Evacuating New Orleans, Part 1 #Katrina10

As we come up on the 10 year mark since hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, I’ll be sharing some of my experiences. This is part one.

It was a Saturday, and we were scheduled to have a yard sale outside Trinity Christian Community, the faith-based community center where I served on staff as an Americorps volunteer. I joined the rest of the team at the community center early that morning and we started making preparations for the yard sale. But there was a very large elephant in the room that none of us could ignore. Her name was Katrina.

Everyone on the team loved New Orleans, and especially loved Hollygrove, the neighborhood in which we served. But half of the team were from out of state, including me. We didn’t have family roots in the city and we didn’t own any property. Each of us were there because of a sense of calling.

It was that shared sense of calling that made serving at TCC a life-transforming experience for me. I learned so much from that experience, and grew as person and as a Jesus-disciple. I remember how our ten-person staff read and discussed Grace Matters by Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice. Five members of the team were white and five were black. I remember when some of the discussions got tense. Some of the white members didn’t think black people could be “racist,” and some of the black members definitely thought they could be. We talked about the role of power in “racism” and “systemic racism.” These were not things the Bible college I graduated from taught.

I also remember the many times when God met me in times of personal weakness, immaturity, and ignorance and taught me a better way through my peers and mentors. Kevin Brown, the Executive Director, modeled and taught me so much. Rev. Earl Williams and Ms. Evelyn Turner were amazing role models for whom I’m tremendously grateful. And the interactions with the children, teenagers, and families of Hollygrove changed my life. I’m not the first to say this, but it’s true: I definitely learned more from them than they did from me. I learned what “community” really means. I learned what hope looks like. And I learned the cash value of Christian faith when all the pretensions of “church” are stripped away.

As we gathered items for sale and set up tables to display them on, the radio was playing and reports keep interrupting the music to describe the “path of the storm.” There was a lot of speculation, not just among the staff, but also on the radio. New “models” of where the storm would “make landfall” were being reported every few minutes it felt like. Some of the reports weren’t sure if it would be a “direct hit” or “complete miss.” But almost exactly one year prior, hurricane Ivan had been bearing down on New Orleans, and the reports were sure it was going to be ‘The Big One.’ But it missed.

Everyone who ever lived in New Orleans knew what would happen if ‘The Big One’ ever hit. It was so obvious, no one bothered to talk about it. People would simply say, “New Orleans would fill up like a punch bowl,” because of how deep below sea level the city sits. So, naturally, my wife and I evacuated with our toddler-aged son Tyson when Ivan was due to strike in 2004. And we felt duped when it barely caused any damage. Our friends who were New Orleans natives teased us. They weren’t scared at all. I can still remember our elderly next door neighbor ribbing us with a list of all the hurricanes she’d survived. The one that sticks out in my mind was hurricane Betsy, which I’m told did do some serious damage.

In Part Two, I’ll pick up the story from when Mayor Nagin issued the mandatory evacuation order.