My name is Ashley (you can call me Ashe); I’m 28 and a former Navy brat. I grew up split between New England (Maryland, Connecticut) and the South (North Carolina, Mississippi). Now I work in New Orleans at a local university in the theatre and dance department and write a style and lifestyle blog.
I moved to New Orleans in Summer 2001 to attend college– so I had been there just over 4 years when the storm had hit. In my time there, we had a few threats of storms– I think during my years at school I left for one storm (Ivan) and stayed behind for Lily, that happened immediately after. Both times we got a lot of rain, and some power outages, but nothing awful.
The night of the storm my best friend (Mallory at Miss Malaprop), along with our boyfriends, went to our mothers’ houses in Gulfport, Mississippi. Now, the eye of the storm went through Bay St. Louis, MS (where my father lives). Something not known to those who don’t experience hurricanes is that the eastern side of the storm is always the strongest– right in the area we lived in.We stayed in Gulfport for a few days, without water. I remember our neighbors being kind and helping us get a 2×4 under the carport so the roof wouldn’t collapse. After that time, my boyfriend became really anxious and wanted out. So my mother drove us to Pensacola Florida– about 3 hours away. It took us about 2 hours to get gas, and the owner asked if the address was good. I didn’t realize that meant he was asking if the house was still there.
From Pensacola, my boyfriend’s parents bought us 2 plane tickets to Indiana. We moved and changed our lives with nothing more than a couple pairs of underwear. I remember stopping at an outlet mall in Alabama to get a denim jacket and new panties since I was out. My mom stocked up on food and drinks for herself and a few neighbors/friends (because no stores were open). I remember crying and feeling like I’d abandoned her.
The Beau and I spent 2 weeks at his parents in Northern Indiana before settling down in Bloomington. It was a cute town, and I was hoping it’d be a fresh, great start. It wasn’t, and I missed home terribly.
How do you feel about the way relief efforts were handled?
It’s hard to say, because for me, where I was, they were handled a lot better than they had been in New Orleans. Within a day or two trucks were arriving with water and supplies. People in Mississippi were incredibly resilient and moved recovery along a LOT faster than things happened in New Orleans.
The way it was handled in MS gave me new understanding of the phrase “The South Will Rise Again” (and trust me, growing up around racism and Confederate pride I hated it!).
I’m positive it wasn’t handled the best it could be. But things worked relatively smoothly for me. I received aid for housing and recovery, I transferred in my job, and I know others didn’t have it so easy. I also think that, given the horror stories of how the funds were spent, there should have been more accountability in those regards.
People getting sex changes or going to Vegas? Are you fucking kidding me? I can say that my boyfriend, friends, and family, and I all spent our funds on rent/housing, buying clothes, food, and things to resettle and start our lives.
What did you do after Katrina?
After Katrina, my boyfriend and I settled in Bloomington, Indiana. It was four really sad, really difficult years of our lives. We broke up. I had no emotional support because my friends were all over the country. We met a lot of unkind people, and eventually met a lot of amazing ones.
I went to grad school in Arts Administration. I found a good job in fund raising and worked with some of the kindest people I’d met in Indiana. It took a while. I was never truly happy there though. I smoked too much pot, ate too much, and gained about 60 pounds.
This last November I finally moved back to New Orleans, and I think it was finally what I needed to heal my heart. In many ways, I don’t think I’ll ever move on entirely. I’m pretty vocal about the fact that if it happens again, I’m leaving for good. I can’t allow myself to reconnect to the city like I once had, because I can more closely see this beautiful and cruel side to living in it.
The crime is intense, and its hard to believe that five years after we move on with our lives while big pockets of it haven’t recovered. As my boyfriend and I talk about buying a house, we have to think about whether the area flooded, what would happen if there was a storm. So much goes in to living here.
Do you think your experience with Katrina has changed you?
Katrina has definitely changed me. It’s interesting, because a lot of the people I know who went through it just don’t want to talk about it. It’s hard to talk about. It certainly gave me new insight in to people– their kindness, their weirdness, their cruelties. It showed me what I value most in my list–which is my friends and family. Though I didn’t lose as much property as many, losing them was earth shattering.
From Katrina came a great few things, and I don’t regret the course it took, despite how heartbreaking it was: I got my MFA in Arts Administration. I started Dramatis Personae. My boyfriend and I are back together, stronger than ever (and convinced we can weather anything). Most of all, I think it showed me how strong I am, how much I can accomplish, and what I can get through. It gave me a greater sense of independence.
What advice would you give to others going through traumatic experiences like this?
Keep calm. Be honest with yourself– many people who went through this suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. If you need help, GET HELP. It’s not doing you a service to hold it in, trying to cope and make it through your daily life.
Stay in as much contact with your friends and family as possible. Find others in your area going through it too, so you have a support group.
Any questions for Ashe? Have any of your lived through a natural (or man-made) disaster?