It is one of those times that makes one recall, like a bookmark in the story of one’s life, “I remember where I was when….”

Whether in the place or not, one was firmly in the moment, wherever they may have been in the world. The world stopped, holding its breathe.

Hurricane KATRINA. One storm, one target. One defining moment.

Even 10 years on, stories, reflections, deep sight of recall, makes tears fall – tears of horror, tears of hope, tears questioning how this could have happened, and tears demanding that this never happen again.

As Mother Nature channeled her fury-filled temper towards the southern coast of the USA, the nation braced itself for a storm that defied fiction, and very swiftly and abusively, defied engineering. The Gulf Coast region tried desperately to duck our of harm’s way, but there was no escaping the damage, even if one happened to escape the storm’s path.

Overnight, as darkness fell and the skies started to scream, people and prayers clutched on to one another. As the sun rose, the horror of what had happened unfolded. The storm had ripped through the region, cutting through and washing away lives, livelihoods, hope. In New Orleans alone, the levees had broken, the water had risen flooding 80% of the city.

As stated by The Data Centre, “The storm displaced more than a million people in the Gulf Coast region. Many people returned home within days, but up to 600,000 households were still displaced a month later. At their peak, hurricane evacuee shelters housed 273,000 people and, later, FEMA trailers housed at least 114,000 households.” In the year following Katrina’s arrival, the population of the city dropped by 50% as families – those surviving – continued to wait to rebuild their lives.

The damage was traumatic, the city and Gulf Coast region, traumatised. In one night, with one wicked lashing, Katrina robbed the people of the Gulf Coast region of their dignity, their sense of security, and for hundreds of thousands, their belief in humanity. Scenes of fury from the Superdome, to scenes of death and decay from the flooded streets, revealed how alone millions were feeling.

While the official counts of costs of Katrina are well documented, 1800 lives and over US$ 135billion in damages, the cost spiritually was so much more. How could this have happened? How could such profound loss occur in one of the richest countries in the world? How could a nation priding itself on embracing those from near and afar be felt to be so uncaring, by its own, in their darkest days? And how could of the rest of the world simply sit back and watch?

It was a time that caused many to look down.

Many across the region, across the country. And across the world.

The learnings around Katrina are many. Preparing for a storm can be done with exceptional confidence that essential infrastructure will not fail. And yet, the scars are still raw, even if the levees are now secure. Those there to help, to survive, reflecting back on those horrific days, know that it is not only the hardware of a city that needs to be strong to survive such storms, it is the software – the spirits of the people, those needing help, and those helping, whether around the corner or around the world.

As the 10th Anniversary of Katrina is reached, many know these learnings all too well. Today, while some of the region’s hardest hit areas are now rebuilt with stronger pride and purpose, their people determined to move forward, the distinct musical sounds of the south filling the air, still, there are some where only ghosts reside. Today, 10 years on, the ghosts still walk the streets, shaking their heads, unable to comprehend how this could ever have happened.

In today’s day and age, there is no country immune to crisis, be it natural, economic, social or political.  May Katrina’s ghosts continue to remind us, everywhere, of the need to never look away, from hope, and from others needing our help.

In times of crisis, sometimes even Mother Nature can be forgiven for inflicting such hurt….but not human nature. Strength of spirit and strength of structure go hand in hand when it comes to rebuilding communities, rebuilding lives.


Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2015