Thursday, January 12, 2012

Thirsty Thursday: Katrina

Today's post was inspired by an amazing book I'm reading right now by Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose. The book is titled "1 Dead in Attic", and is a compilation of columns and blurbs Chris wrote in the 16 months that following Hurricanes Katrina & Rita.

Even though Katrina was almost 7 years ago, I will be honest--this is the first book I've read about the aftermath since it all happened. Not out of ignorance or apathy, but because it was still, even after all this time, just too soon. I realize now that I haven't ever recounted my own personal Katrina story in this blog. And this book reminded me that just because I didn't stay, doesn't mean I don't have a story.

I moved to New Orleans in June 2004 (Katrina happened August 2005). I started my masters program at the University of New Orleans in August 2004. Sometimes I refer to my diploma as a "Katrina degree", because to be honest, I don't remember a whole lot of what I learned that first year of my program. All I know is that it pretty well had nothing to do with hurricanes or flooding. I remember doing my graduate assistantship (maintaining a departmental website for the Geography division, and managing the College's computer labs); I remember learning to make an animated time-lapse map; I remember starting to learn the basics of remote sensing using satellite imagery; I remember working starting my thesis (a historical case study of how the building of a hydroelectric dam impacted this particular area's social and economic landscape, in addition to the physical landscape). I remember liking my program and the things we were learning, the diversity of projects and ideas. I think I wrote research papers on things like volcanoes and oil spills and caves and wetlands.

I remember my job at Martin's, and my friends, and my first Mardi Gras.

In June 2005, our neighbor across the hall (we lived in an old subdivided estate in the Uptown area) had his apartment broken into and all they stole was a gun. Earlier that year, my car had been broken into as well. So my roommate & I moved outside of town, to a place about half an hour northwest of the city.

In July 2005, I went on a European cruise, and life was great.

In late July, Tropical Storm Cindy sideswiped New Orleans and downed a bunch of trees & power lines. Most of the city was without power for a couple days, so I was out of school and work those days as well.

Classes started mid-August. I was taking Environmental Law, a Geomorphology class, and (get this) Hazards & Disasters. One of our textbooks was a great book by Mike Tidwell called "Bayou Farewell".

I should state here: I grew up in Tornado Alley, so at the time, hurricanes didn't seem scary. I mean...come on, they move 8 miles an hour? I can ride a bike away from that. You see them coming weeks in advance. Not scary like tornadoes that pop up unannounced. We stayed in New Orleans for Hurricane Ivan (September 2004) and it petered out before it even got to the city. We got a little rain. Big whoop.

So when they started talking about Katrina, she was a 2 or 3, and there was a volunteer evacuation. It was a Friday. I reflected back on TS Cindy, and thought, "if a tropical storm can shut the city down for 2 days, a Cat 2-3 should maybe get us about 3 or 4 days? That's a nice long weekend. Let's drive up to Missouri and take a mini-vaycay."

By the time we were halfway through Mississippi, they had upgraded the storm to a Cat 5. And things started to get surreal.

We stayed at a friend's house in Springfield, MO, and watched Katrina on TV. We gorged ourselves on Missouri favorite foods to ease the shock of watching our city & the surrounding areas. The TV was on pretty well 24/7. And, being the good girl that I was, I had brought my homework with me from that one week of school we had before Katrina hit. So I was reading "Bayou Farewell"--a story about the disappearing wetlands and the impacts of it--written in 2003, mind you...reading things like:

"Thus, the question persists: What will this coast do when a Category 4 hurricane finally does come ashore with almost nothing to stop its surge tide, which is likely to be in the neighborhood of 18 feet? The water will furiously topple all levees in its path and go and go and go, all the way into the outskirts of Baton Rouge, like a liquid bulldozer, flattening everything it meets, and hundreds of thousands of people will be at risking of drowning."

...and WATCHING it happen on TV. It does NOT get more surreal than that. I remember sitting on the couch, sobbing, but unable to tear my eyes away from the TV. Unable to get in touch with friends because all the cell towers were down. (This was pre-Facebook and the Myspace explosion. Facebook would have been SO handy back then.)

Our "long weekend" turned into 2 weeks, before we were allowed to drive back. People who lived in the city had to wait much longer.

We got back to find our house relatively unscathed. The area we lived in was on "high ground" (aka 13 ft above sea level), but the wind had knocked our front porch awning off and we had some leaks in the roof, and a fridge/freezer full of spoiled food (though our power was back on by the time we got back, it had been out for over a week).

We also came back to no jobs. My roommate's place of work in the city had flooded, and mine was without power. As for my job at the University--they had "indefinitely" closed the school, but I was still getting an assistantship check so long as I helped keep the website up to date with news updates, and helped run a Yahoo "Check In" group for students & professors (again, pre-Facebook here.)

After a month with no "real" work (the assistantship brought in $500/month) I had to look for gainful employment.

In late September, I got a job working as a survey hand for a consulting company in Houma, Louisiana. The hurricane had done wonders for their business & they needed extra people. Our first job was to take topographic measurements inside a farmer's pasture that had flooded--he had levees on all sides (normally for keeping stray floodwaters OUT, it had become trapped during the surge from the storm, and now all his cattle were huddled together in the few mounds of high ground. Our job was to find the lowest point so he knew where to put the pump so he could start draining the water back into the canal. I saw four dead cows that week, but I also rode in an airboat for the first time, so it's maybe an even trade.

In late October, the University decided to reopen--but offer all classes online. I lost my assistantship because I wasn't available to go help with cleanup on campus (on account of the new job). But it didn't really matter because my new employer was literally swamped with work and I was getting 50 hours/week.

At one point, I thought I was ready & drove into New Orleans, on a mission to see it all with my own eyes. I went through the neighborhoods I knew, and saw a lot of water lines (water lines that still remain on some houses to this day), gutted homes, restaurants that I had loved now closed indefinitely, plywood everywhere, the FEMA house check markings on the sides of homes stating when they'd been there & if they'd found any bodies:

Then I drove to the Ninth Ward. Before Katrina, I'd never been to the Ninth Ward--I didn't even know where it was. I had to call a friend & get directions. My friend worked for 911 and asked if I was sure I wanted to see it. I said I needed to.

I don't have photos of my own, because when I got to the Ninth Ward, I started crying. I don't know anyone who lived there--it was pretty well all low-income "ghetto", essentially. But they were still people. And now their homes looked like this:

When classes did resume, all the course material centered around Katrina and hurricanes. (Thus, why I call it a "Katrina degree") Particularly my Hazards & Disasters course. It was so disheartening and constricting--I felt like that d**n storm had taken over everything in my life. My work, my schooling... and then I got word that my thesis advisor wasn't moving back. His home in NOLA had gotten 8 feet of water, so he & his family moved back to Austin, Texas. Which meant he could no longer be my advisor, & I had to try to find someone else at the school who was interested in my thesis topic.

They weren't. There was grant money to be found in Katrina research, so all the professors wanted me to "just switch topics". A year of research and writing invested, and I should "just switch". Spend the next two years writing a 100-150 page tome about Katrina & birds, or Katrina & wetlands, or Katrina & the people...

...I knew if I "just switched", it would consume me. Katrina would eat me up, even though I hadn't even been in the state when she came whirling through. I tried to modify my existing topic--make it more disaster-related. My former thesis advisor read some of it & told me I'd taken a "very dark turn". "What Happens When Dams Fail"'s sorta like a big levee...only bigger. And darker. And scary and depressing and I didn't want to spend even one year writing about it.

So...they told me I could take the non-thesis option and just take 9 additional hours of coursework. One extra semester. I took it. I was accused of taking the "easy route" by my boss (who also had his masters). I don't think he realized that if I'd "just switched" and gone the Katrina route, I might have ended up slicing my wrists. So yeah-- I took the easy route. The Non-Katrina route.

Katrina continued to consume my world at work. I met oyster fishermen who couldn't get compensated by their insurance companies because they couldn't prove whether their home damage had been from flooding or tornadoes--because their home was GONE--blew away, or floated away. It continued when I got promoted into the Environmental department a few months later. Someone overheard that I knew how to do land loss studies. So for the next 6 months, I used satellite imagery to map how much land had been lost in the lower Parishes of St. Bernard & Plaquemines. Hey--it wasn't a thesis, but at least I got published.

At some point, the Katrina work died out. I graduated, I moved to Lafayette and busied myself with oil exploration permits and oyster lease assessments and wetlands projects. At some point, I didn't think about HER and her stupid sister Rita every day. There was a lot of being angry in there...angry at the people who whined & complained instead of picking themselves up by the bootstraps...angry at the people who blamed everyone else & pointed fingers....angry at mankind for destroying the wetlands that allowed Katrina to get thatmuchcloser to the city & do so much damage...angry at people who told me to just leave--"see how dangerous it is? Just move back!" Truth is, danger's everywhere, it's just a matter of what you can live with--and at least in Louisiana, I was helping. And I loved every day of my life in Louisiana, all 6 years of it. Even the years that were tainted by Katrina. Because that's my war story now. Going through it changed me & made me a better, stronger person.

So...that's my story. It's not as exciting or glamorous as others, but there it is, in one place.


Okay...that was longer than I expected.

After reading that, you probably need a drink. Heck, I wrote it & I feel like I need a drink. the spirit of Katrina, I figured: "surely someone out there monopolized upon the idea of a Katrina drink". And surely they did. Several people in fact. And they're all so different, I felt the need to share them all, just like I've shared my story.



1 splash Grenadine
0.5 fill Orange juice
0.5 fill Pineapple Juice
1.0 shot Bacardi 151 Rum
1.0 Light Rum

Directions: Put both types of rum in shaker. Add juices. Top with splash of grenadine. Shake. Serve.

0.5 oz Banana Liqueur
0.5 oz Galliano
2.0 oz Grapefruit Juice
2.0 oz Orange juice
1.5 oz Rum

Directions: shake well, serve in a tall glass.


1 - Banana
4 - Strawberries
1 part(s) Parrot Bay Coconut Rum
1 part(s) Pina Colada Mix
1 squirt(s) Whipped Cream

Use a blender. Start with ice in bottom, add whole banana and 4 strawberries. Add a small to moderate amount of Parrot Bay coconut rum (make sure it's enough cause there's much more Pina Colada mix than there is Coconut rum). Now, add the Pina Colada mix (I don't know how much of everything, I never measured it cause I make it all the time). Add whipped cream to the mix and then blend it all until the ice is totally crushed and the mix turns red (from the strawberries). Pour into Margarita glasses, take some red & blue food coloring and put some dots of each color on the top. Take a toothpick and swirl each color in the opposite direction- it gives it a hurricane look!


2 shots Olmeca Altos 100% agave tequila (reposado)
¼ shot Kahlúa coffee liqueur
⅛ shot La Fée Parisienne (68%) absinthe
¼ shot Chambord berry liqueur
1 shot Pressed apple juice

Origin: Adapted from a drink created in 2005 at Pirates Alley Café, New Orleans, and named after the hurricane which devastated the city in 2005. The name is an acronym of its original ingredients: Kahlúa, Absinthe, Tequila, Raspberry, Ice, Nutmeg and Apple juice.

Shake all ingredients together with ice...then serve with no ice!

(NOTE: this one makes me laugh, because oh yes---there was DEFINITELY an ice shortage in NOLA after Katrina!)

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