Personal Essays by Gay Dads

'Shook to the Core': a Gay Dad Remembers Katrina on the Hurricane's 14th Anniversary

On the 14th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a Erik Alexander remembers the event that shook the South

August 29th will always be associated with a series of devastating events brought on by what is often considered the worst in US history- Hurricane Katrina. If you had've told me then that in less than a year's time I'd find the love of my life and legally married husband, I would have laughed at you. But if you said that in just 10 years time that I would be a dad, I would have broke down and sobbed-uncontrollably. Life has a funny way of working out, even in its darkest time. This is my Katrina experience. This is my account - a refugee's story.

It's been 14 years and it still feels as if it happened a couple of years ago. Hurricane Katrina shook the entire South to its core. It single-handedly uprooted thousands of people, many of which never returned home, and affected the lives of everyone here in some way. The livelihoods of countless people were ripped away and tossed into the flooded streets glistening with oil sheen under the hot August sun.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Hurricanes are a way of life down here, right? I mean, we deal with storms every year. So how in the hell could this happen? How could we let our guard down? Both are very good questions. It still makes me wonder because power outages, minor street flooding and evacuations are second nature to most New Orleanians. But Katrina was different. She was a monster.

The day before mandatory evacuations, I remember waking up after a long night of partying and seeing that my mom had tried calling me multiple times. I called her back and, through my hangover, I could tell that she was completely stricken with panic. "Come home now!" she screamed into the phone. "The storm has turned and it is heading right for New Orleans!" Through the night, the storm had shifted from a northwesterly path to due north--straight for New Orleans.

I had lived in New Orleans for about 4 years at that point. My family still lived in Oak Grove, a suburb of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Like I said before, we deal with this sort of thing all the time during hurricane season. But unlike all the other times, this particular instance was like a series of unfortunate events that enabled this storm to be catastrophic. The water temperature in the Gulf and the jet stream were two of the main culprits. Usually, it seems like storms shift away from us, not toward us. And as the events unfolded, it was like the whole city of New Orleans held its breath. You could hear a pin drop. Then, once we all realized this was really happening, everyone scattered.

The silence gave way to the sounds of construction as homeowners and business owners nailed up plywood to protect their property. The people that stayed rushed to the grocery stores and the people that left sped to the gas stations. I will never forget how long the lines were. Waiting to fill my car up with gas is one mistake that I will never make again. Little did I know that waiting an hour for gasoline was a cakewalk compared to what would be in store 2 days later.It was really tough leaving home. This was different that any other time I had evacuated. It may have been because of the ominous path the storm was on. Whatever reason it was, it was very emotional for me. I remember making sure that my house was nice and tidy as I picked up the living room, Weather Channel blaring in the background. My mom had always instilled in me that when I came home from evacuations, it would be nicer to walk into a clean house rather than having to clean when I got home. Little did I know, I wouldn't be coming home for a long, long time. I packed my little car with a couple of duffel bags, secured my garden and lawn furniture, and off I went. It took about 4 hours to get to my mom's house, a trip that usually took 2 hours. Given the amount of cars on the road, that seemed like a success to me.

New Orleans, LA--Aerial views of damage caused from Hurricane Katrina the day after the hurricane hit August 30, 2005. Photo by Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

As the next day approached, it was pretty evident that Katrina was going to hit New Orleans. However, we didn't have any idea that there was a warm pocket of water in the Gulf she was about to churn over that would spike her windspeeds even higher. All of us were frozen. As the winds became stronger, she began to shift east. Wait, what? East? Now, she was predicted to make landfall in south Mississippi. So I left my entire life behind, and for what? To go to ground zero.

We all know how it played out. Katrina was a direct hit for south Mississippi. It literally annihilated the Gulf Coast. We were about an hour inland, but that didn't stop the massive winds. Pine trees snapped and crashed down all around us blocking everyone in our neighborhood. I had never seen trees bend like that. It was horrifying. The rain blew sideways for days it seemed. The wind howled like rabid wolves in the night. Then, the lights went out. And they stayed out for 2 weeks.

Luckily, we had a generator to at least run the refrigerator and the a/c for a few hours. We had to really watch our generator because there were thieves that were stealing them and replacing them with lawn mowers because the motors sounded so similar. Days after the storm it seemed apocalyptic. No power, no gas to run generators, no water. There were reports of people killing their own family members over ice, food, and gas. It was 100 degrees outside and we had no electricity, no water. Seriously, what do you do?

To our amazement, it was like a guardian angel guided them to us. My parents' friends owned a furniture store in town. They called us to see if we needed somewhere safe to stay. We were so excited! This place had electricity! It had running water! We walked in and got to pick out our sleeping spot in one of the 2 different show rooms. Each show room had about 10 different room displays. I can still remember how comfortable I was with the cool air blowing on me as I lay on a big sofa. I was able to charge my cellphone and turn it on. When I did, I was flooded with voicemails. Earlier that day, the levees broke in New Orleans. Water inundated the city. Parts of the city were on fire. People were drowning. It seemed like New Orleans had fallen.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia


After a few days of sweating it out with my family, I was elated to find out that some friends of mine came up from New Orleans heading towards Memphis. They stopped by my house to see if I wanted to follow along. As I quickly as I could, I threw my bags in my car and away we went.

A close friend of mine lived in Memphis and I was able to stay with him and his family for a while. They took me in as their own and, to this day, I am eternally grateful. All of a sudden I went from being a guest in from out of town to a New Orleans refugee. Memphis picked me up and give me the tightest hug. Everywhere I went, people hugged me. I couldn't help but to cry- all of the time. All of the stores had signs in their windows reading "refugee discounts." Every time I took my license out to show them, they hugged me. Some cried. Some would put their hand on my face and tell me that it was going to be okay. Memphis will ALWAYS be my second home. The compassion, empathy, and love that radiated from everyone there still shines in my heart to this day.

One week led to a month, then to two months. Then there was talk of New Orleans allowing residents back home. They implemented the return for residents by zip code only. I waited anxiously for them to call my zip code. The city officials stressed that the city was still uninhabitable. This was just to allow residents to assess damages and grab their belongings until New Orleans was operational again. Finally, they announced my zip code and away I went.

There were many detours because of roads and bridges not existing anymore. Finally, I got to New Orleans. It was like it was Armageddon. I could not believe my eyes. Floodwaters, broken trees, debris, caskets. It was overwhelming. There were military check points every half mile. One happened to be right beside my house on Saint Charles Avenue. They walked around in their military garb wielding assault riffles. It was literally like a war scene from a movie. When I finally made it to my house I had to wind my way through broken branches and slate roofing tiles.

I was frantically trying to load my life up for the next few months. As twilight fell, everything was silent. The wind had stopped. No sounds of birds, insects, people. It was incredibly eerie. There was a sunset curfew and I had to be out of the city before the sun went down. Well, needless to say, I was running a little bit late. I jumped in my car and hauled ass toward the interstate. There was another military checkpoint before I could leave. He flagged me down and I stopped. He said I was past curfew and I had to turn around and go back to my house--my dark and scary house. At that moment I lost it. All I could do was cry. Actually, I balled. I was terrified. I couldn't even talk without hyperventilating. Thankfully, he felt sorry for me and let me pass. I felt like I was transported to Iraq. It was so surreal and overwhelming.

I went back to Memphis as quickly as I could that evening. I had nightmares for years after that. Many, many other people do too. Some, much, much worse. So many people died. Entire families drowned in their attics with no way to escape. Katrina left holes in people's lives that will never ever be filled. The images of the rushing water flooding my city will always be burned into my memory.

Every single year, as each new storm develops, we all have flashbacks of what our lives were like after the storm. If it is one thing I learned, it's that one event can change everyone's way of life- in one fail swoop. Don't take anything for granted because it can all be gone tomorrow. Every single year, hurricane season is a daunting and sinking feeling that doesn't go away until November. The longer we go with not having a major storm, the easier it is to to go on with our daily lives. But the events of what happened 14 years ago will never ever leave me. With every hurricane season that comes, and every storm that forms, Katrina will always be in the back of my mind.

That which doesn't kill you, makes you stronger right? That couldn't have been more true as we all began to rebuild our lives in New Orleans and all across the South. You can't really and truly understand the beauty of life until it's ripped away from you. It's when you have stared at what is heinously terrifying about life - and then overcame it. It's in those very moments there. That is your silver lining. It's a single seed of hope that sprouts. It's watered by faith, and grown by love, to become the blossoms of our lives.

***

I would love for you to follow our family's journey!

Like us on Facebook

Follow us on Instagram

Keep up with my blog at Nolapapa.com

Show Comments ()
Personal Essays by Gay Dads

Just Like Dad: Ways My Kids and I Are Alike

Joseph Sadusky recounts the ways he and his adopted sons are cut from the same cloth.

Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of excerpts from Joseph Sadusky's new book, Magic Lessons: Celebratory and Cautionary Tales about Life as a (Single, Gay, Transracially Adoptive) Dad. The book contains many stories about my life as a dad, as well as lessons learned, and we're excited to share several excerpts from the the book over the course of the next few months. Read previous installments here!

Keep reading... Show less
Personal Essays by Gay Dads

How to Survive a Midlife Crisis (A Guide for Gay Dads)

Turns out David Blacker is, in fact, experiencing a midlife crisis — according to the very official results of a Buzzfeed quiz

Today I took one of those Buzzfeed-like quizzes to determine whether or not I am having a midlife crisis. I know what you're thinking. How can 29 be considered mid-life? God bless you, but I'm actually 35. Fine, 41. The Buzzfeed results — granted, we're not talking a true clinical assessment here — implied that I am, in fact, showing symptoms of a midlife crisis. But instead of shopping for a new sports car, I'm looking around for something else.

Problem is, I don't quite know what that is yet.

Keep reading... Show less
Personal Essays by Gay Dads

The Visits: A Gay Dad's First Encounters with his Future son

Joseph Sadusky's second excerpt from his book, Magic Lessons.

Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of excerpts from Joseph Sadusky's new book, Magic Lessons: Celebratory and Cautionary Tales about Life as a (Single, Gay, Transracially Adoptive) Dad. The book contains many stories about my life as a dad, as well as lessons learned, and we're excited to share several excerpts from the the book over the course of the next few months. Read the first installment here!

As you may recall, the binder where I found my kids was the one for my local county. This was great news, because it meant less of a physical transition for them. Or so I thought.

What I found out, after my worker (Heather) connected with theirs (Amy), was that they actually lived in a little town about four hours away from my town. Even though the boys were wards of my county, Amy had, a couple of years earlier, found the best placement with Ms. Reed, a grandmotherly type who was doing foster care in a tiny—like, one-main-street tiny—town way down in the valley. So much for best-laid plans.

Keep reading... Show less
Expert Advice

4 Tips for Single Gay Dads Raising Daughters

Here are some ways to create a safe space for your daughter to discover who she is, with you by her side.

There's nothing quite like father-daughter relationships, and when it comes to single dads, your little girl likely holds a very special place in your heart. From the moment she's born, it's as if you can see every moment of her life in front of you, from her first steps to walking her down the aisle at her wedding. You'll be the first man she'll know and talk to, and you'll be her biggest example of what a loving man looks like. She'll come to you for advice on how to navigate challenges, be independent, treat others and grow into herself.

Your relationship with your daughter may be shaped by your personal history, whether you've been through a difficult divorce or breakup, you've transitioned out of a straight relationship, or you made the courageous decision to pursue surrogacy on your own. Whatever your situation is, studies have shown that children with involved fathers excel more in school and have fewer behavioral issues in adolescence.

Keep reading... Show less
Change the World

After Suffering a Violent Homophobic Attack, This Gay Dad Turned to Advocacy

After Rene suffered a brutal homophobic attack that left him hospitalized, he and his family have turned to advocacy to heal

Guest post written by Rene and Nejc

We are Rene (35) and Nejc (29) and we come from Slovenia, Europe. I was an avid athlete, a Judoist, but now I am an LGBT activist and Nejc is a writer, who published a gay autobiography called Prepovedano. He was also a participant in a reality show in Slovenia (Bar) and he is an LGBT activist too. Nejc and I met by a mere coincidence on Facebook, and already after the first phone call we realized that we are made for each other. Nejc and I have been together as couple almost one year. We think we have been joined by some energy, as we have both experienced a lot of bad things with previous relationships and now we wish to create and shape our common path.

Keep reading... Show less
Gay Dad Life

10 of Our Most Popular Posts Featuring Single Gay Dads

Happy Single Parent's Day! To celebrate, we rounded up some of our most popular articles featuring single gay dads.

Did you know March 21st is Single Parents Day? Well now you do, and you should mark the occasion by checking out our round up of some of our most popular articles featuring single gay dads!

Keep reading... Show less
Gay Dad Life

What's Life Like as a Single Gay Dad? These Guys Sound Off

We checked in with some of the single gay dads in our community to see what life is like while parenting solo

March 21st is Single Parents Day! To celebrate, we checked in with some single gay men in our community to sound off on what life is like while parenting solo — the good, the challening and everything in between.

Keep reading... Show less

Fatherhood, the gay way

Get the latest from Gays With Kids delivered to your inbox!

Follow Gays With Kids

Powered by RebelMouse