Hurricane Katrina: A special travel tale

As Hurricane Irene passed through my home Puerto Rico the other night and threatens to hit Florida (and North Carolina as of 8/25), where I currently live, I could not help but remember how devastating hurricanes can be, especially if a population is completely unprepared. This brought me back to November 2005, when as a freshmen in college, I joined a program put together by the Christ Crusade group at my university and went off to volunteer in New Orleans and help victims affected by Hurricane Katrina (Category 5).

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina heading towards Louisiana

Having lived in Puerto Rico my whole life (up until I was 18), I know hurricanes.  While I was 2 years old for Hurricane Hugo, I was 11 when Hurricane Georges hit. Thus, I remember the latter (and several other tropical storms) vividly. I know what it’s like to be inside a solid concrete house for hours, sometimes more than a day, hearing the winds roar outside, still feeling unsafe. We Puerto Ricans take hurricanes very seriously and prepare accordingly, even if they are just tropical storms. We even know about them since they form all the way on the west coast of Africa!

Thus my utter confusion when Category-5 Hurricane Katrina threatened to hit the USA in 2005 and it was not on even on the news really until danger was imminent. Even then, people were planning “hurricane parties,” planning to stay in their homes (right by the river or beach!), and those living in New Orleans ignored several warnings and evacuation plans. So I must admit, the devastation didn’t surprise me…

Hurricane Katrina New Orleans

Hurricane Katrina devastation in New Orleans – by Liz Roll, FEMA

The fact I was expecting such devastation, however, did not make me immune to what I witnessed in New Orleans upon arrival on Thanksgiving weekend 2005. Seeing the houses, water marks up to the roof, and all kinds of devastation and traces of Hurricane Katrina through the streets marked my heart deeply. And so I was glad I decided to come out and help.

For 5 days, a small group of volunteers and I stayed at a small house by the French Quarter and woke up at sunrise to go out to the streets, clean debris, and rebuild houses deeply affected by the hurricane. Images I will never forget for sure.

Hurricane Katrina New Orleans

Devastation inside houses of NOLA by Infrogmation, Wiki Commons

Hurricane Katrina New Orleans

Our volunteering group, me in light pants at center, in non-flooded area of NOLA fixing houses

New Orleans Bourbon Street

From left: Mara, Kasey and me at New Orleans’ Bourbon Street

I really hope Hurricane Katrina keeps reminding Americans of how serious of a threat hurricanes are and to start taking them seriously now and not wait for another disaster to “open their eyes” again. So, with Hurricane Irene on the way, I only hope those living on the southeast of the U.S. prepare accordingly!

Hurricane Katrina New Orleans

NOLA post-Hurricane Katrina (2005) by Jocelyn Augustino, FEMA

post Hurricane Katrina New Orleans 2010

New Orleans today (2010) by Infrogmation of New Orleans, Wiki Commons

This entry also reminded me of my upcoming trip to New Orleans in December. I just bought a flight on American Airlines (AA) for $160 RT from Tampa, FL — truly a bargain! AA has been having some awesome sales lately, so I recommend you check them out if the travel bug is bothering you too much 😉 Anyway!

I couldn’t help but think how I have never truly seen New Orleans, as I saw it at its worse. Granted, my visit had a great motive behind it, but I can’t help but be excited and anticipate my December trip, as I will finally see some of the spark so characteristic of NOLA, 6 years after Hurricane Katrina hit.

I also can’t help but wonder whether destruction is still apparent in some parts of town. I will definitely write down all my observations and post a proper trip report upon my return 🙂

New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina (2010)

Downtown New Orleans now (Infrogmation, Flickr Commons). Can’t wait to see it myself!

Have you ever been to New Orleans? Pre- or post-Hurricane Katrina?

UPDATE: due to an unforeseen emergency, I had to cancel my NOLA trip…but don’t worry, I will be back.

7 thoughts on “Hurricane Katrina: A special travel tale

  1. How great of you to volunteer – I lived in Germany at the time, and remember how moved I was hearing about people from all over the US heading down to New Orleans to volunteer. We are headed to New Orleans in a week as a part of our road trip – we’ll post pics and daily updates, and then have some posts out later on – keep in touch and we’ll swap stories!

  2. What an adventure. I admire anyone who does volunteer to help others or wildlife conservation. It’s a caring, giving attitude that will stay with you for life!

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