My first thought after the announce-
ment was unusual at best. I chuckled
in disbelief. I recalled saying, “Now
wait a minute, you can't cancel the
retreat. I went through all this trouble
to block out the world, get close to
God, and now you’re sending me back
home? This can't be true. This can't
That was the last time I laughed for
about 18 months.
Like most of South Louisiana, I
thought I was going through the familiar hurricane cycle of preparation and
evacuation. It’s a common occurrence
to evacuate for a few days and
come back to a minor damaged
or undamaged home, flickering
electricity, and maybe a few
downed tree limbs. No big deal.
I was convinced everything would
be fine. But everything was not
going to be fine after August 29,
2005. In an instant, my life
changed without my consent or
control. I would have to make
thousands of hard decisions that
ultimately would lead me to where
unknowns. My family and I were taken
in by relatives and friends in Ascension
Parish. We stayed in three different
homes and always felt uncertain, unset-
tled and worried that we were impos-
ing. And one day it finally dawned on
me: We were homeless.
I cried for a solid hour alone in my
car. And just when I thought I would
feel better the next day, the feelings of
despair and helplessness returned as
persistently as a Louisiana mosquito on
a steamy August night.
The government issued official
passes for us to enter the neighborhood
about two weeks after the storm. I
entered back into a Katrina-beaten St.
Bernard Parish on Sept. 11, 2005,
which was the fourth anniversary of the
infamous “9/11”. The magnitude of
going back on that date was overwhelming. Due to the toxic debris and
uninhabitable sewage-filled streets, I
was ordered to take a decontamination
shower underneath an exposed water
tank after leaving my own neighborhood. Although the weather was hot in
September, the water during this naked
shower was ice cold.
My own personal recovery did not
happen overnight. I allowed myself to
mourn the home and business I lost,
but I soon found my solace through
books and the stories of my clients who
lost everything as well. So many of
them rose above the hurt, pain,
unprecedented devastation and
uncertainty that lay ahead. It was
this group that banded together
to pave the road to someplace
better. It was our job to find that
road for the benefit of all. Kat-
rina was now my crossroads
from mediocrity to significance.
My life’s purpose became clear.
I assumed the challenge of
helping my insurance clients in
St. Bernard, whom I had
served since 1988. There
were 70,000 residents in this
and who I am today. It would prove
to be my life's defining moment.
Although various scientists and others
predicted that someday the levees would
fail, it was mere conjecture in our
minds until the day Katrina hit. Luckily,
we evacuated in time, along with thousands of our friends and neighbors.
Those who didn’t evacuate in our community had a hell-on-earth experience.
My family members were among the
safe and secure, but we watched on televisions as our livelihoods were washed
away with the flood waters.
Dozens of levees were breached
during the storm surge that followed.
I witnessed water sweeping along the
streets while its putrid-smelling marsh
mud coated any hope of a short recovery. Nearly 2,000 people died, and
hundreds of thousands along the
Gulf Coast were left traumatized
In Katrina’s aftermath, Col.
David D. Dysart, USMCR, recipient
of the 2005 Bronze Star, and the Director of Recovery for St. Bernard Parish
Government, said, “It was war, just
without the blood.” The battered
landscape reminded him of his days
in Fallujah, Iraq.
A person's true character was easily
exposed during that time after the
storm. Some retreated and mentally
lost it due to the pressure and all of the