Ten Years after Katrina

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the devastating storm known as Katrina. Through a great deal of help from outsiders and inhabitants alike, the city of New Orleans is once again a thriving community. In fact it is now a better place to live, because of an unexpected horrific tragedy that gave a city the opportunity to rebuild and remake itself.

Being raised in New Orleans and personally touched by the storm I consequently wrote my Mother’s story about her days before and after the storm. Her story has a happy ending, unlike that of so many others. It is important that we be reminded that tragedy can befall a city and its inhabitants so unexpectedly; and how we should never take anything for granted.

My Mother’s story is archived in the Jewish Women’s Archives, Katina’s Jewish Voices oral history collection. It is a story of her inner will and strength and an interesting read.

My Mother’s Story

It was the Wednesday after Katrina hit and the levees had destroyed the city. The TV had shown pictures of Memorial Hospital. The commentator had said that the hospital had been evacuated and that the hospital was empty. My mother had needed a procedure done and she had been admitted to the hospital on the preceding Saturday. When the word came on Sunday that the city must evacuate, my mothers’ doctor, had told the family she would be more comfortable and safer at the hospital versus taking a long road trip.

Our family had dispersed all over the south and after the storm the children of, Margaret Buring were calling each other frantically asking, “Have you heard from her?” The four of us waited and waited; but, by Wednesday afternoon, we started to really worry. Where was our Mother? Surely if the hospital had been evacuated, she would have reached at least one of us.

We called every hospital we could find from Texas to Florida and heard the same refrain, “we are supposed to get evacuees, but so far none have come in!” My brother-in-law even got Michael Brown (the head of Fema) on the phone and he couldn’t help. Panic started to set in.

All day Thursday we heard nothing… and then, at six that evening, the phone rang. I ranto get it and the gentleman at the other end said “This is Delta airlines calling. I said, Yes sir, what can I do for you?” After what seemed like the longest pause and in a voice that was filled with pride, he says, “We Have Your Mother!” I screamed, rushed to the car and called my siblings.

I spied her sitting on a bench. My first thought was that she looked like a Holocaust survivor. My mother was a woman who prided herself on always looking immaculate and here sat our Mother with disheveled hair wearing nothing but shorty pajamas, socks that Delta Airlines had given her and the look of an eighty plus year old woman that said “I am a survivor! I jumped out of the car to hug her and she whispered in my ear, “you have a very smart mother!’

And smart she was as she told us the grueling story of her survival. She had been in the hospital for five days with temperatures reaching 106 degrees and no food, other then water. How all the patients had been moved to higher floors using the stairwell to avoid rising waters. She said that she slept in the hallways with people screaming all around her. She spoke of the amazing doctors and nurses and volunteers who had stayed behind to take care of the infirmed.

Finally on Thursday morning she was told that boats had finally come to the hospital to evacuate the patients. She gathered the only belongings she could carry and put them in a small plastic bag. They consisted of her wallet, her eyeglasses and her medicine. She had on shorty pajamas, a matching robe and a pair of slippers. Besides her plastic bag she had her walker. As the line moved forward to get on the boat, the security guard told the patients, “You are not allowed to take anything on the boat except yourselves. Every person dropped their little plastic bags. Now she had nothing, but herself and her wits.

She did keep her walker. The doors opened and she stepped into the dirty water almost to her waist. She was lifted on to the boat. As it moved down what used to be a double lane street with a pretty median with trees and flowers , she thought now I am safe. No sooner had this thought crossed her mind, when the person driving the boat said that she would have to get off. The water at that point was not high enough to sustain the weight of the boat and its passengers. She walked to higher ground though the murky waters for three long blocks. She thought to herself, I am not going to die here. I want to see my children again. She lost her house shoes and discarded her robe as it was sopping wet and grimy.

She found an ambulance and was driven to the airport. She was told that the Air Force was sending planes for all evacuees. A lady lent her some coins to use the phone to call us, but nothing worked. She walked over to the information desk and asked when would the planes be coming? The woman had no idea, but told her that the president of Delta Airlines had flown in a group of Delta employee volunteers from Atlanta that day. His plane was leaving in ten minutes and taking back evacuees.

My Mother walked as quickly as she could to the gate and saw that the line to get on the plane was far out the door. She spied a man in a wheelchair at the back of the line and approached him. “Sir, I know you want to get on this plane, she said, “Stick with me!” She escorted him to the front of the line and entered the area for handicapped patients. Needless to say, our mother got on that plane!

I was fortunate enough to spend the last year of my Mothers life together with her in Atlanta. Last weekend my family was here to celebrate the marriage of my oldest son. It was also the anniversary of the date my Mother passed away one year ago. To honor her we all went to services on Saturday morning. As I waited at the synagogue for the services to begin I was telling a total stranger about my mothers Katrina story and he summed it up beautifully.: ‘no matter what trials G-d puts before us the human spirit will prevail’.

G-d rests her soul. We miss her terribly…..

A number of women’s organizations are commemorating the tenth anniversary of Katrina in New Orleans on June 16th.. Participating in the event is the New Orleans section, National Council of Jewish Women and the New Orleans chapter of Hadassah. Joining these two is the Jewish Women’s Archive. This organization chronicles and transmits the rich legacy of Jewish women and their contributions to our world.

The seminar will explore the impact of women’s leadership during the hurricane and beyond, and assess the state of Jewish women’s leadership in New Orleans today. There will be a screening of excerpts from the Jewish Women’s Archive’s Katrina’s Jewish Voices oral history collection.

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2 Responses to Ten Years after Katrina

  1. Wendy Read says:

    What a story! Oh my goodness, well my sweet, I learn more about you all the time. I am also Jewish and am so proud and honored that you wrote the story for the Jewish Women’s Archive. I know how much you must miss her, my Mom has been gone since 1991. Sending you love.

  2. Sandra Pulitzer says:

    This is about my beloved mother always,srbp

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