‘Fresh start’ after hurricane

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Journalism sophomore Janeka Porter.Viewpoint by JANEKA PORTER


In 2005, I was 14 years old, looking forward to my freshman year of high school.

I was excited beyond what words could express. I was living in New Orleans with my mother and two siblings, Kelli, 12, and Wilfred, 10.

The first week of school started normally, but then talk about the coming hurricane was all I heard. Still, I didn’t think anything of it. That weekend, we were at my dad’s when he said we were leaving town because of a hurricane.

We usually never left for a hurricane, even if it was a serious one.

We packed our things and made our way to Houston the day before the storm was supposed to make landfall.

Lucky for us, my dad’s job was based in Houston, so we wouldn’t be out of food or money like so many others.

At 7:10 a.m. Aug. 29, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans as a strong Category 3 with winds of 125 mph.

I remember watching the news the next day. What I saw was so surreal. I could not believe my native city went under water in a matter of hours.

I cried, thinking I had no home and everything I ever knew was gone. I could never go back. I also thought I would never again see my mom, nursing Professor Vanessa Porter. I was livid that the reason my home was under water was because the levees broke. I felt like that could have been prevented.

I know this might sound stupid, but I also thought about my brand new white Adidas shell-toe tennis shoes I had just bought for school. People were looting in New Orleans so I was sure they were lost.

In a Houston hotel room, we were glued to the television for hours on end waiting for an update on home. My family ended up living in a hotel for an entire month before we were OK’d to go back into the city.

Imagine six people living in a small hotel room for a month. Believe me, it was horrible and sharing a bathroom with my family was something I was never into since I was always being rushed out.

When we arrived on the edge of New Orleans, there were checkpoints with all these military guys carrying huge guns standing on the highway.

I couldn’t stop staring at the big AK-47 dangling next to my window while one of the men in uniform talked to my dad. I couldn’t help but think: Do they really need big guns for people who just want to see what they lost?

We finally got into the city after what seemed like a decade and the stench overwhelmed us. It didn’t smell like home anymore.

It smelled like dirty water, stagnant for weeks.

The city was like a ghost town; previously, it was usually full of life.

When we walked inside our home, the smell of old water surrounded us even more than outside.

We had a lot of roof damage, and our white walls were now brown with mold.

Some of my things were ruined because of water damage, but after grabbing my belongings and my white Adidas, which were sitting where I left them, we met Mom and moved with her to Fort Myers, Fla., which became our new home.

We stayed with my mom’s best friend who had moved there just before the hurricane.

New Orleans was all I knew, and if you know New Orleans, in Mayor Ray Nagin’s words, it was “Chocolate City.”

The only Hispanic I new was my Panamanian aunt who married into our family.

Now, in Florida, everything was in Spanish and everyone was Hispanic.

It definitely was a culture shock coming from a city of black people to hearing a language I’ve never heard before.

My mom found a job at a cancer center where they were so grateful to have her that they paid our rent for a whole year. They offered us a lot of support to help us transition to our new home.

After living in Florida for a year and a half, my mom decided we needed to move closer to family. We didn’t really want to go back to New Orleans for fear of another Katrina. So we moved to San Antonio in 2007.

I finished high school at Roosevelt and graduated in 2009. I started St. Philip’s in the summer of 2009 as a sonography major. When my major changed to journalism in spring 2011, I transferred to this college.

We visited home pretty often, but after Hurricane Katrina hit, nothing in New Orleans was the same. Mardi Gras even suffered that first year back.

New Orleans seemed to have lost its natural essence and seemed to have a new feel. Fear was never there before.

New Orleans is still playing catch-up.

I thought I would never see anything like the devastation of Hurricane Katrina again, but my heart dropped Aug. 24 when I turned on the television to witness déjà vu.

New Orleans flooded again after Hurricane Isaac made landfall a day short of the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

I wondered why this keeps happening, just when New Orleans started to pick up again. Now it is back to square one, and now when I go home, probably at Thanksgiving, the city will be playing catch-up again.

I resented Hurricane Katrina for the longest time for breaking up my family more than it already was. But as time passed, I learned to turn the negative into a positive.

I had no home to return to, but I had a fresh start.

From this life-changing experience, I’ve learned nothing is permanent. Because I learned that, it makes me reach for my goals even more.


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