Editor's note: Erin Rhoda of Washington, Maine, is a senior majoring in English at Colby College in Waterville. She has been compiling stories of survivors of Hurricane Katrina as an independent project. Presented here are some excerpts of her work, with images supplied by people she has interviewed.
Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than New Orleans. It shattered people. As one man walked down the street in New Orleans after the hurricane and subsequent levee-break, another man jumped off a building behind him and committed suicide. Later, as the man waded through the water covering a street, he stepped on something soft: a dead infant.
Darrel Mipro, a 35-year-old father of two, lost almost every material possession, including his house. But it does not matter, he said: “As bad as you may think it is, we are very lucky. Everyone in my family is accounted for. ... I’ve never needed anyone like I have now.” His family and friends gave him a home, encouragement and a reason to live.
Communities were destroyed, and the future is still uncertain. No one would welcome the losses, but out of the suffering, many say they have gained a deeper love and appreciation for friends, neighbors, family, and home.
Kate Tucker, 27, is originally from Augusta. As Tucker and her husband Scott drove home from dinner and a movie on the night of Saturday, August 27, celebrating the end of Scott’s medical school exams, the streets of New Orleans were deserted — and eerie. They decided to evacuate immediately, two days before the storm hit. When they returned home 10 days later, they learned how lucky they were: water lapped at their front step, but their house was intact. Just three blocks away, entire homes were destroyed.
However, the Tuckers’ house was not completely untouched. The back door was open, and there was an empty bottle of liquor on the counter. They also found an open can of tuna and an open box of Triscuits. Looters had filled their suitcases with valuable belongings, including a heart-shaped necklace Tucker had worn as a little girl. Although their home was spared, the theft destroyed something just as precious: a sense of security. Tucker said it was the first time she felt like a victim of the hurricane.
Tucker also believes there is a reason why Hurricane Katrina happened during her time in New Orleans: “I was meant to be here for my grandmother. As a lifelong resident of New Orleans, she and her friends have really been shaken by the storm,” she said. Tucker has only lived in the city for a year, but the hurricane has strangely confirmed her as a New Orleanian, giving her an irreplaceable sense of community.
Mike Adams, 44, has lived in New Orleans for seven years; he is originally from South China, Maine. A professor of chemistry at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, he was in Houston when the hurricane hit and flew home as soon as he could — on September 19, one of the first days the New Orleans airport reopened. Soldiers with guns led Adams and others off the plane.