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Katrina evacuee looks back five years later

Posted August 29, 2010

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— Geraldine Gilbert is among evacuees who've grown new roots in North Carolina in the five years since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast.

In the wake of the Category 3 storm, Gilbert and her children drove to Georgia while her parents stayed behind in New Orleans. Gilbert's 24-year-old daughter also chose to stay and called her before Katrina hit.

“You can hear the wind, you can actually hear the roofs sucking up and clamming down,” Gilbert recalled Sunday. “She was like, 'Mom, I just called to tell you I love you. We expect 40 feet of water, they're telling us, and I just don't know if I'm ever going to talk to you again.'"

For a week, Gilbert didn't know if her daughter and parents had survived the storm. They were OK but their homes were under water and rebuilding took years.

“It was just unbelievable. It was just so hard. They just gave everybody such a hard time with the insurance money and FEMA trying to help. It was just so much stuff that they (the government) could have done better,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert said still knows people in New Orleans who are struggling to get their lives back. Her children, three of which live in Raleigh with her, are still adapting as well.

“It took awhile. Every time it would rain, or every time it would look cloudy, the kids had a hard time adjusting because they were thinking the same thing was going to happen again,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert went back to New Orleans two years after Katrina to visit her relatives. She said the devastation caused by the storm was hard to comprehend.

"You could still see the water marks, and you could still see the devastation in the neighborhoods," she said. "There are lots of people that desire to go back that just don't have anywhere to go back, or the resources to go back."

For now, Raleigh remains Gilbert's home but she isn't ruling out a move back to The Big Easy.

"No place is like home. New Orleans is always going to be home. I've had an opportunity to be blessed with a lot of wonderful people in my life here (Raleigh), so you could say maybe it's my second home. But New Orleans is going to always be my home, it can never be replaced,” Gilbert said.

As she looks back on one of the nation's deadliest hurricanes, Gilbert says it's important to move forward but not forget.

"You can't live in the past. You still have to move on, but it's bittersweet. It will always be remembered, never forgotten," she said.

Gilbert said she remains a New Orleans Saints fan. She had a party to watch their Super Bowl win this year and was excited to see them win again Friday night in the once hurricane-damaged Superdome.

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  • miss Q B Aug 30, 2010

    Oh, how some people don't have a heart! I actually think she has a pretty good attitude about it and moving on. It was nice she had so many great things to say about NC and how she appreciates the 2nd chance she was given. I think her point was the government was not very much help in the aftermath of it all. After all, most of the programs that assisted them after the flood are government run, especially flood insurance. I can imagine a devistation of that magnitude took a while to figure out and to fix. When the government is involved, things don't always run to smoothly. I can understand some people's fustration when dealing with this type of situation.

  • Hammerhead Aug 30, 2010

    A lot of the chaos and tragedy of Katrina could have been averted with a competent mayor and a little common sense from the citizen. I'm no fan of George Bush, but at some point you have to look more locally for help and not expect the federal governement to hold your hand.

  • KLW Aug 30, 2010

    It sure is easy for people to judge and play the "should have, could have, would have" game, when they weren't there and living in the same circumstances.

  • mpheels Aug 30, 2010

    "When I'm told my life is one the line...I'll crawl away if that's all I can do."

    There were people who walked. How do you think they got to the Superdome and Convention Center? It's easy to say they should have walked, but evacuating on foot would have required walking at least 80 miles to get to Baton Rouge. At a quick pace (4 mph) that would take 20 hours, non-stop. There is no way the average person could safely evacuate on foot, never mind the elderly, disabled, or people with children.

  • ccacrabbitdog Aug 30, 2010

    thats right

  • superman Aug 30, 2010

    And if they had built the levees and maybe drained the ocean and maybe had a way to prevent the hurricane. Another hurricane will hit there again and again. Thats the price you pay when you chose to live in an area that is below sea level. They are victims of their own ignorance. No receive no sympathy at all from me. They got exactly what they bargained for.

  • Winston Aug 30, 2010

    mpheels, ever heard of walking...crawling? When I'm told my life is one the line...I'll crawl away if that's all I can do. You might want to consider that also...It could save your life.

  • mpheels Aug 30, 2010

    Many residents didn't evacuate because they didn't own cars (and why would they? If you can get everywhere you need without a car 99.9% of the time, why own a car for evacuations only?). To this day, I still don't understand why the city and state didn't order school and city buses out into the neighborhoods to pick up people who needed help getting out of town before the storm. Of course, if the levees had been built properly in the first place they likely wouldn't have failed, and the flooding would have been minimal.

  • lumberman Aug 30, 2010

    Katrina was a terrible act of nature. But the lives lost are not the blame of the government. Each one was told well in advance to leave. They chose to stay and paid a hefty price. The federal government should declare New Orleans unfit for occupation and move every one to higher ground. If you can't protect yourself then the government should by taking you out of harms way. After all they are the first one that every body seems to look for after something bad has happened. Obama is going to make sure you have everything you need. Maybe he needs to be in the relocation business as well. It happened then and will happen again next time when the warning is issued maybe folks will listen.