When Hurricane Katrina put her sights on Louisiana, my husband and I knew that this was a storm to be reckoned with. He had been tracking this storm for days at the Louisiana Army National Guard Joint Operations Center (JOC). He told me to take the children and evacuate with family and friends. He on the other hand had to stay behind at the JOC where he would ultimately ride out the storm.
Our group of evacuees decided to go to Hot Springs, Arkansas. We watched the news in horror as the reports came in. Familiar scenes became unrecognizable. The people that chose to stay or did not have a choice to leave were in serious trouble. The body count rose and so did the reports of criminal activity. I wondered at how humanity could sink so low in the wake of a natural disaster.
Not long after Katrina made landfall, I lost communications with my husband. I did not know if was dead or alive. This, coupled with what I was seeing on television, made the situation even worse. Finally, I made contact with my husband. He was okay! He and his fellow soldiers were rescued from Jackson Barracks by helicopter. Their destination: the Superdome.
I decided to go back to Louisiana two days after Katrina made landfall. When I finally got to Slidell, I was surprised to see that our home was still standing. Our house was one of the few that did not get flooded. I quickly checked the interior and saw that the only damage was minor water damage to the ceiling in the master bedroom. My next stop would be church.
I was overcome with emotion when I pulled up at the church to see that it too was still standing. My pastors were there and we embraced and cried. It did not take long for us to go into help mode. We knew that there were many people that remained in the area and needed help. My pastors set up a relief center and soon help started coming from numerous ministries from around the country.
The Salvation Army set up in the parking lot at church and provided hot meals to us and the community. One of the ministries gave us a generator so we could better serve the community. The support that came in was phenomenal! I will never forget the Salvation Army, Operation Blessing, Kenneth Copeland Ministries, and the hundreds of volunteers that came to help. Through them, God had provided us with an unlimited supply of goods.
The relief center started off very small, before we knew it, we were running out of room for all of the supplies. The entire sanctuary was filled with clothes, toilet tissue, diapers, baby formula, and food; the list just goes on and on. It was decided that the best way to serve as many people as possible, was to have them remain in their vehicles while we handed them supplies. People got in line and waited their turn to be served. Most days, the traffic would be backed up for a mile or more! This went on every day.
We offered more than just supplies. We often prayed with the victims and listened to their stories. My heart broke every day as I listened to the people speak about losing everything they owned. There was one particular lady that would come almost every day on her bicycle. I quickly became attached to her and enjoyed seeing her smiling face. She was mentally handicapped and she never let her situation get her down. She was truly a beautiful person.
For more than ten months, I spent most days at church helping in the relief effort. During this time, my husband was relocated to the Baton Rouge area and then central Louisiana. After living apart for all this time, we realized that it was permanent. There was no way of knowing when, or if, he would be able to go back to Jackson Barracks in New Orleans. We decided to sell our house so that the children and I could move to Pineville, Louisiana where he now worked at Camp Beauregard.
Our house sold in under a week! The couple who purchased the house had their heart set on it. It turns out that the woman’s brother used to own the house years before we had purchased it. It was simply amazing. It was just another testament that God was in control and that out of something bad, He could bring forth goodness. I was so excited to know that I would be reunited with my husband and our family could once again bea family.
While I was ecstatic that our family would be together, I was devastated about leaving our church. They are so much more than people I attend services with…they are my family. To this day, I miss them and see them whenever we go to Slidell to visit family. At this point, it is uncertain if we will ever return to Slidell to live. Jackson Barracks is currently being rebuilt and near completion, but the JOC has been moved to Pineville.
Life is good and we are just thankful to be together. I wish I could say the same for other Katrina victims. Five years later, many are still trying to put the pieces back together.