It was eight years ago this morning that Katrina slammed into New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, changing our city--changing us--forever. So much has happened in the past eight years that in some ways those horror-filled hours and days and months seem long, long ago. And yet...
I can still feel the gut-wrenching despair of opening my front door for the first time after the storm and seeing what the floodwaters had done to the inside of my home. Still vividly recall the anguish of sitting beside my dying aunt in an understaffed hospital with boarded-up, shattered windows and orange FEMA blankets (because their laundry service had been swept away). Still remember the endless, strained jokes about blue tarps and National Guardsmen with machine guns at the corner and driving up to Baton Rouge for groceries and water. And none of us will ever forget that inimitable stench of decay that clung to the city for months and months--and, in some places, years.
They tell us the city has now regained 75% of its pre-Katrina population. That means more than 25% of us never came home, because our population today includes many volunteers who came down here to help, fell in love with the place, and decided to stay. It also includes new Hispanic residents who came to work on the reconstruction and also stayed.
In many, many ways, New Orleans is "back," as they like to say, although the changes are there, and heartbreaking. Yet change is a part of life, as are trauma and renewal. None of us will ever be the same again, in some ways that are good, but in others... Not so good. The memories of Katrina are always with us, a part of who we are. Yet every year on this date, those thoughts push their way to the front of our consciousness, and we go through our day shadowed by the old hurt and fear, shock and horror, despair and pain, disillusionment and bewilderment.
And we mourn what we have lost.