It has now been 5 years; 5 long years since that fateful Monday morning when Hurricane Katrina crashed onshore, first in Buras, La and then on the far western Mississippi Gulf Coast just hours apart. The entire region, from coastal Louisiana, all of the greater New Orleans area, the Northshore and the expanse of the Mississippi Gulf Coast all the way to Mobile was devastated. And to make matters worse the levees failed and the epic flood ensued. Imagine this statistic: 80% of New Orleans proper flooded. Just next door the parish of St. Bernard had flooding in all but 6 structures; a community of nearly 75,000 wiped out.
In the community where I live and work we had almost no flood waters but tall and mighty pine trees laid waste to thousands of homes. The entire area waited weeks if not months for power to return as we often waited in lines for hours for gas. And we endured long lines too for ice and food as the rich and poor, black and white, Christian and not learned to stand with each other. Everyone has a story; families were seperated; careers were jeopardized; many moved away and never came back. That was then and much still needs to be done; too much is not yet repaired. But this is now.
My friends, our region is back; thanks be to God! New Orleans is roaring back although we must acknowledge large parts of the Crescent City are still lagging behind. For us on the Northshore we have exploded in population, traffic and industry because many flocked here seeking higher ground. Even St. Bernard has come back with a population now around 40,000; more than half of the population pre-Katrina. And the Mississippi Gulf Coast is alive and well too. All of this despite the recent oil spill disaster which is a story for another day.
Katrina reminds me personally of the odyssey my wife, daughter, mother and I endured; evacuating first to Alabama then on to North Carolina to live with our son. We returned to a slightly damaged home with no electricty for 4 weeks and lots and lots of downed trees around the area. I was able to return to work within 6 days of my return and my daughter made it back to high school in about a month. My training and schooling in diaconate formation would suffer a greater blow, keeping us out of class for 1 full year. Consequently I was ordained 1 full year later; but it was one of the greatest years of preparation in my life to serve the people of God.
I marveled at the many ministies being conducted by my Catholic Church and other churches of various faith traditions. Catholic Charities was responsible for feeding, clothing and caring for thousands upon thousands. I remember receiving food and supplies from members of a non-denominational church down the road. Our own Catholic parish opened a free clothing store from donated clothing across the country. And my diaconate class and the greater diaconate community received many generous donations to help us replace vestments, vessels and books lost forever to the winds and the water.
From such a tragedy of epic proportions came so much love, generosity and support. Any one of us who truly endured Katrina here at ground zero can deny that we are changed forever from both the storm and the recovery. Katrina is a real life reminder that in the big picture there is no Resurrection without Crucifixion. There is no eternal life without death.
Katrina took away much; including many lives. But Katrina did not take away our faith, our total dependency on God alone and our ability to love and care for one another.
May we all continue to learn valuable lessons from the Katrina experience and may we pray for all those she touched and pray that we and the entire New Orleans and Gulf Coast area continue to recover and rebuild and be protected from future storms.