Two days before our Hurricane Katrina evacuation, I gave birth to our second daughter. The delivery went fine, and our daughter Madison made her debut on Aug. 23, 2005, just before one of the costliest and deadliest hurricanes to the hit the United States.
48 hours after her delivery, we sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic and melted in the oppressive August heat as millions fled Houston before the approaching and monstrous hurricane. It sounds like a disaster movie, but on Thursday, Aug. 25, it was reality for us. We were among the evacuees on our way to Laredo.
We had no idea what to expect. What we experienced was more trying and chaotic than we could have imagined. We saw the good and bad in people. We saw touching acts of kindness as people shared their water and food. We also saw motorists come to the aid of others as their cars overheated. Five years after the storm, the acts of kindness I witnessed have made me more patient and caring toward others in need, even spurring our family to give more of our time and money to those affected by disaster.
Our family still lives in Houston, and we’re vigilant from our experience with Katrina. The fury of the hurricane prepared us for approaching storms. Our new plans were put to the test less than a month after Katrina when Hurricane Rita hit Sabine Pass, Texas, only 15 miles from where I was born and raised. And again in 2008, we suffered catastrophic damage when Hurricane Ike hit Galveston. Our lives and reactions to Hurricanes has been altered forever.
It all started less than a week before Katrina arrived. We barely had time to bring our daughter home from the hospital before evacuating. I was born and raised in southeast Texas, so hurricanes are a way of life. But it was not until 2005, when I saw the size of Hurricane Katrina, did I ever feel scared.
We evacuated Houston on Thursday before the storm. Still uncertain where the storm would make landfall, we left Houston for Laredo near the Mexico border. This would be the first time my mother-in-law would see her new granddaughter. Though Houston was set to evacuate in zones, it seemed all its six million residents left at one time. It was a true mess. It took us over three hours to travel across Houston; it normally takes 20 minutes.
Finding an open gas station or restaurant was next to impossible. With our baby and young daughter we tried several times to find a restroom with no luck. We found one Wendy’s restaurant overflowing with people. They were out of food, their restroom was trashed and the manager was trying to shut the door, but people were still pushing to get inside.
With emotions running high, my sister’s family had an altercation with another driver at a gas station. As they waited in line, a car cut in front of them. The drivers said they were out of gas and deserved to go next. My sister’s husband tried to talk calmly to them and explain they had been waiting patiently. But this motorist was irate and using profanities. From the stress of the situation, my sister just broke down and began crying. Unfortunately not everyone was displaying the hospitality we are famous for in Texas.
With the traffic, oppressive heat and no food and gas we decided to turn around and head back home to Houston, thinking we’d ride out the storm at home. Early the next morning, the Friday before landfall, fearing for our daughters’ safety, we left again headed for Laredo. This time the drive was quick; the streets of Houston were deserted. On Friday evening, we safely arrived in Laredo with no delays or problems. On Monday, Katrina slammed into Louisiana.
In Laredo we felt no effects. We returned home to Houston on Tuesday; our home was not damaged, and most of Houston was untouched.
Even on the five-year anniversary, I cannot look at footage of the death and destruction Katrina caused New Orleans without feeling sad and angry. I am still deeply touched by the suffering and mad there were so many who lost their lives not just as a result of the storm but due to lack of swift response.
Every year, the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is very emotional for my family. We will always have the memories of the storm’s devastation and the passing of my aunt three days after the hurricane. But the sad memories are overpowered by the joy of our daughter’s birthday and remembering how blessed we are to have made it through the storm safely.