12 Years – Katrina/Harvey

by angeliska on August 29, 2017

Today is the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Fittingly, the first hurricane lily bloomed today, here in my garden. Symbol of hope, autumn’s harbinger, bloody reminder of the season of storms. I didn’t intend to pick it, but Snowy tried to bite the blossoms as I was marveling at its beauty, and I had to pluck it, lest my newest wolfling beastie devour this precious flower.
First hurricane lily of the season.
In the days leading up to Hurricane Harvey hitting Texas, I was far away from home – visiting friends in Oregon after seeing the solar eclipse. I often find myself traveling around this time of year, trying to avoid the hellish heat of late August temperatures in Austin – but that means I put myself in this strange position over and over again, of worrying helplessly about hurricanes in the Gulf approaching the cities I love and call home. You never really know until the last minute where they’re going to hit – will New Orleans get socked again, or maybe Mississippi? Or this time, Texas. I almost changed my flight to come home early, fearful of getting stranded in the Pacific Northwest if flights ended up getting canceled. Reflecting on the journey home, it’s kind of a miracle they didn’t – considering how brutal our landing was. As we circled the airport, the pilot struggled against powerful winds coming off of the big, blowsy bands of Hurricane Harvey. His expert flying kept us aloft, but my stomach roiled in protest, and I was breathing deep like a lady in lamaze class, not sure if I was more worried about throwing up or shitting my pants. It’s weird how our bodies react to fear. In my heart, I felt calm. Turbulence doesn’t usually bother me too much, and I’m not generally afraid of flying. But trusting the tin can you’re sailing through the air in to survive hurricane force winds is maybe another story altogether. My anxiety was subliminal, manifested in the mostly unconscious gnawing and mutilation of my own finger-skin. The lady seated next to me was from Eritrea, on her way to visit family. She didn’t speak much English, but smiled at me brightly with silver teeth, graceful in her bright jade green dress and shawl. When the plane started bucking like a wild pony, I noticed her hands white-knuckling the arm-rests, and then crawling uncertainly over her belly, in nervous gestures, seeking something solid to hold onto. I offer her my hand to hold, but she didn’t understand me, and clutched tightly at the tail of her seatbelt instead. A muttered, looping prayer, “Jesus’ name, Jesus’ name, Jesus’ name” under her breath, which became a joyful exclamation to me when we finally landed safely. The whole plane clapped ecstatically for our intrepid pilot and his expert flying, grateful to be alive and earthbound once more. I was too shocked to applaud, dazed, half of my soul still hurtling through heavy clouds. I don’t think I realized how dire that rough landing truly was until it was over. I remember flying home from Spain to New Orleans, late at night on August 27th, 2005. We were flying through what I think must’ve been the outer bands of Hurricane Katrina, barely a day before she made landfall. I had a window seat, and I peered out the portal as we flew over a massive storm cell, brain-like clouds pulsing with lightning. It was ominous, terrible, and incredibly beautiful. I didn’t know what it was – was completely ignorant to the fact that a huge hurricane was barreling towards my city. I hadn’t been keeping up with the news on my travels, and no one had been talking about it. So I laughed. I cackled with elation at this awful, gorgeous storm – unknowingly at my own (and so, so, so many others) incipient devastation.
Magic mountain from the air. I'm on my way home now, feeling extremely grateful that my flight wasn't affected or canceled, & that all seems to be well back at the ranch (so far). It's been a little intense being so far away while the shit is hitting the
Once thankfully deboarded, I made my through my leaky hometown airport and out into the stormy night, finally headed home. My aunt Ruth had stayed at my place with my dogs while I was away, and had been cooped up with them through the first waves of Harvey hitting and the wind outside “blowin’ a gale!” She had told me many times about how much my mother hated wind, loathed strong gales tearing at the house, or even an electric fan blowing on her face. Drafts and anything but the gentlest breezes were her bane – and I understand that very well, because I’ve always been the same. She kept remarking on how much my mother would’ve hated this weather, saying “I’m with your mom on this one – I’ve had enough of this wind! I can handle wind when it’s just talkin’ to you – but not when it’s screaming in your face like this!” The next morning, she packed up her things and got the hell out of dodge, to Lone Grove, where the sun was shining. I sat on the sofa, home and quiet and alone for the first time in many days, and listened to the wind sing her banshee song. All night long, she’d been keening, pulling at the trees, and raining, raining, raining. I was trying to find the joy in the rain we were getting, knowing this soaking Austin was receiving would be a boon and a blessing to our parched earth. Knowing that so much rain heading towards Houston would be a curse, a ruination. This was no ordinary summer thunderstorm. Big hurricanes, major systems like this, they just sit on you for hours. Squatting on your chest like a wrestler, taking you down for the count. The fear felt heavy on me. I read something else recently, about anxiety – that it’s okay to be afraid, to acknowledge the presence, the reality, of that fear. It’s real, it exists. But we don’t have to let it take us over. I’ve been thinking about all my New Orleans folks, whose anxiety and PTSD symptoms go into overdrive around this time of year, even when not horribly triggered by seeing a repeat of what so many of us went through. Seeing it happen all over again, to new people. I was reading posts from my friends in New Orleans today about how they used to be all about going to a hosting “hurricane parties”. You’d hole up with your booze and your beer, your chips and your cookies and whatever creatures comforts would hold you through (oh yeah, and maybe some water, candles and a radio” and then you’d invite friends over to get drunk and party until the thing blew over. Unless it didn’t. I’ve never been to one of those. I always got the hell out when I could, not willing to chance it. Or sat at home feeling terrified. My friend wrote that she couldn’t believe that now, after Katrina, she finds herself being afraid of rain. Just rain. But there’s rain, and then there’s hurricane rain. When you’ve lived through the difference, when it’s totally fucked up your life – you come to fear something as seemingly innocuous as that. I get it. All day the storm hovered, pressing down, bringing with it the strangest combination of boredom and tension. The weather felt like a long labor. Being stuck in it, nothing to do but ride it out, wave after wave of intensity hammering down, followed by strange deciding bands of calm in between. Shiver, shake, try to sleep. Feeling anxious, unsettled, just wanting it to pass over. For hours and hours, the air weighty with moisture, turbulent, humid and leaden. Interminable. Sweat beads your brow, your upper lip. Look out the window, walk around the room, breathe. Think about how it must be for people who are really getting it. Seeing Houston filling up. People stranded on roofs. Flashback to twelve years ago. Families trying to get out. Feeling helpless. Click refresh, watch and worry, call and text, go through the list, check in. Share information, donate money, rally volunteers. It doesn’t feel like enough, and it never will. It’s happening all over again, and it’s going to keep happening. Lives imploded, soaked, stopped mid-sentence. The shelters are swelling, the numbers staggering.
Shattered saints. Houston is underwater, many of our coastal towns are utterly obliterated, & countless people here in Texas are displaced, their homes destroyed, their livelihoods lost. I remember that feeling well, & my heart is seizing up for those frightened, wet, and despairing people now crowding into shelters & still being rescued. So many lives, shattered and sodden. It’s such a goddamned hard thing to go through, y’all – try to imagine everything you’ve worked so hard for, just swept away overnight. Having to start over from scratch. Rebuilding a life from the ashes, from the dregs if what could be salvaged. I did it, 12 years ago. I’m not whole, all this time later – but I’m stronger, & I’m so grateful for all the help I’ve had. I still have the head & shoulders of my Santa Barbara statue, seen here smashed in the wreckage of my old kitchen in New Orleans after Katrina tore my roof right off. We survived – broken, but still here. I know I am protected. I extend all my blessings & deep prayers to everyone who has been affected by Hurricane Harvey. If you can, please do the same – & donate, volunteer, reach out. It all helps.
It’s heartening seeing how many people are stepping up to help, and as always, it’s the only good thing, the only bright light in situations like this. Human connection, compassion, the warm feeling we get from helping others. I donated money today, to Circle of Health International (more info on them below) and directly in cash to my friend who is working to put cash directly into the hands of evacuees who desperately need it, immediately. I’ve been keeping it together, for the most part. But when I put $200 in my friend’s hand, and she said she’d give it tomorrow to a family of 12 who had nowhere to go, I felt the tears rising. Thinking about them, piling into the back of their van, children and grandmother and everyone, laying on top of each other to fit. I hope it helps, I hope they get settled, get safe. I cried, thinking about all the people who stepped up and helped me out so generously when I evacuated from New Orleans to come here. I had so much help. People were really kind to me. It made a huge difference. I remembered tonight, sitting outside in the bright porch light at my friend’s house, Andrei Rusakov, of Moscow. He had come across my blog when it was on Livejournal back in 2005, and he contacted me to tell me he was wiring $200 to Western Union to help me out. He wrote to me, “You have an account where to transfer money? It is the first part of my help for you. Now I can help only so because I am in Moscow. In the further I can help to restore your collection things from Russia and from Portugal. Also I shall make all that will be in my opportunities! You will not remain one in the trouble!” He also wrote, on his own blog, this – which I poorly translated “Of course she will not be left alone with her misfortune. And for a long time I will explain how and why this person is so dear to me and how terrible for her is the loss of this house and all these things.” I saved these words, and have pulled them out a few times in the past 12 years, to remember this distant stranger’s kindness to me. And there were so many instances like that, so many kind friends and total strangers who offered me help, sent treasures, became dear to me. These are the kinds of personal connections, in terrible times, that really stick with you. So, I guess what I’m saying is, if you can, try to make connections like that with people who need your help right now. It will change things, for the better, for both of you. You can easily click a button, and send money. It helps, it all helps (especially if you can donate to smaller, local grassroots organizations rather than the Red Cross.)
Burning candles to St. Michael Archangel (patron guardian of first responders, those in boats, & the sick and suffering) calling for protection & healing for everyone hurting right now in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, and still, 12 years after Hurricane K
Burning candles to St. Michael Archangel (patron guardian of first responders, those in boats, & the sick and suffering) calling for protection & healing for everyone hurting right now in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, and still, 12 years after Hurricane Katrina. It’s crazy how much you can lose in that water, y’all. It’s not just stuff, not just your house or your car. You lose time, your sense of it, and the actual days, weeks, months, years – to cleaning, crying, rebuilding, being exhausted, worrying, staying strong. You lose your people, your community, your way of life, your natural rhythm. A disaster like this throws everything off. Nothing is ever the same – not ever again. But some things survive – like the half-shattered bust of my beloved Santa Barbara, almost totally destroyed in Katrina, who I once carried (in her entirety) on an epic journey through the Lower East Side to be serendipitously blessed in the park by drumming hands and voices calling out to Changó. I’ll tell that story one day. Today, I breathe and write and pray – I honor the dead lost in the floods, this week and 12 years ago, I send love and strength to the living struggling to come through the storm, I beseech the gods of lightning and the storm goddess to be gentle to us down here, please please please.
For everyone looking to help out right now, I want to recommend donating funds to Circle of Health International, who does such bad-ass hands on, boots on the ground work making sure mamas and babies have everything they need for their safety, survival &
For everyone looking to help out right now, I want to recommend donating funds to Circle of Health International, who does such bad-ass hands on, boots on the ground work making sure mamas and babies have everything they need for their safety, survival & wellbeing in disaster situations. They’re based here in Austin, & are doing great work to help those in Texas affected by Hurricane Harvey!
Here’s some info from them:
Live from Texas: Thanks to YOU our friends + allies out there on the interweb COHI will be giving out our 1st round of cash grants to low income #hurricaneharvey evacuees in #ATX who are expectant parents and families with newborns tomorrow. These grants will cover costs for things like hotels, buses, taxis, food, water, and medicine. How’s that for efficiency! That’s why supporting a small, local, women’s focused aid organization is badass, and so are you. Keep that love coming, folks. Together we are making some magic happen for some families who’ve had a very hard time as of late. Thanks y’all!
Donate here: ww.cohintl.org/take-action/donate-to-our-rainy-day-fund

This is from my friend and teacher Abe Louise Young, who is doing such heroic work on behalf of folks affected by Harvey. If you want to help, please read this:
friends, i am grateful, stunned and humbled by your financial contributions to evacuees. as of 2pm, you have donated liquid funds, in donations ranging from $5 to $500 that have allowed us to support at least 30 people so far.
to help,
paypal.me/abelouise (option friends and family option)
venmo to abelouiseyoung@gmail.com

or, for a tax-deductible option, donate to cohintl.org, a reproductive justice nonprofit that is passing the cash thru to me. just put “cash for evacuees via abe louise” in the donation note.
today you also gave $ that will allow another woman in a hurricane shelter to leave a situation of domestic violence captivity. tonight, your $ will get more people gas, food and medicine because cash gets the job done.
in addition to the money you are sending, we are also in deep thanks for your contributions of time, homes and supplies.
now, i’m working to steward money into people’s hands directly and thus, am not as able to respond to messages from friends about homes available or material goods. i would love it if people continued donating money to this effort via the links. if you want me to be aware of a resource, feel free to tag me in comments or a post. i might not be able to respond but will pass it on.
however, please do contact me if you connect with a woman or family that has less than $20 left– there are a lot of them.
then, once the busses arrive from houston (i hear the majority of evacuees have not arrived yet) go connect directly from the heart and offer your resources after making a connection, if you feel those would be welcome offers. offering to do errands can be profound–like helping a senior to replace lost dentures or glasses–little things that transform life. DO NOT BRING STUFF unless it has been asked for.
it is a good idea to get the redcross training and background check (go to the convention center, the red cross website is impossible to navigate.)
i will continue shepherding the resources that have been offered through me so far. packages arriving via the amazon prime wishlist and jacqui, coordinating that from chicago, will keep updating.
i will post when those supplies here have been exhausted so that they can be replenished. until then, thank you for your gifts to our new friends and please share your offerings with folks one-on-one. get in and do your revolutionary love thing. share this post and please keep checking back in here.
infinite thanks!

I have a lot more to say about all of this, as I often do. But I am tired now, and my head hurts, so I’m going to go to bed now and feel extremely glad I have a bed, and a roof, and dry land beneath me. My heart is breaking for everyone who lost those things this week. Please help if you can. Thank you for reading, as always.
If you’ve still got it in you, here’s some collected writings
about my experiences with Hurricane Katrina,
in reverse chronological order. Dig in:
Storms – 5 Years
Hurricane Katrina: Four Years Later
New Orleans in August
One Year
Lower Ninth Aftermath
The Triumph of Death
What can you do?

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