By Katy Ricalde
I spent most of my young life in a small town in South Carolina. To me Clemson will always be home. As a kid I always found it funny that anyone that asked my parents where they were from would always get the same response—“New Orleans, Louisiana,” they would say with pride. I remember once looking at my dad and saying, “but you have lived in South Carolina for 15 years—you are from South Carolina.” He just looked at me and said, “No-I am from New Orleans and I always will be.”
Hurricane Katrina hit my junior year of college. Two of my uncles were firefighters in the city and my aunt was a nurse. While the rest of my extended family (4 grandparents, 2 aunts, 2 uncles, a young cousin, and 2 dogs) escaped the storm to our home in South Carolina (joining my immediate family of 5, plus 3 dogs) the rest stayed behind to see how they could help—to do their jobs. After all, how bad could it be? They had all survived many a hurricane.
We all know the damage the storm caused—it really was devastating to the city and our house guests stayed for almost 2 months. In the end, nearly all suffered damage to their homes— My aunt, uncle and cousin lived in a FEMA trailer parked outside their home while they rebuilt from the damage a large tree caused—but they were very fortunate compared to so many others along the Gulf Coast.
Growing up we always spent Thanksgiving in Louisiana and Katrina certainly wasn’t going to stop my parents from breaking tradition. We drove through the Lower 9th Ward –where most of the damage from Katrina occurred due to the levee—and I remember thinking it looked like a ghost town. The electricity was still down and the bright neon graffiti on the homes- left by rescue workers marking survivors (or deceased) found inside—really stood out.
I remember seeing a deceased dog—a German Shepard—folded in half over a fence as it had clearly tried to escape the flood waters. I remember driving by hundreds of homes and seeing people’s belongings—everything they owned-water damaged and piled high on lawns. And I remember the feeling I had--one of shock and a total lack of understanding for how a city in America could still look like that so many months later.
My parents drove us past the hospital I was born in and the first house they shared as a couple and as new parents-or at least what was left of it. I knew the bond to the city they have and will always call home only grew stronger that day.
Below are a few photos I took on that Thanksgiving day in 2005—a day I was reminded of what it truly means to be thankful.