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Denise and Richard Homemaker and Cook, 7th Ward (Downtown New Orleans) 11/20/05

Austin, TX

DENISE: Before [the hurricane] it was a normal, everyday life. I was a homemaker: daily routine, happy life dealing with the kids in and out of school. Pretty much on the same base every day, maybe just a few changes in and out. I have two sons, Michael and Damian, ten and twelve. And that’s basically it, as far as before. After is another story. After the hurricane, it was like—

I didn’t believe it [the hurricane] was really coming, because we’ve had several different times they were saying we was going to get something like that and it never happened. So. this wasn’t a reality check for me. I just brushed it off, pretty much.

RICHARD: Didn’t know nothing about a hurricane two days before it hit. We didn’t even know they had a hurricane threatened. We did not even know. Now, before the hurricane, life was basically normal, same thing every day: work, basic necessities, you know, basic everyday life, work, come home, deal with the joy and pains of family, sometime smile, sometime cry. You know, just everyday things. We hear a hurricane coming—we often hear a hurricane’s coming, so when this one came it was Category One. It was party night. It’s a night you don’t have to go to work; it’s a night you don’t have to do anything. The wind blows, the romantic scenery. You just sit outside and let the wind blow through your hair, and just chat.

But come to find out, things was a lot worse than that. But the main thing was adjusting to the hurricane. If you wanted to evacuate or if you wanted to do something, how much time you had to do it: that was the problem, because by them first thinking the hurricane was going to hit Florida and turn the other way, they didn’t even broadcast the hurricane over the news in New Orleans. Mainly, it was just like a tropical depression in the Gulf—you know what I’m saying?—they wasn’t saying Gulf, you know, there was the Pacific over there by Cuba and stuff . But that was what they was basically saying, it was a hurricane, a tropical depression out in that area, nothing for us to worry about. Bam! Talk about our weather now. How are we going to look tomorrow? No rain. Sun. They didn’t even really talk about hurricane to us until maybe Friday night. That Friday, the hurricane came Sunday, Sunday night, Monday morning, and we heard about the hurricane Friday. I said that was Saturday or Sunday, they called it a State of Emergency, right before, like early Sunday, they called it a State of Emergency.

So you basically had maybe thirty hours ahead of time in order to try to prepare for the hurricane. That was a problem. That was the main problem. More than that, by having that short amount of time, for the people who worked, if you got paid on a certain day, nine times out of ten you was broke. Because it was at the end of the month, everybody’s just finished paying bills and you’re kind of on the last of your money waiting for the new month to begin so you can receive more money. So a lot of people was kind of without options. It wasn’t that a lot of people didn’t take the heed on not leaving; a lot of people couldn’t leave. That’s why they had so many people still down there. Not because we was crying oh, another hurricane. A lot of people were scared, a lot of people were scared. People was even more scared because they didn’t have anywhere to go. Nowhere to go. They was more concerned about getting other people out of their house that they could find somebody to take their children, or take a loved one who was in the house who can’t deal with it. That was our situation. That’s why I had children—one child was here. My sister was here. My momma was here, because we was trying to get everybody out of the house that we could. I got paid on that Tuesday. Hurricane came Sunday. I still haven’t got my check from my job yet. So, yeah, it was hard. It was hard. And that was just before the storm.

DENISE: I mean, basically, that’s what happened, but see, Richard was more updating on the news than I was. At that time, I was panicking. I was in panic. I was trying to get someone to come and get my kids by us not having transportation, you know, to get them out of the house. Because I know our house, there was a chance it was really going to be damaged.

RICHARD: You see it on the news all day. Our house was where everybody was looting, basically. That’s where you seen all the people running and scattering with things in their hand and a helicopter flying over. Right there, that happened a block from my house. For the locals it’s Seventh Ward. Everyone know it by the Seventh Ward, but mainly it’s the downtown area, right across from the Historic Landmark French Quarter, maybe three or four block stops from the French Quarter, right there in that area. So it hit home for a lot of people because a lot of people looking at it on the news actually realized that was around their house and their property. So that’s when everybody started to get scared.

DENISE: Yeah, I’m panicking and I’m calling everybody trying to see exactly what they’re doing. Some family, you know, trying to see whether they did leave or would we be able to go with them, by car. There was a lot of dramatic expressions, you know, and some people were just as frantic as I was. But eventually I got my youngest son Damien’s father to come and pick him up and my mom Patricia came and picked up my oldest son Michael and they evacuated. And we stayed. We tried after the fact, but it was a little bit too late to get out. The water had built up in front of the house real rapid. In less than a period of ten minutes, we had over six feet of water in front of the door. So, we couldn’t get out, not on a safe basis if we wanted to. We really had to sit there and evaluate the situation, wondering exactly how this was going to go, how that was going to go. Wondering if the children and the people that we let them evacuate with were safe. Did they make it out in time? Or get caught up or anything? So it was real, real stressful. I really was going through something.

RICHARD: Well, before the hurricane even hit—see the main thing to the hurricane, it wasn’t when the hurricane actually hit, because you’ve got to think about what’s going through people’s head, the count-down. It’s different when it’s knocking at your door, as compared to when you know it’s coming towards you, and you know it’s going to be knocking at your door any second. When it’s there, it’s there. What have I got to deal with? But before it’s there, that’s the tricky part, because you’ve got two different thoughts going through your head. You’ve got one, I’m been through a couple of hurricanes but this one, they’re saying this is the strongest one ever. This is bigger than the ones the old-timers went through. They was already talking about how they had to come up from underwater and grab on dead people and stuff. And this was the stuff the old-timers were telling us when we was younger. So you know it’s like old ghost tales, in a sense.

So I’m feeling like, man, I’ve never been through a serious hurricane and I feel like it’s something I want to go through so I can tell my children my experiences of it. Because basically, just from hearing it from other old folks about what they went through, it wasn’t doing nothing for me. You’re scared, I’m not scared. I never been through it. Quite frankly, I never seen anything like the nature of what you’re telling me you went through. It’s only in movies for me and of course, I’m taking it as a joke. Them eighteen hours, it was more fun for me. I was outside, I was parlaying. I had just quit my job to get me a new job, get paid more money. My future was looking bright. I did not see a hurricane, wind, rain, and water, tearing all that apart—I just didn’t see. And still, right now to this day, like a shot all that was took from me in eight hours. Eight hours.

So eighteen hours, it was mainly a party. Everybody outside. We got the radio blasting out here. We got people drinking alcohol, they’re jiving, no work. You still see a few people evacuating, some people, but the main evacuations came the day of the hurricane, that morning, before the wind started, a couple of hours before the wind started when they found out that the tidal surge was going to be forty-two feet wide and forty-two feet high, and wind was going to be coming in at 212 miles per hour. That’s unprecedented. Nobody never done heard anything like that. We didn’t believe the news people when they say that. I was inside playing the PlayStation the night that the hurricane was supposed to come. I did not believe it. I didn’t even want to hear it. Forty-two foot high tidal surges, come on. Are you kidding me?

DENISE: I was inside packing. I was packing clothes. I was panicked. I was stressing. I was crying. I was staying in the house because I didn’t know what to do and it got to the point where I was going outside and asking people. “Are you leaving? Do you really think the hurricane is going to hit?” And a couple of older people, they was like, “I ain’t going to bother, that’s not going to happen.” It calmed me down a little bit, it relaxed you because they’ve been here. If they weren’t worrying about it, then I shouldn’t worry about it—that’s how I looked at it. But after awhile, even they started seeing things different, started keeping updates on the news, sitting on the porch. One got his door open watching the television. I had my radio, we were hollering back and forth. They say, “It’s coming.” “No, girl, it ain’t. Don’t worry about a thing or nothing.” But then when it all boiled down, it was awful.

RICHARD: Before that, before it even all boiled down, I said when it first started, when the wind actually got to thirty-five miles an hour, that night, remember, I was outside with flying a kite. Everybody in the wind—oh, we playing. Light breeze, thirty-five mile an hour wind, oh, this is beautiful. Still see the stars out. I’m sitting on the porch, I got the Music Man pumping, and we just all enjoying ourselves. This is the hurricane party. Same night you all seen everybody in the French Quarter on the news, talking about everybody in the French Quarter before the storm just partying, well, it’s true, it’s true. Night before the hurricane, we partied hard.

I stayed up ‘til four in the morning playing my game until the lights went out. That was the first thing happened. The lights got cut off in the middle of me playing my game. It wasn’t bad but it kind of put an uneasy feeling in, because, you know, you just blew it off for eighteen hours, just like it could come, it could do this, it could do that, it’s just a possibility. What they were saying was a possibility, just don’t see it, though. I’m sorry, that’s like somebody saying a big earthquake coming tomorrow and it’s gonna take California, just drift it away. You’ve heard this scenario so many times, this earthquake gonna break California off the United States and make it an island. You hear that, this one gonna be tomorrow. I mean, some people gonna be leaving. I don’t believe that shit. Sorry for the French, but I don’t believe that. You know what I’m saying. It’s too improbable to believe. You could see it happening but you don’t see it happening. That’s just basically how it was with the hurricane. And it wasn’t just me. It was older people, people sixty-five, people seventy years old. They wasn’t stubborn, it was just the fact of “I’m not leaving my house. All right, if something could happen, it’s gonna happen.” You know what I’m saying?

But the main thing, we wasn’t scared of the hurricane. Nobody was scared of the hurricane. Even after the hurricane left, we wasn’t scared of the hurricane. We was scared of the water. The water, that’s what scared me afterwards. The wind came, you know, sixty-five, seventy-five, ninety-five, one twenty-three, one fifty, one seventy-five—stuck at one seventy-five maybe four hours. I’m talking about my house is fanning like a tree. Like a tree blow, the wind take the leaves and shake the whole tree at the top from side to side, that’s how my house was shaking, from side to side. It was like somebody was under my house, hitting it. Hercules, maybe. One finger, taking it up and just letting it rock back and forth, like you take a coke can with a little bit of water in it, and just let it rock back and forth. That’s how my house was rocking. I couldn’t sleep. Even when I did get to sleep, she woke me up.

DENISE: Yeah, I woke him up because that house, I was terrified. I heard the shingles hitting off the house, I heard stuff hitting onto the house, stuff rattling, windows breaking, and the wind, you could hear it whistling and stuff. It had me paranoid. He was sleeping and I was like, “Get up, it’s coming!” Or whatever. This was Sunday night going into Monday morning. So I got up and after I woke him up, we got up and we went and peeked through the door. And the wind was so strong he couldn’t close it by himself. I had to help him close the door and we—

RICHARD: I’m not a small man by far.

DENISE: It made reality stick a little more. Far as the major points of it, he probably would be able to tell you a little bit better because he was out there. Him and the neighbors was out there. I was inside the house, because I was scared.

RICHARD: It was a serious, life-threatening situation, but you gotta understand how beautiful the storm was. This was a beautiful storm. No joking. It wreaked havoc. It did what it was supposed to do, but the outlook far as a person who love weather, a person who tracked storms, or a person that just liked to look at natural disasters, like myself because I stay watching the History Channel just on different events like that. This was a beautiful storm. Just the prospect of how it grew that fast.

See, the thing that scared everybody was we let twelve hours go, because this storm was a Category One, Category Two. We blew twelve to fourteen hours because that storm stayed at a Category One or Two, in that range between one-fifteen and one-twenty for twelve hours. And then all of a sudden overnight, an eight-hour period, it jumped from a Two to a Four, then from Four to Five. By Sunday morning, this storm was at a one hundred seventy-five miles per hour wind. By that night, it was threatening to be almost two hundred, like one hundred ninety-two. And I’m talking like, we maybe got six hours before we got impact on land. At this point in time, even if you had a car, leaving was out of the question. Traffic was jammed up to the last second. You couldn’t leave until an hour before the storm actually started putting maybe a sixty-mile per hour wind. That’s when the traffic kind of died down. I guess everybody got scared, when the wind went up to sixty, whoooomph. This was on the outskirts of the storm. The eye is still a hundred and something miles away from New Orleans and we’re already getting sixty miles an hour wind, so the option of leaving was totally gone. There was no option to leave. The only option was where in the hell you were going. You were either going to be in a church, a big building, or if you were going to stay in your house, find an option to get to the roof or something. This is what went through our head at that morning.

So I say a couple of hours pass, we’re still kind of looking at the door. I’m getting sleepy now. I been up all night, so I goes to sleep. She wake me up, the wind is coming, like at ninety to one hundred ten miles an hour now, and she’s scared. And I’m like it’s kind of too early for this wind to be blowing this hard because this hurricane is supposed to be over us a couple of hours and it just got here. And the wind already this hard, I’m kind of trying to think ahead, how strong is it really going to get? So I’m going to the door to see—you ever watch rain coming down with the wind with it? It is a pretty scene just until you realize that it’s damaging your property. I mean it come down with the nicest swirls, the nicest twirls, the wind blowing—it looked like a ballerina’s skirt. If you just had time to slow-motion that scene in your head, it was just so pretty. And then you realize that that’s wind doing that to the rain. You know what I mean? Doing that to the rain, making the rain hit the ground, and skirt up and start swirling again. That’s what I’m looking at. I closed the door.

I dozes off, I get up, the house is shaking. I goes to the door, it’s gray outside. The wind is blowing so hard and moving with so much speed and wind, in front of my door, I cannot see directly across the street. All I can see is the car in front of my house in the middle of the street, with the wind blowing. I could not see the street, I could not see the house where we used to sit out waving at the people across the street in the morning. I could not see the house, I could not see none of that, until the rain stopped. When the rain stopped a little bit, and the wind kept blowing, that’s when we was able to see everything. So we’re looking in the window, seeing just—we seen like that the wind took maybe eighty bricks off of somebody’s house right in front of us. It had the front of people’s houses blown off. It had people’s roofs blown off. You seen our roof blown off, not all of it, but like the shingles. We got a big old hole in the roof and all of the ceiling caved in. Ceiling caved in the people’s house across the street.

I mean, it was just destruction came soon before the eye wall hit the land, the destruction was coming. It was at maybe one thirty-five and the eye was still on water. When the eye hit land and came through, the wind got to one-seventy-five, it was terrible, terrible, terrible. So we didn’t even go to the door. I’m not even going to lie to you. One seventy-five, I was in my house. I took both of the dressers and put them together, put a mattress on top of that, a mattress under that, that’s where me and her lay.

The lights was already off. The lights got turned off in the middle of the night. I told you that, when I was playing my game and the lights was gone. Wind was fifty-five, seventy-miles per hour. So it wasn’t mean that it hit a certain area. This thing hit something out in the Gulf that knocked lights out to the city. This thing caused something out in the area where they draw energy from and knocked energy out in the city. This was a strong beautiful storm. It tore Louisiana up, mainly New Orleans. It did us some damage. So at one seventy-five, honestly, I don’t know what was going on outside. Besides my house was shaking like a tree. I wasn’t going to the door.

Once that died down a little bit, we went outside. It was like back down to 110. The wind was still blowing strong but it wasn’t making my house shake, so I was like basically trying to assess my damage then and know exactly what to expect before I knew what was going to happen.

But the thing that we didn’t expect was the water because see, we heard something like an explosion, and this is basically word-of-mouth right now—we don’t have anything proving this fact--but everybody in that area say they heard an explosion and from the story that we know right now is that water was getting in Jefferson Parish first. It wasn’t getting in Orleans Parish. Now, Jefferson Parish is a business district mainly. A lot of rich folk live there, that’s mainly rich folk. Right across from Jefferson Parish, over this little one canal, is the Lower Ninth Ward. It is mainly all our poorest folks. So what’s going down, from what we hear, the river rose up, leaked in on their side. They had a choice to make, either let it leak in on that side, or find a way to levitate the situation. Everybody in that area who made it out—the water rose to nine or ten feet instantly that night—the people who made it out say they heard the explosion. And the explosion and then the water rose. We heard some incidents, one story, where a man was in his house with his wife and children. The water came in so quick on the down area that he lost his wife before he even made it to the roof. He lost his wife in the house. She died in the house before they even made it to the roof. Once he got to the roof of the house with his children on his back, another big wave of water came through and swept his children off his back. He was the only one survived, couldn’t find his children. He was on the bridge, losing his mind.

You heard so many incidents and stories. We seen so many dead people on the ground, we seen animals in need—you can’t do nothing for them. You go into stores to get dog food and stuff, try to give it to the stray animals. Putting them on porches. We had maybe six or seven animals on porches. They had something—I don’t know what happened to this dog, but like all the back of him was hanging out, insides turned outside or something. I don’t know what happened to him. He just was—it was just uuuhh. You couldn’t tell what happened to the animal. It was awful.

DENISE: And after we started seeing everything that was going on, then the lights were already off, then the gas, then the water.

RICHARD: The high water came, because, you know, we went to the door, the wind was still blowing. But it wasn’t no water in front of our door. We didn’t have any water at all, any water at all. The hurricane is gone, the wind is at 40 miles an hour. This is a tropical storm wind. You can actually go sit on your porch and sit down and don’t have to worry about anything hitting you, no debris or anything. And we don’t have any water. And then all of a sudden, an hour later, we got six feet of water in front of our door. That’s kind of hard to explain. Talking about a hurricane just come through. To get six feet of water in front of your door in an hour, something had to happen in order for that water to just come there that quick. We’re inside, we come to the door, the storm is leaving. We looking at the water leaking in from the ceiling. We look in front of the door, no water. Go outside, we make one sandwich—she made a sandwich, I made a sandwich—we had to get the non-perishable food, so that stuff we did have that was going to go bad, we tried to eat that first, the sandwich meat, tuna fish and stuff, that’s what we made first. So we make one sandwich, we go back to the door, the water is sitting up on the side of the car in front of our door, by the handle. And I’m like, you know, you just went to the door three, four, five minutes ago. I say five minutes tops, just to seem logical. Five minutes, we just went from the door and come back five minutes later, we got three-and-a-half to four feet of water in front of our door, in five minutes. Something wrong. We look down the street, the water done cover corner to corner. So that let us know that more water was coming.

So we’re setting at the door. We’re calling people’s names across the street, we’re calling people trying to tell them look at this, look at this water. I helped a guy, he just came from out the hospital, he had a stroke. He stayed in the hospital for about a month, and he ended up coming home the day of the storm. As soon as he get in the house, I say, maybe six hours later, they had to leave because the water was coming in. She tried to get him out. I helped them out and they drove off. And they ended up coming back after the hurricane in the water, walking six, seven feet of water. They ended up coming back to the house. In the area we lived in, everybody’s house was built up off the ground, mainly old century homes in New Orleans have stairs, set up maybe three-and-a-half, four feet above water. So we didn’t have too much water actually from the outside getting in. We had water from the roof. We had maybe an inch of water came in at one second as far as the living room, because the house kind of leaned down in the front a little bit. And that was it. So, we didn’t have many flooding damage like the people in the Ninth Ward, fourteen feet of water and stuff like that.

Because I have a—well, you can say a family member in a sense because I’ve been knowing him so long, a rap buddy. I rap with him. He had to stay on his roof for six days. As long as he was on his roof, fourteen foot of water in front of his door. Him and his girl and his child was on the roof for six days. Water all on the second floor of his house. My brother and his girlfriend completely underwater, upstairs and downstairs home, water from upstairs to downstairs. They had a refrigerator upstairs upside down. The water all the way up to their roof. Their house had to be totally demolished. Totally tore down.

That’s mainly the story of every person in New Orleans right now. They basically lost everything. And the things they didn’t lose, the people who stayed took it from them. It’s like only the strong survive. It’s a matter of survival. I mean, I can’t blame anybody who stayed during that tragedy, for going into anybody’s house taking anything they needed to sell or use or eat or anything, because honestly, I would have did it. I would have did it, and I’d do it again. As many times as I needed to do it to survive. So I can’t blame anyone who went in my house—I’m upset, trust me, that’s the reason I didn’t want to leave.

I’m twenty-four, just started working, and I worked for everything I wanted and I got it. I felt like it was more than just material things to me because it was my first time being able to do this on my own. Everything in that house I accomplished on my own, so don’t tell me it is of no value. How is it of no value?! Because I went out there and I busted my ass getting it. I worked my butt to get it. I went to work sick to get this, so don’t tell me that this TV or this entertainment center, has no value because it is something materialistic and I could get it again. I could get it again but I can’t get it like I got it the first time. Because I worked and I proved the point to myself. That’s why I even bought the entertainment center. I didn’t buy the entertainment center because I needed it. I bought it because I felt like I deserved to buy something for myself because that’s something that I don’t normally do. I went out when I didn’t feel like going out and I made money to get this stuff, you know. Everything I had in that house has some kind of sentimental value to me. As far as for the TV, that was my first TV. The entertainment center, the things I wanted to get, that was my first time being able to go buy it.

And you know, it’s all gone. And it’s not gone because a flood took it or a hurricane took it. It’s gone because people who was down there and the people who lost stuff like I lost stuff had to go in there and get it. They had to do what they had to do. So it’s just you lost everything because the people who went in there took my stuff, obviously they took my stuff because they lost everything.

So I mean, it’s just from one person to another, everybody from down there have something in common, mainly we went through a tragic thing and everything I didn’t experience that another person experienced, it kind of rubbed off on me because the things they lost, they took from me to get back. So it’s kind of like they made their problem my problem. And my problem was somebody else’s problem because I went in somebody’s stuff to get what I needed when I was down there. So that’s the main reason I can’t blame nobody for doing what they did because it’s a continuous story.

And I’m pretty sure that the people that are down there right now probably still doing the same thing. Going through somebody else stuff to get what they need. Because right now, it’s not nobody else’s stuff. I feel like right now all of them my family, everything down there is for them to use. Because obviously if there was something I needed that bad, when I had to go through that water, I would have

grabbed it. I didn’t worry about a TV and I didn’t worry about nothing else. I got what I needed and I left. So, it’s something, something gonna happen.

AIT: When did you leave?

DENISE: I believe it was Saturday, September 3rd, September 3rd. It was maybe noonish. It got to the point where it was a little too strenuous. The water had gotten real contaminated. It was to the point where when you walked through it or had to deal with it for any reason, it showed on the skin or you became sick. So my girlfriend across the street, her baby had broken out real bad from the water, and it got to the point where it was just unbearable. Once the water was going, it was just awful. We bear with it as long as possible and it got to the point where I was really, really feeling unstable, so we all discussed just getting out of there. A friend of ours, he had a boat, so he took each household, one by one, to be evacuated by the bridge. We was maybe the second family he took along with another family and they walked through the water, him and my fiancé, and the other girl’s husband and a couple of other men helped them push the boat because the water was so high. It was hard.

They had people in the water, and in the process of walking you see bodies floating, women with babies, and animals trying to swim through it to get to a dry spot. As we were getting closed to the point where we were going to evacuate from, we saw a couple of Army agents on a boat asking did we need any help or whatever, but they didn’t come down the street or anything to see if anybody was in those houses to get us out of there. If it wasn’t for the guy with the boat who we knew, we would have had to try to walk through that, and I can’t swim. And I’m like 5’5”, so the water was pretty much to my mouth, so I needed the boat. But when we got to the point which was maybe a couple of feet away from where we were going, they were like do you guys need any help? We didn’t even know they existed, we didn’t know they were right up the block on boats. Didn’t come down the street to see if anybody was trying to get out of there, who didn’t have transportation or just couldn’t do it for any particular reason.

So I mean, when we got to the bridge, we were evacuated maybe in a five-minute process and we were out of there by military truck. And during the procedure we were passing and they had a Caucasian lady maybe in her early fifties, late sixties, had died, and had been there. And she was literally about to bust open. She was just there. They didn’t try to cover her up, they didn’t try to do anything.

RICHARD: See, that’s the deal. We evacuated six days after the hurricane. They had a long stretch between, six days. The day we evacuated, they had started evacuating people out of the Superdome. Everybody knows the story of the Superdome, what happened in there. I mean they had just started evacuating people out of the Convention Center, so that mean they hadn’t evacuated a whole bunch of people. The problem areas was before they started evacuating people. The bridge we went to, I would say sixteen hours before we got evacuated, when we got up there, it was empty. But sixteen hours earlier, prior to us being evacuated, it had maybe 10,000 people on that bridge. I mean the bridge—that bridge, the one bridge that stretched all through the grid of New Orleans. That bridge goes from the East and then it breaks off and goes to the Ninth Ward. It go from the Ninth Ward all the way through the Downtown District, round the Superdome, go round the Superdome, and go straight to the West Bank. That’s a good thirty, thirty-five miles. Out of that thirty-five miles, for twenty of them, they had people packed back-to-back on the bridge. Twenty miles of people on that bridge. From the Ninth Ward area where the water was sitting under the bridge. That’s how high the water was in the Ninth Ward. It sat under the bridge like you was at Lake Pontchartrain. The water sat—this same bridge is like an overpass of the Ninth Ward, you actually walk under this bridge. In our area, on this same bridge line, that where they have after Mardi Gras, that’s where they have the Indians go and everybody go after Mardi Gras and they have a big old, big old party. Everybody be under this bridge. The same spot where people died, under this bridge. This water was all the way to the top sitting under the bridge, where people usually walked out at the bottom, that’s how high the water was.

So you had people who actually swam from their house and came up on the side of the bridge which usually set twenty feet, eighteen feet, above their head, and was able to get on the bridge like that. They didn’t have to go on no overpass like we did. The water was just setting dead on the side of the bridge. That’s where they slept at. Their house was totally gone. So people died, people was killed. A lot of people was killed for things they had. Some people were killed behind food, some people was killed behind water, some people was killed behind weapons. Some people was killed behind early events. They just really couldn’t—you know, he might have killed his cousin, couldn’t do him nothing, because if he did do him something, the police was going to know he did it. Right now, there is no police. Police wasn’t police for the hurricane. The police quit, the police said, The hell with it, I have family, too. You’re not going to make me sit out here in 110 mile per hour wind, telling me the hell with my family, to watch these people. So that’s how they felt. They quit. Once we heard that they quit on the news, that’s the last thing they should have did. That was the exact last thing they should have did. When they realized that was the last thing they should have did, they stopped telling us the news.

I mean, a lot of stories I was hearing, a lot of things I was getting from the news, the people who was actually down there, we wasn’t geting that same news. They wasn’t telling us because they knew that a lot of outcome was going to happen from exactly what they said. Like when they told us that 200 some officers quit, that was the same day they started looting. They told us that the night before they started looting. Two hundred officers quit their post, just abandoned their job, boom. Looting started the next morning. We knew it—who’s gonna stop me? Prisoners escaping from jail. Now, how in hell the prisoners know 200 and some people quit? The security guards are now half the police quit, I’m quitting. Now the prisoners escape, and some people let prisoners go. Prisoners end up on the same bridge with people who are evacuating from the storm. So how do you know if that’s one of the prisoners who was in the Convention Center killing people?

And they’re covering that up, saying only two people died, three people died. People come out of that Convention Center stone crazy, stone crazy. They come out of the Convention Center, where once a person who went to school, had straight A’s, had a career, went to the Convention Center for help, come out of there stone crazy. Guys, grown men pulling out their hair, seeing children die, seeing people get raped. They caught a man in the bathroom with a child in his hand, a little boy, you know, in his hand, while he naked. Them six days really brought a lot of people through a lot of different things. Honestly, we’re one of the lucky people. I mean I feel like we had it bad but a lot of people, they had it worse. I mean, you think about those African children on the commercials and stuff, send a $1 to the Red Cross—you should have seen the children in New Orleans. No diapers, stuck in the house with no lights. And the main thing was, you couldn’t calm a child down, you couldn’t. It was so dark, pitch. I mean dark, pitch black, you can’t see nothing, nothing. It looked like the Blair Witch Project. Honestly it was just so black, if you had a child crying, you can’t stop them from crying. What are you going to tell them? What they have to do? No toys, no TV. There was basically nothing there.

The only reason we ate was because we had a few things, we barbecued every day. Six days straight, I fed the whole neighborhood, the whole block. Everybody on our block, we was fine. If one person had something the other person didn’t, we came to get that, made a meal. One person could cook pork and beans and rice on the grill, he got their meat, I got pork, we gonna do something. Somebody got no barbecue, we didn’t got no barbecue, corner store was open. Some people went in there, everything in there was just floating, so we got what we had to get. We did what we had to do to survive. We had to live like a family.

So those six days, it was the hardest stretch for people, and at the same time, it was the most, the most New Orleans people every bonded together, and I mean we met a lot of people due to this storm that I would never have spoke to a day in my life. And we look at them like family right now. So you always say when the Lord close one door, He open another one. So you got to understand, one bad thing a whole of good come from.

A lot of people are living better than they ever did in the city. Let’s not get it twisted, let’s not just say a hurricane came through and totally destroyed New Orleans, because it did. It did. In one aspect, it totally destroyed New Orleans, but in another aspect, it took a lot of people from New Orleans and put them in a whole bunch of better predicaments. So if they ever do go back to the city, they’re going to be better off than when they left. We’ve got homeless people that we knew was homeless, we knew was bums, that we knew was crackheads, and right now at this moment has got a house. They didn’t have none of that in the city. Got a house.

My house, I got a little small two-bedroom—I had a three-bedroom in the city, but totally as far as renovation wise, this house is better than the house I had in the city. I don’t have everything that I had in the city in here, but I’m more comfortable in here, too. I could actually leave my door open when I sleep, honestly, and nobody come to my door. I couldn’t do that in the city. I wouldn’t do that in the city.

So some good came from it, but just thinking about what happened, you never forget it. It’s a learning stage. You went through a storm. You lost everything and you realize exactly what you need to survive. A lot of people feel like they need their car. “I need my car. I’m can’t do nothing without my car. Can’t do nothing without this.” And it took it from you. So I know, we need this car, we need that, we really need this. There are a couple of things we realize we didn’t need, a couple of things that we realize that we do need, like prayer, God. A lot of people didn’t pray until the hurricane came, and I’m one of them. I pray by spells, but when that hurricane came, I might have prayed twelve times on that one day, twelve times. Think I didn’t? Man, when the ground shake underneath you, who you gonna call on? Jesus, help me. I had to be strong for her. She’s panicking, she’s scared. So I had to be the man, I had to be the comforter. Who gonna comfort me? So when I leave by her side, comforting her, I’m going in the dump. Lord, help me. The ground is shaking. The trees is blowing. People’s bricks is getting ripped off. The water is coming. Help me.

It gives you a new outlook on life. A lot of things you took for granted in the past, you don’t take for granted no more. Like just the simple necessities of lights. A hot bath. And afterwards, privacy, because once we got to Austin, it wasn’t all better. When I first come to Austin, I honestly wished I was back at home. I said, hell, I wish I was back at home dealing with the hot ass house and the water instead of dealing with this. Because a lot of people, they saved them, yeah, they did. They got us from out of the area, but the thing is, it’s not really the people from Austin, it was the people who went through the storm. See, that storm, by us going through that for six, seven days, that’s almost like jail. You know when you get rehabilitated, they say you get programmed? That’s how it was. They got programmed. They was able to do what they wanted to do, go into what house they wanted, go into whatever house they wanted to go in, go into whatever store they wanted to go in. So a lot of the other side of a person came out. You know you have two sides, a good side and a bad side. Mostly the good side control the bad side until that bad side don’t have no governance. When that bad side be able to do what it want to do, you kind of become that person, you kind of become that individual. You do all the bad things instead of normally the good things that you usually do.

So they became programmed, so once they got to the Convention Center, they still was programmed. They still was acting like they were in New Orleans. People set showers up outside, and they take showers in the bathroom over the sink, taking a shower. You know, you come in there with the little bit of things you had. You wasn’t able to get much out of the house already when you got evacuated, and you set it on your little cot, and wooosh, they looted you. They looted, they looted, they looted you. They was robbing old senile women, taking their stuff from off the mattresses. So like I say, Austin helped us, they did, but when they piled a lot of people with those same individuals, it made life worse. You couldn’t even go to the bathroom and brush your teeth no more. I was able to do that at my house with six feet of water in front of my door. Couldn’t go to the bathroom and brush my teeth at the Convention Center because they had a dude standing over there washing himself in the water. Like I’m gonna stick my face down there after he do that. No.

Then you go in the bathroom, you walk around the house barefoot. I walk around my house barefoot all the time. When I’m in my bathroom, I’m barefoot. Couldn’t do that in the Convention Center. You see urine all on the floor. Every time you went in there, you see urine on the floor. You couldn’t use the bathroom. I mean, me personally, when I’m doing number two, I like to be calm. I figure that’s why you be able to close the door, like to be calm. It’s kind of hard when you got somebody knocking on the door, wanting to use it. Or you’re hearing two dudes talking about something you really don’t want to hear. Might be some sexual comments towards each other, while you’re trying to use the bathroom, they’re in the stall right next to you, talking about what they want to do to each other. I mean that kind of make life harder because you bring decent people and put them around undecent people, who just don’t have no sense of value, because when I got there, I felt like it was my responsibility, like it was almost my house. So you know if the stall wasn’t clean when I got there, give me something I can clean this here with so I can use it. Just pee on the floor. Somebody taking too long in the bathroom, they just do it right here in the line.

So I mean, everything didn’t get good, everything didn’t get fine, because when you have anxiety levels that high, you start taking stress out on each other. So it was me and her doing a lot of arguing behind stupid stuff. Ain’t nothing her fault, but her and me gonna fuss about it. She fussing at me about what’s taking too long, I’m fussing at her about what’s taking too long. We’re getting on each other’s nerves, and it wasn’t because—we didn’t have problems with each other, it was because of the anxiety. We had so much stress coming at us from different ways—she wondering where her children are at, me wondering where my momma and sister at, people looking for us, we looking for them. You know, how we gonna get this, how we gonna do this, because when we left, we didn’t expect to evacuate for good. We thought it was gonna be a three-day ordeal. Ended up being forever.

That’s another main reason a lot of stuff we didn’t get. Nobody was thinking about ID. What did we need ID for? I was thinking of going to a place in New Orleans somewhere, right across the river, and we was going to stay there until they move the water, two or three days, and then go back home, get back to work. None of that, no work, no home, all that is gone. So it didn’t really strike home until we made it to Austin. I realize I’m six, seven hundred miles away from my house. I’m not going back. It don’t make no sense to go back now. I’m six, seven hundred miles away. What I’m going to go back for? There ain’t nothing in there to go back to. Then when the water finally go down, you still can’t come back to live. I’m in a disaster area. I’m in one of the houses that’s in the disaster area. It’s labeled unlivable. My landlord go to the house, he tell me that after the Army man kicked in my doors to see if anybody was in there, they left them open, which means that all the people that they didn’t catch living in New Orleans, basically had the opportunity to go into my house and get whatever they wanted to do. And I’m supposed to blame the people for going in there? The Army man kicked in the door, but yet ain’t no benefits coming for that. No. No benefits coming for all the stuff you lost and all that. So it’s hard, man, it’s hard. You got a lot of different things, a lot of different variables to take into thought when you think about just upping and leaving.

So I really don’t know, I really don’t know exactly if moving to Austin was a good, good thing. It’s better than what it could have been. A lot of people could have been in worse places. Could have been living with family that don’t want you to live with them. We’ve got our own house, so this was by far the best thing about the hurricane was actually getting this house. That’s like the best thing I could possibly see came from the hurricane, getting this house, actually getting a chance to start over. Because this kind of closed a lot of doors on things that happened in New Orleans and gave us the opportunity to start over. This is like the big start-over point. This is like, you know how you get that tickly feeling when you’re so happy about something. It’s like the first day of school, in a sense. You know, last year I had a C but this year, I’m gonna get an A. You get a chance to start over. We’re starting over in Austin. We’ve met a lot of people, they’re friendly, and Austin is the best thing by far that could happen from the hurricane. This house—the Convention Center, I don’t know—but the house, yeah, the house, yeah. This is the best thing. So we are cool with this, the house, we’re cool with this. You can ask her.

DENISE: I’m still a little tense about it. I’m still not feeling that completeness or nothing like that. I’m not relaxed. I don’t feel at home. And it’s still agitating. My kids aren’t here, so that’s another thing that doesn’t make it seem homey. Basically, it’s just a lot of stuff right now that’s incomplete and I guess once we get everything together, it will be a little bit better. But as of right now it’s still like he said, a big shock. It’s unbelievable. I look around when I’m out or just sitting on the porch and I be like I cannot believe this. To this day, it’s just hard. I never experienced nothing like this and I don’t want to do it again. But I can’t get over it. It’s like a nightmare.

RICHARD: I’m over it.

DENISE: I’m not. I’m not over it by far. My kids are still separated. I talk to them on the phone and stuff, but it’s hard on them, too. They’re getting by, but it’s harder on them than it is on me right now.

RICHARD: But the main thing the children was worried about was were we safe. That was their main thing. Because they felt that they couldn’t start to start over, because that’s the main thing when you go through something tragic is to start over. Basically like when you close one door, go open up another one and start from there, scratch, because you lost everything from the tragicness, but you’re living, so you’re taking it one day at a time. But when you are so busy worrying about something, you’re not worrying about yourself. How you gonna start over for yourself if you’re not thinking about yourself? So you’re not trying to start over. You need to do something before you can start over. And their main thing was to find out of their momma was safe, find out if their family was safe. So they found them out. When they found her, they was good. When she first got in contact with them, they called every day, sometimes aggravating, when they just called, just called, just called. Just call and say the same thing over and over and over.

AIT: How long was it that they didn’t know where you were?

DENISE: It was close to a month. It was close to a month. We had some family members that told us they had found us over the Internet or whatever and they had attempted to call the Convention Center several different times and we were not getting the messages. So they started getting real frustrated with the people and fussing and cussing at them. Then one day they called my name over the intercom and I went and picked up the message, and it was Richard’s brother and his manager that had called. When I called them, it was like, “You’re just getting the message? How long have you been out there? We been calling. And they just kept saying they didn’t have you guys when we gave the names or whatever.” So that was kind of aggravating, also, because I was like I know we are all on the Internet. They took pictures of me and put it on the Net, and I know somebody should be trying to contact us on the simple fact of my kids. And when we called, sure enough, they had been calling, but it was just hard for us to connect. Then when they called, we tried to call back, and the phones being messed up, and we still couldn’t get through, so that was even more aggravating. So I would say it was actually about a month, so I was strong when I did talk to my kids and that was about two or three days after we got this apartment.

RICHARD: One is with the grandma and you know how grandma love their grandchild. That boy have everything he want. Matter of fact, his room look like my room, entertainment center, surround sound system, digital TV, game. He got everything he need. Room, own bed, he got everything. He got all that.

He only two years older than his brother. And the other one, he by his daddy. His daddy remarried, he got a couple of children, he got somebody to play with. He got a gang. He got everything he need. He in school. When we call, when we talk to them, you know, a child will let you know, “Momma, I want to come home.” “Richard, I want to come home.” They’d tell me, “I need to come home. I’m getting mistreated out here.” They always did talk to me about that type of stuff. These children don’t say none of that. They say, “I’m coming for the summer,” or something like that. They aren’t saying they want to live, they’re saying they want to come up here for the summer. They might want to go back where they at when school start again. Now she might make them stay. Of course, that’s what a momma do. Not to say that she ain’t gonna deal with some neck bending. You know how children can be.

DENISE: Yeah, they are getting along. They’re getting along. The oldest one, I sent them some money and he went and shopped or whatever and spent all his money, and then he saw a motorbike he wanted, and my mom called me, she was like, “Now you see a motorbike for $149 but he just had $150 but he wasn’t worrying about it then.” So hours later, I get a phone call, he has it. So, as far as that aspect, yeah, but when it comes down to certain things of having their way, then it’s Momma, when are we coming out again, summer, or whatever. And then it’s going to make me wonder if that’s what he’s saying, the only reason he’s asking is right now he can’t get his way, or do he really want to come home? But you know it’s going to stress me that I can’t bring them out here until the summer.

RICHARD: I told them on the phone. I told them we got a pool around here. “You all got a pool?” “Yeah,” “Is it a big pool?” “Yeah, it’s a big pool. Everybody gets to swim in it. That’s their main thing. That’s it, that’s their main thing.” And the older one, he likes Spanish girls. I told him we live around a lot of Spanish people. That’s it, that’s the reason they want to come down here. It’s not because of nothing else. They found out that there is a pool around here and they found out there are Spanish girls around here. That’s all they needed to know. That’s the reason they want to come. The stuff they have at home where they are now, when I talk to them, they say they are comfortable, so that made me feel more comfortable.

My sister, my momma got everything set up for her. She getting Social Security, SSI check, whatever she’s supposed to be getting. My momma got that set up straight. Eighteen months free rent where she at in a nice little town house, so everybody’s straight. My brother up there with her, so she have somebody around her so I don’t feel like anything bad really could happen to her. She has somebody she can call on that’s gonna be there, so once all that was eased up, I got in contact with my music people that I do my music with, I’m good. Now I’m just waiting on a few more personal documents. It’s not on them, no more, I mean it’s in my Birth Certificate. I just have to go get my Social Security Card and I could start working. That’s it.

So you know, all in all, if you take it, if you were to ask me or put me through this interview a month-and-a-half ago, oh, man, I would have been the evilest person you met, really, because I was evil. A month-and-a-half ago, I hated everything and everybody. I just was in one of those stages with nothing going my way, I couldn’t receive no help. I couldn’t receive any benefits from anybody. To hell with everything, that’s how I felt. To hell with it. You tell me these people are giving out gift cards, to hell with it. Don’t even tell me about it. Do you know, when I was in the Convention Center, I was probably prejudiced, not against race but against everybody who wore a uniform in there. I’m saying the blue suits, the brown suits, the green suits, the white suits, I hated every last one of them. You walk over my bed holding a gun, you got a Red Cross tag on, and you gonna know any question I ask you. What is you here for? You can’t answer any question I ask you about how I can do this or how I can get assisted—I don’t know—so what you here for? You here to assist me. I ask you six questions and you don’t know none of them.

Now is a better time than it was a month-and-a-half ago. I’m actually at the point, I’m skeptical about the future, optimistic about it. I feel like I could do a lot of things right now, as compared to a month-and-a-half ago. But I still haven’t received all the benefits I feel I should have received. I still haven’t received a lot of the assistance I thought I felt like I should have received, but I feel more optimistic about things. I’m giving things more of a chance to happen. As of before, I was in a slump where I felt like everything bad was supposed to happen to me. That’s how I felt. I couldn’t get this, I couldn’t get that, no FEMA check, nothing in my mail box, every time I checked it, I just felt like nothing good was going to come from this. Right now I’m more optimistic about the future. I feel like I have a chance of doing something down here, making a life.

AIT: Some of those problems were solved?

RICHARD: Not really, not really. I can’t say. I mean they sent my Birth Certificate and out of all the things I asked for, which was like four pages, I got one. So, I mean, the thing is I still have to get the Social Security Card, which when I was trying to get that, they had me going in circles, telling me I needed the ID. In order to get the ID, I need the Social Security Card with the Birth Certificate. In order to get the Birth Certificate, I need the Social Security Card with the ID, so it was like you can’t get one without the other, and you can’t get none of the others without none of them. So you basically just running in a circle. Every time you see that building, or booth, you were told the same thing. So it was like I got my Birth Certificate they sent off, they had to put my all my personal information through the mail, which I really hated doing that, knowing that they just had a hurricane went through the city, and all my personal information going through the mail. I just recently received my Birth Certificate maybe three weeks ago, and I mailed off for it like two days after I made it here. How long we been down here now? Like two months? So it took me two months just to get my Birth Certificate. And they basically when I got my Birth Certificate, they stopped doing all the free stuff for the evacuees, so I basically gotta come out of my pocket to do anything. I gotta come out of my pocket to get my ID, Social Security, and then after that I get that, I gotta go to work source, nine times out of ten probably gotta come out of pocket for something else. I really don’t know.

Everything is moving in slow motion. It’s not moving as quick as I hope it to. I mean like if I get my Identification, can’t nothing stop me. Because in the city, I wasn’t receiving no benefits. I wasn’t receiving no financial help. All I needed to do was find a restaurant. I started as a dishwasher and worked up. I’m a monster in the kitchen. I can cook, I can clean, that’s what I do. So I don’t receive any free benefits. I not worried about a FEMA check. I’m not worried about no government assistance. Just give me an ID. Let these people hire me and I’m straight from that point on. I can work. I’ve been doing it since thirteen, that’s all I know how to do is work, you know. That’s the only thing. It’s moving slowly but surely. Once I get all my personal information back, get me a job, I be straight. From that point on, I be smiling. I be smiling. I work, that’s what I need to do, I need to work.

But besides that, I feel like everybody in Austin did almost everything they could. You all came through, did a whole bunch of things with us, took us to take care of a lot of business. So they had a lot of people, we met a lot of people we never would have met before. If Katrina wouldn’t have came, we never would have met you all. You’d be in California doing your thing, we’d still be in New Orleans doing our thing. But it put a lot of people in the same area. A lot of people bumped heads that never would have bumped heads before. So we mean we gained a lot from it, too. If you sit down and think about, take a long time to think about everything you gain from having a hurricane, you’re just thinking about something tragic. It take a lot of time for you to gather all the goodness that come from out it, but good do come from it. You take the time to think about it. A lot of people don’t. A lot of people still dwell on what happened and point fingers and blame things that ain’t right in their life right now. Just give me an ID. That’s all I need. But that’s about it.

AIT: Would you like to add anything? What are you looking forward to?

DENISE: I plan to stay, that’s one thing, as of right now, anyway, at least a year, before we really decide on make this our complete residence. But as far as the future, I’m just looking forward to getting my kids out here, getting a stable job, and pretty much just trying to see how things are going to work out from here. Because there’s no sense to keep on dwelling on what happened because you can’t change it. It’s happened, and it happened for a reason and I feel as though I was put in this particular area for a reason. We’re all scattered out, they have people that was everywhere, as far as Arkansas and all, so I feel as though I was put here for a particular reason so I’m gonna stay here, give it a chance, see how it’s gonna work out, what it’s gonna lead to. That’s my reason, hoping it’s positive. That pretty much wraps it up. There’s not too much you can say about anything else as far as we have, because Richard has said everything.

RICHARD: I had to because you were going to sleep.

AIT: I’m really sorry about what happened to you.

DENISE: Thank you. You guys were great. That’s another thing. There was a lot of smiling faces out here. Made some of your rough days just feel—it actually sometimes just took away from it because these people out here seems like their jaws should hurt. That’s all they do, and we were actually walking down the street one day, just to get out in front of the Convention Center, and some people pulled up in a car, pulled beside us and like “Are you guys from New Orleans?” And it was like “yeah.” And here, let me help you out, $20, $40. They didn’t care what you were doing with it. They just wanted to show some love. And it still went on after we left the Center. We had people coming to our door with clothes, toiletries, gift cards for over $200. They really looked out, they really did. It’s still going on and you just mainly have to get out of here sometimes now, it’s starting to wrap up, and do a little investigating for yourself. If you find the right people, they’re willing to help bring you numbers or whatever. It’s really helpful and it’s making the situation a little bit more easy because you know there are some people around here now that you can fall back on. That’s the way you’re wasn’t used to it. All in all, yeah, it is a major change. It was a hardship, but I feel as though the Lord allowed us to live through it, and we can handle it from there. We’ll try to make the best of it.

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