After weeks of writing about how others weathered the storm, the writer confronts her family’s future in a new city.
While many people cursed the day Hurricane Katrina hit, my mom sees the storm as a blessing. My mother, Shelia Starks, and uncle, Michael Starks, were among those unable to evacuate New Orleans before the storm. Because my uncle is paralyzed and cannot sit up ómost of his traveling consists of doctor visits by ambulanceóleaving the city to wait out the storm was not a viable option for them.
Instead, they found higher ground at West Jefferson Medical Center on the West Bank. After Katrina passed, my mother was able to gather a few things from home before returning to the hospital to await transportation to a safer city. After five days of waiting for evacuation, a hospital administrator called to say that because of my uncleís condition, they had no way of getting my family out of the area. They suggested that I find resources in Houston to help get them to safety.
I said a prayer, then sent an e-mail to everyone in my address book explaining my situation. A former colleague told me that Texas Equusearch, a volunteer search and rescue team, was planning to use helicopters to help in the New Orleans rescue effort. Equusearch put me in touch with a company called Acadian Ambulance, of Lafayette, Louisiana, which agreed to fly my mother and uncle to Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where there was shelter, food, water and medical care. My boyfriend and I drove from Houston to Baton Rouge to pick them up, and headed back to Houston, which they now call home.
Four weeks after settling in Houston, my mother decided to return to New Orleans to retrieve some of her belongings. I was apprehensive about the drive back; she was anxious to get going. But the trip turned out to be much better than Iíd expected. There were plenty of drivers headed east on I-10 that weekend, and despite warnings of blocked roads, we were able to take the highway until we reached the outskirts of New Orleans. Finding gas was our only true adventure as many small towns were recovering from Hurricane Rita, which hit only weeks after Katrina.
After arriving at my momís house in Gretna, we realized just how fortunate she was. Her home is located just two blocks from a levee that managed to hold during the storms. Aside from a giant satellite dish toppling over next to her house, the structure was intact and there had been no water damage. Although most of the other homes we passed were still standing, the area resembled a war zone with downed trees and debris everywhere. A few neighbors had returned, but it was obvious that many homes remained abandoned.
In New Orleans, if my mom felt any sadness about leaving behind the city she had lived in her entire life, she didnít show it. Instead, she was eager to get on the road and head back to her new life in Houston, one that promised a fresh start. She saw it as a life of possibilities sheíd never considered before Katrina. ìI never in a million years thought I would be living in Houston, but God has a plan for everything. It took a hurricane to get me here, but I believe it was for the best,î she said.
My mom hopes to realize her dream of starting a catering company. And now that she has me and other family members to help care for my uncle, sheíll be able to enjoy more of the little things in life.
Also, having recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, the storm forced my mother to relocate to Houston, where she is receiving care at a world-renowned facility, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. ìLiving here is definitely an adjustment,î she says. ìThey donít have the same types of food here and the people drive crazy, but Iím blessed to be able to get better medical care.î
She tells me often that God is control regardless of what happens in our lives. She says nothing can deter her faith, not even a little hurricane called Katrina.
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