Still Struggling, Katrina's Victims Tell Stories of Survival

Adrianne Appel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
for National Geographic News
September 27, 2005

Even before Hurricane Rita dealt a second blow to the Gulf region, the victims of Hurricane Katrina continued to struggle to reclaim their lives from the water and rubble.

For some, it is as if Katrina hit only yesterday. Many people still do not have clean drinking water or electricity, and their houses are too dangerous to live in. About 89,400 Katrina evacuees are still being housed in shelters nationwide, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

The stories these evacuees tell are all different—tales of survival, charity, violence, and in at least one case, newfound love. Together they provide a glimpse into the lives of the hundreds of thousands who remain displaced by Katrina.

On a recent Saturday—more than two weeks after Katrina struck and one week before Rita—Gayle Bryan and her sister, Carolyn Crowell, sat on the bumper of their car in Louisiana's rural Plaquemines Parish. From their perch they looked out at Bryan's house about a hundred feet (30 meters) away. The house was up to the windows in water.

"It's so close, but I can't get to it,'' Bryan said, tearing up.

Plaquemines is a peninsula south of New Orleans. Its southernmost half was still under more than five feet (one and a half meters) of water. Bryan and Crowell were on the last patch of dry road before it disappeared into the floodwaters.

At their feet, bloated oranges bobbed in the brown water, the only evidence that a month ago the region was thick with orange groves. It was 4 p.m., and the pair had been there since noon, hoping someone with a boat would give them a ride to her house.

"We just want to know if anything is there," Gayle said. "For closure.''

"There's Nothing Left"

People in Plaquemines are used to floods, but Katrina's 30-foot (9-meter) tidal surge, which tumbled houses and drowned cattle, was like nothing residents here had ever seen.

"There's nothing left,'' said Jeffrey Treadway, sitting underneath a white tarp in front of what used to be the Myrtle Grove Bar and Restaurant in the Plaquemines town of Myrtle Grove.

He spoke between bites of a FEMA-issued Meal Ready to Eat. "No one has a home," he said. "There's no Red Cross here.''

Continued on Next Page >>


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