I wrote up my Marie Claire article on my experience of being stuck in the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina here, I have just watched the channel four documentary on here, and feel the need to write about it.
So, I had been travelling in America on my own, heading towards Miami. In Atlanta, I met a boy Rob, who I started hanging out with. We were told there was a hurricane in Miami and that no greyhound buses were going down there. We decided we would go to New Orleans together instead.
They were aware of the hurricane threat but New Orleans has lots of hurricane warnings, so no one seemed that bothered. We were sent out to buy bottled water and tinned food. We were also told to buy lots of alcohol. Even if we had wanted to leave, there were no buses or trains out anymore.
The sunday morning came when we were told we had to go to the superdome. I was nervous, but everyone seemed quite excited by it. This was the start of Rob and I falling out. The line was long. It was full of families who were trying to carry everything they owned. Older people started fainting in the heat, and the crowds weren't under control. I remember we got angry that the National Guard were taking photos of us all on their phones.
I remember texting my Mother, just when the wind was at its strongest, just before my phone lost all battery/service. I told her I was scared and that I loved her. When the roof started blowing away I thought we wouldn't make it. I imagined the light decking falling and crushing people.
My coping strategy seemed to be to shut down completely. I didn't talk, and I was refusing to eat or drink much. I remember this lovely lady, who most probably had lost her house and all she owned, making Rob go and get me something to eat, and then encouraging me to eat. I wish I had been strong enough to offer support to her.
I began to resent Rob, who seemed to be taking it in his stride, having a laugh. I just couldn't. I sunk deep inside myself, and we barely spoke until we got out a week later.
The night where we were told the generator would go out was the worst. The soldiers had warned us that if the lights went out the soldiers would be leaving the dome. They warned us to protect the women so we couldn't get raped. The boys tore the chairs apart and tried to stay guard. The fear was immense, and again I couldn't share it with anyone...I stayed pretty mute.
Once we had been moved to the hospital area in the basketball court, it was like a different chapter. It was overwhelming at first, seeing the hundreds of wheelchairs full of elderly and confused people, many only in nappies. It was so hot we stood for hours trying to fan them with bits of cardboard. Many get forgetting where they were, and we had to keep explaining it to them. It was heartbreaking having to take their belongings away from them, as they were not allowed to take anything with them. This is where I saw a young boy fitting for 30 mins, due to dehydration, while his mother screamed at his side. Other people I was with saw people carried in inside a bin, with multiple stab wounds.The violinist who chose to play during this time stays with many of us as the symbol of hope (although I do remembering making a joke about Titantic at the time!).
There were three precise moments that I thought I was about to die. I swore to myself if I ever got out I would never travel again. I was angry at myself for taking the risk, for being away from those I loved. I also swore I'd get a tattoo so that I would never forget what it felt like to be there. Although I travelled again, I did get a hurricane tattoo.
When I finally got home, I carried a need to tell my story. I did a small piece on the radio (as my Aunt had called the show in the week in anger at us being left there) and a small tv piece. I also told my story to Marie Claire. I had to keep talking about it, and it really allowed me to deal it in a healthy way. I began to suffer some survivor guilt - how could I feel so glad when people had lost everything they owned?
Watching the documentary brought a lot back, as well as reading my article again to type it up. I was one of the lucky ones and for that I am grateful.