Friday, August 28, 2015

Remembering Katrina: Lessons 10 Years Later

I’ve spent a good part of my summer blog posts talking about the different “families” I’m lucky enough to have in my life. I met Herb as part of J’s “Rampage family” this summer. We were sitting at the Saloon in Webster City having dinner after a game, and as people often do when they are meeting new people, I asked where he was from. The conversation went something like this:

Me: So where are you from?
Herb: New Orleans.
Me: Oh, what brought you to Iowa?
Herb: Katrina.
Me: ….

I’ll admit, I am often guilty of the news media trend in which we “forget” about events after the next new thing comes along. That conversation (although brief) stuck with me, so in a later conversation when Herb mentioned the 10 year anniversary of the storm approaching, I jumped at the chance to write about it.

Born in New Orleans, calling the downtown area home through high school, Herb was just returning from a leadership training camp in August 2005 as Katrina approached. Aware of the storm, but not really following the media coverage (how many teenage boys do?), it sort of caught him by surprise. With not a lot of warning, and very inconsistent weather reports, where the storm flip-flopped from a category 3 to a category 4 and back again, his family decided to stay in their home to ride it out.

250mph winds.
Broken levees.
         Over 1,000 lives lost.
                      Billions of dollars in damage.

Herb and his family, like many who survived the ordeal, looked for safety in the Superdome. We all remember the stories that came out of the Superdome at the time – Herb called this space home for 5 days.

Leaving the destruction behind, thousands of people looked to relocate. Herb ended up in Pella. I imagine relocating from a Katrina stricken New Orleans to Pella, Iowa was a bit of a culture shock, but he did know people there. In fact, they had visited him in New Orleans prior to Katrina, and were connected through church. He told me, “[the] best part was having people in Iowa who cared enough to get us a house to live in in the midst of the turmoil. The worst part [was] being called refugees in our own country.”

While it has taken some time, he says the city is coming back. Though he has no plans to visit during hurricane season, he says the community is coming back as well. The rich traditions and heritage of the city live on, but with a new flavor.

For me, the story is a reminder that home and family are what you make of them. You don’t have to be related to be family, and you don’t have to be born somewhere to call it home. For Herb, his church family became a bright spot under tragic circumstances, and Iowa became home. You can't choose, or even know, what kind of events will impact your life forever, but you can choose the people that will impact your life. 

Thank you, Herb, for letting me
tell this story.

*A few notes...
1. I am humbled to have had the opportunity to tell this story. Never before have I had the opportunity to write about something so personal to someone else.
2. I truly wanted to tell a story of strength and family, not dwelling on the past.
3. In no way do I want to discount the story of Mississippi 10 years later.


  1. How inspirational! I can't imagine what Herb went through, but what an amazing young man. Thank you for sharing his story with us!

  2. What a wonderful story you were able to tell. Thank you for sharing it so well!!!

  3. Loved this post. I'm so happy that you took time to listen to Herb so we all could hear a little about his story. Thanks for sharing.