs, I packed two suitcases and called clients to push their project start dates from Monday to Wednesday. Neither my husband nor I thought we would be gone longer than a few days. Remember, I grew up in New Orleans. I had seen some pretty bad storms and some that had caused tremendous damage, but we always came back home.
New Orleans is one of the most amazing places in the United States. I realize that most people outside of New Orleans know it for its crime and political strife and even more know it for the drinking and partying of the French Quarter. But those of us from The Big Easy know that’s not what it’s about. Most of us from the area have had families their since the Louisiana Purchase! Once you are born there, it’s most likely you will die there. Family, that’s what New Orleans is about. We know our neighbors and we know them well. I remember the look people here gave me when I told them I knew all my neighbors in a five-block radius. It was a look of doubt and confusion, and I didn’t know why. Now I understand. It’s different in other areas. Even in Birmingham, people are a little more private and move in and out frequently. In New Orleans, we know your “mom and them” and we know “how you doing.” We are a loud bunch of people who are always up in your business, and most of us are related or have a family connection. My husband and I purchased his grandparents’ house, and our kids were the fifth generation of LeBlancs to live in the house that was built in 1942 and had never flooded. After the hurricane, I was so angered by comments from people outside of Louisiana that didn’t understand why anyone lived in New Orleans. They felt we were dumb to live there and deserved what we got, with most parts of New Orleans being below sea level. What they do not understand is that South Louisiana is vital to the U.S., with all of the fishing, aspects of the port and even farming that takes place in this area. New Orleans is home. It is great place to raise a family, with a tight-knit community. That’s my New Orleans.
Back to leaving… right before we left, we decided to load pictures and anything on the floor to the top of the beds. We put our babies and our two suitcases in the car and left for Montgomery to stay with my sister. On August 29, the storm blew through, the levee broke and my house took on 12 feet of water for 20 days. I was left with only what we packed to start over. I was in shock. I never dreamed this would happen. Does anyone? Try to imagine Birmingham, including Hoover, Vestavia, Mountain Brook and surrounding areas, being wiped away. Try to imagine not just losing everything you own but also the people you know, the stores you shop at and the school your children go to.
My family was spread from one side of the country to the other. I didn’t see some of the older generation again until they were brought home and laid to rest. The toll this storm took on people played out for years. It changed my life forever. I could write several novels about what happened just to my family and those close to us. But here’s what I want you to take away from this: Don’t take anything for granted. When you see the PSAs about emergency preparedness, know that it applies to all of us, especially after last year’s tornadoes. Don’t take this lightly. Eat on the good china, and don’t worry about “the stuff” in your home. It’s the people that matter and the memories and time you spend with them. Those times and memories cannot be taken away by any disaster. I learned there was nothing of real importance in my home except the people; I learned that all that stuff I spent time trying to find a home for took away from time spent with my family. If you have too much clutter and it’s stealing your time and joy, think about why you are letting things stand in the way of what’s really important. Clear the clutter and get busy making memories!
For more information of emergency preparedness visit: Red Cross or ready.gov, where you can get a list of what to have ready in the event of an emergency.