Memory of Hurricane Katrina still fresh

August 28, 2009 3:57:00 PM PDT
Four years ago, Hurricane Katrina inched closer and closer to the Gulf Coast with very few realizing the chaos and loss of life that would come in the hours ahead, especially for New Orleans residents. Since then, our world here in Houston has changed quite a bit as well. It was four years ago this weekend we saw the Gulf Coast permanently changed. The most significant of those alterations was the destruction of New Orleans, and the impact its one time residents had and are still having on the city of Houston.

Deborah White lost everything in Katrina.

"One day you woke up and found out that what you had is no longer there," she said.

She still goes home every month, but has made a new life here as a hair stylist in a local salon.

"I'll be here for a long time, I'm sure," White said. "I'm growing and I'm healing. More or less it feels like a lifetime."

She is one of an estimated 100,000 survivors still living in Houston, but who still call New Orleans home.

University of Houston professor Carl Lindahl said, "There is a deep emotional attachment with New Orleans that won't go away even for people who are very, very happy here in every other regard."

Lindahl helped start a project that provides training and money for evacuees to interview each other about their experiences. One theme he finds running deep four years later is the sense among the transplants that within the world of public perception, they are all lumped together, for better or worse.

"They said we want people to know who we are," Lindahl explained. "Even the most generous people think that we're deadbeats or at best victims. But we are people who have a lot to contribute."

They want to contribute like White, four years removed from the storm that happened a lifetime ago.

She said, "God don't make mistakes. You know great things are in store for me and all the people of New Orleans."

In the year following the storm, Houston's population grew by 130,000 people. Orleans Parish, Louisiana dropped by 278,000. The latest numbers show that nearly 125,000 who used to call New Orleans home have never moved back.

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