What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Friday, August 17, 2007

Growing Up After Camille, Reflections on Katrina

by Ana Maria

Thirty-eight years ago today Hurricane Camille hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I was but a child of ten. Our family home had been built on the highest land in Hancock County. We slept in the hall. One of the families in the neighborhood stayed with us bringing their grandkids with them. Great! More people to play with my younger brother and me.

I remember the eye of Hurricane Camille when the storm got deadly silent, truly the calm before the hurricane kicked up all over again but from the opposite direction. Someone opened the door and one of my older brothers had a rope around his waist as he ventured outside to check on the family dog in the shed. Peering out the door, all I could see were trees that Camille had knocked down making the outside appear as though we were inside Sherwood Forest.

My family and our neighbors were lucky. No real lasting damage. Just down the road a mile or so, families took in nine feet of water in their homes. We had a bit of roof damage and nearly every tree in our yard, save three, had been knocked down. But we were safe, had a home, and plenty of running water. At the time, my family’s water came from a neighboring well, which the hurricane did not damage. My family opened up our home to others not so fortunate. People lined up to take cold showers.

To this day, 38 years after that historic hurricane, memories of sounds quickly bring me back to that time. Wherever I hear a chainsaw, I immediately recall the buzzing of saws clearing roads after Camille. The National Guard were Johnny on the spot helping folks with all the heavy post-disaster relief efforts. The Red Cross leveraged the organizing and management skills of local leaders like my own mother who coordinated many of the efforts to help families in the wake of Camille’s aftermath.

I remember each of these things with a sort of childlike feeling of being cared for, of community coming together, of an American government and institutions focused on helping its own people with what matters most—family, community, safety.

My younger brother and I were sent to stay with one of many relatives living in New Orleans, which Camille hadn’t hit. As a kid, I wasn’t particularly happy about leaving home, but I adored all of my relatives so the separation became more than tolerable for a kid who had just experienced something quite scary.

Reflections on Katrina’s Children
What will Katrina’s children recall once they grow up into adults? The National Guard that should have been helping with Katrina’s aftermath was not available to help out with the cleanup. George W. Bush had wrongly started a war with a country in which we are now mired in a Vietnam-like war. Bush pushed our weekend warriors into 24/7 military service in Iraq . Guess Bush is grateful that Nixon didn’t put the National Guard in Vietnam. If Nixon had, Bush would have had to find other ways to escape serving his country.

So when the National Guard should have been here in the U.S. helping in Katrina’s aftermath—just as they had been in Camille’s aftermath, they were in Iraq in the only war Bush has ever been remotely interested in some involvement—if only for the photo ops.

Katrina’s kids won’t have the fond memories of the National Guard that I acquired after Camille.

Perhaps today’s children will remember the kind faces of thousands of volunteers and family members across the country that helped. But when destruction remains everywhere some two years after the storm, it may not be enough to heal the sense of abandonment and immense hardship imposed by a White House that has failed miserably to take care of its responsibilities to its people.

Yesterday, I wrote about a young mother and her two children living in an itty, bitty, teeny tin formaldehyde-filled FEMA trailer in my hometown. Her little boy was jumping everywhere as 3-year olds are want to do. He has no playground or yard or park to play in. The trailer is tinier than any one-bedroom apartment I’ve ever lived in. Maybe 300 square feet.

After school had let out, older kids entered the trailer park laughing and giggling making plans to get together after touching base with their families. Many seemed about ten years old or so—the age I had been when Camille hit the town. I wonder what their view of government will be? How will the destruction of all that they had once known, neighborhoods and communities that continue to struggle to come back, how will that impact these kids?

Back on that fateful Sunday of August 17, 1969, my family and I attended Mass as we did every Sunday. Our congregation prayed for protection from the hurricane headed our way. Today, on Camille’s 38th anniversary, I pray for continued strength to envision life full of vibrancy . . . and normalcy.

Yesterday, I drove through Diamondhead, Miss., which is literally on the northern side of I-10, about 15 miles north of my hometown of Bay St. Louis, Miss. It, too, had had much of Katrina’s destruction. One cousin’s home was completely demolished. But not all of the city received Katrina's wrath.

As I wound through the streets,
these neighborhoods looked . . . normal. I kept saying out loud was how lovely it is to remember what life is like with houses that are well-kept, gardens manicured, lawns cut. I drove for quite a while remembering life before I arrived here in March. For me, it was a breath of fresh air. I hadn’t realized how much I had already acclimated to seeing the destruction that is so prevalent but a few miles down the road.

These scenes are how life looked pre-Katrina along the Gulf Coast and to the west of us in the greater New Orleans area then over to the east over to Alabama. Once again, I began to yearn.

I yearn for the ease of the life that I had before coming home. I yearn for it for myself. I yearn for it for my family. I yearn for it for my friends and neighbors. For here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast all the way east to Bayou Le Batre, Alabama, and west throughout the levee flooded areas of New Orleans and its surrounding cities.

And, the children like Keisha’s little boy. I yearn that he, his sister, and his mother will soon be surrounded by the beauty of their own rooms in their own home in a neighborhood where kids go outside to play and get dirty until their mom calls them inside for lunch or supper or to do their chores or whathaveyou. That’s what my mom did when I was a kid growing up here after Camille. Katrina kids deserve the same normalcy.

Broadening Katrina’s Lens: A Five-Part Series
Part 1: Broadening Katrina's Lens
Part 2: Recovery’s Two Major Impediments: $$$ and the "F" word
Part 3: The "F" Word: FEMA
Part 4: Katrina’s Bigger Picture
Part 5: Katrina’s Karmic Payback: Insurance Reform

Read, bookmark, subscribe to A.M. in the Morning! . . . . . . dispatches from Katrina's ground zero with Ana Maria,a distinctly progressive political voice.

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Bryan said...

My Dad was in the VA hospital when Camille hit and spent three days on the second floor eating crackers and drinking water before anything much was done.

I was in the Air Force and drove through on my way from the family home in Florida to my new posting in Omaha, Nebraska. I remember all of the huge shrimp boats on the wrong side of the road before I turned north in Mississippi.

Then it was dodging fallen trees and large snakes sunning on the road as I tried to get to my base on time.

I understand why people who had survived Camille would think they could weather anything.

GentillyGirl said...

I was 12 and our family lived on the Bay side of Biloxi, just 200 foot from the Bay. I do remember Camille.

My mother, the crazy Creole woman from NOLA had totally stocked the house and patiently waited for the storm to visit. My dad (Pennsylvanian) was flipping out. He had moved us from New Orleans after Betsy out of fear of the storms and wound up right in the sights of another big hurricane.

We were the only house that didn't take water. My little brother and I helped clean up the downed branches throughout the neighbor hood and helped folks drag the water-logged houses whilst Mom cooked her food to feed many families and Dad drove back and forth from Mobile bringing in supplies.

It was an interesting experience that has always stayed with me.

My partner and I fled before Katrina hit and the levees failed. Staying would have seen us trapped deep in the flood waters and unable to help as is my wont.

The next time we will stay and help out. House is at 9'+, total wireless devices for everything along with full Solar and geo-thermal. There will be 50+ gallos of water and a purification system from Hades to handle the city water, and like my mom, I will have grunches of food in order to help out our neighbors.

Now if I could only get the contractor to finish fixing the place. (pout)

emily said...

Perhaps the children who have survived Katrina will become political hell raisers and ensure that THEIR children will have faint but warm memories of any storms they weather in their lives on the coast.

Ana Maria said...

Thank you all for reading AND commenting. What a wonderful blessing to read your Camille stories. And yes, may we have many political hell raisers spouting up all over the place! Woohooo!

Casey Ann said...

I read your blog regularly, because you are an amazingly good writer. Your writing always evokes such emotions - and perhaps, more importantly, an urge to do something.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, your knowledge, and your feelings. I believe you are having a real impact.

Sierra Nordgren said...

A lot of those hit by Katrina had their roofs ripped off, or worse, blown away. Yeah, Camille's damage was bad. But the silver lining in these catastrophes is that people work hand in hand in order to recover from the losses and damages.