Renee Simpson, Luling: Worried they’d not have a home to come to again
I had started my senior year at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond just weeks prior to Aug. 29, 2005. I would spend my weekends at home in Hahnville.
I remember my mom mentioning right before I left on Friday afternoon that I should bring a couple of extra changes of clothes just in case “something happened” with the storm out in the Gulf. Even though I was a mass communication major and stayed up on current events, this was the first time I remember really thinking about Katrina.
On Sunday morning, we evacuated to Kinder, La. to stay with my aunt and uncle’s family, along with other members of my extended family who lived in St. Charles Parish.
If you’re familiar with Kinder, you know it’s home to a successful Native American-owned casino, the Grand Casino Coushatta. I remember sitting down to eat dinner with my mom, dad and brother at the casino buffet surrounded by garish decor, blinking lights and the binging of slot machines in the distance. The conversation was anything but joyful – in stark contrast to our surroundings – as we discussed the possibility that after that weekend, we might not have a home to return to. It was surreal and heartbreaking all at the same time.
We spent the better part of two weeks in Kinder. I remember going to my aunt’s computer and feeling so excited to be able to download and print PDFs of the Times-Picayune to hand out to my family. While the news was catastrophic, it represented at least a bit of normalcy. I remember going to the local McDonald’s and looking around the parking lot, seeing people’s cars filled to the brim with personal possessions and their pets – dogs, cats, doves, ferrets.
Like a lot of fellow evacuees, we spent a lot of time watching the national news while in exile. I remember breaking down in tears and becoming more than a little angry listening to CNN’s Anderson Cooper interview an elderly man walking along the elevated portion of I-10 right in front of the Superdome. Cooper asked the man where he was trying to go. He simply stated that he was “looking for water.”
Local churches, just like in many places along the Gulf Coast, began feeding evacuees, and we helped out by making pan after pan of bread pudding.
Southeastern was up and running electricity-wise pretty quickly, and my life in Hammond resumed within a month’s time. But right outside my apartment window, the National Guard staged equipment and supplies, a real reminder of the ongoing struggle in the metro area.
I am so proud to have gotten the opportunity to work in Public Information for our parish during the last two major hurricanes we’ve experienced – Gustav and Isaac. I know that with the planning parish government completes, it would be extremely rare for the CNN interview scenario to take place in St. Charles Parish. We have a practiced plan to get people out and to get people help when they need it.