Nine years ago today, Hurricane Katrina came roaring ashore along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. If I’m remembering correctly, when Katrina made her landfall with a direct hit to the occupied areas of Waveland and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, it was the third actual landfall for the storm. Earlier in the week, Katrina had crossed the southern tip of Florida and then moved into the warm waters of the Gulf, where she strengthened and became the incredible monster storm that devastated the Coast. She hit east of New Orleans in Plaquemines & St. Bernards Parish before wiping out Coastal Mississippi.
We weren’t worried about it. We should have been when we saw that incredibly well-defined eye and noticed that the storm literally took up almost all of Gulf.
I write about Hurricane Katrina every year on her anniversary. Sometimes I think I do it because people still don’t seem to understand that Katrina happened to Mississippi. New Orleans gets all the play when the national media remembers Katrina – still – to this day – and it is painful for those of us in Mississippi who lived through the fear and uncertainty that she brought with her. I don’t want to minimize what happened to the people of Louisiana and all of the terrible, terrible devastation that happened in New Orleans, but the Gulf Coast of Mississippi was obliterated. You can view a gallery of pictures from a local television station showing destruction and in some cases, the before and after pictures of the same places. Other pictures can be found many places. I took pictures both in Hattiesburg and Gulfport after the storm.
I don’t want to rehash all of the incredible destruction again. It’s been done enough times.
This morning while I was writing, my thoughts were about choices and how my life might be entirely different if I’d made different choices in the lead-up to and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
In early July, Hurricane Dennis formed in the Gulf, and as a precaution, because the projected path at the time was bringing the storm straight up through Mississippi, the University of Southern Mississippi (where I was attending graduate school) made the decision to close the campus. I came from the midwest and the mountain west where we experience tornadoes, earthquakes, and snow and ice storms. Not hurricanes. Because the campus was closed and my colleagues advised me to, I made the decision to pack up my two cats and my most important things and head north to southwest Missouri to ride out the storm with one of my best friends and her family.
It turns out that for Mississippi, and particularly Hattiesburg where I lived at the time, Dennis was a non-event. I now know that almost all hurricanes, regardless of the projected path, are going to make an eastwardly turn at the very end. If the storm is projected to come in East of you, don’t worry a whole lot. If it’s projected to come in on top of you, be concerned. If it’s projected to come in West of you, be very concerned.
I felt foolish for having left, which contributed to my decision to stay for Hurricane Katrina. Having left for one storm and doing all that entailed, I didn’t want to go through it all again. My first hurricane season and my first storm and I already had storm fatigue.
As the Hurricane Hunters flew into the storm and the radar pictures kept coming in on the news, I wasn’t scared or anything. The storm was predicted to come into Louisiana and as far north as we were in Hattiesburg (which is a good 80-90 miles from the Coast), we should have been fine…if the storm had made landfall where originally predicted. I went about my business, thinking not much of it, not worried, not bothered, not anything really. Until Sunday when the track started coming further east.
Some time that afternoon, my now-mother-in-law but then friend of approximately one month called and asked me what I was doing for the hurricane. I told her I didn’t have any plans, was just going to hang out at the house by myself – that crappy little duplex on Camp Street that my Sner said I couldn’t stay in when she helped me move in – for the storm. Future MIL, then Friend said I couldn’t experience my first hurricane alone.
It seems that some of the best times of my life here in the South have been prefaced by, “You can’t do that alone!” Mardi Gras, various shenanigans, trips to the Delta, visits to New Orleans, hurricanes.
So on that Sunday afternoon, I found myself driving out to Gumbo Acres, taking back roads I’d never been on because the main highway had been contraflowed for people leaving the Coast, with literally an over-night bag and four sticks of butter…because we were going to make cookies. I had no clue what was about to happen.
That night sealed my fate, I think – started me down this road I’m on. Maybe if I’d initially been as scared of Katrina as I had been of Dennis, I would have made the decision to pack up my life again and head north to safer environs. Maybe I would have thought long and hard about whether I needed to stay in Mississippi; after all, I’d already met my year’s residency requirement. It might take awhile, but I could have finished my degree via online courses. Maybe my then friend and I would have formed this close of a bond and Gumbo Acres and its people would have still felt like family long before it actually was. Maybe I might not have stayed in Mississippi after May 2006 when all my coursework was definitely done.
I don’t know. I do know that Katrina and her aftermath – the uncertainty and fear but the care and affection – have blessed me immeasurably. I truly could have done without all the death and destruction, but I am grateful for the opportunities that have come my way.
I have lots to remember about Katrina. This morning I wrote about fear as well as what has changed in my life as a result. Maybe next year that’s where I’ll go, but for now, I’m looking on the bright side of such darkness 9 years ago.