Local News

A decade later, two Katrina survivors continue to rebuild in Triangle

Posted August 28, 2015 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated August 28, 2015 6:56 p.m. EDT

Ten years ago Friday, Hurricane Katrina was churning in the Gulf of Mexico, poised to devastate a city and region and forever change the lives of two families that now call the Triangle home.

On Aug. 28, 2005, Gary Dupuy, his wife and their 2-year-old son were doing their best to evacuate New Orleans and make it to nearby Baton Rouge to wait out the storm.

"Everybody leading up to that weekend really wasn't thinking that Katrina was going to be any different than any other storm," he said.

Katrina was different, and when it made landfall on Aug. 29, it led to large-scale flooding that wiped parts of New Orleans off the map. Nearly 2,000 people lost their lives, and about 400,000 were displaced.

In the days after the storm, the number of people listed as missing was staggering. For a time, Dupuy's mother, Jan Ross, was one of them.

Ross was recovering from hip surgery in Tuoro Infirmary Hospital, which is on the south side of Lake Pontchartrain near areas that were decimated by the storm. Officials told Dupuy that his mother would be safe, but the hospital lost power during the storm and patients were moved.

Dupuy couldn't find her.

"You don't know where your loved one is, and you feel hopeless," Dupuy said.

Ten days after Katrina made landfall, Dupuy located Ross in a hospital in Texas. Later, a social worker at the hospital arranged an "Angel Flight," which allowed Dupuy's mother to return to her family for free.

More than two weeks after the storm, Dupuy was able to return home.

"That was the moment I knew I couldn't go back, when I saw my house in ruins," he said. "New Orleans looked like nuclear fallout. I thought it was going to take a long time for recovery. With a young child, I just thought that would be a challenge."

After moving to the Triangle, Dupuy was able to get a job working at a pediatrician's office in Cary. His wife, Jennifer, through the help of friends, got a spot in Duke University's Law School to continue her education. The couple's son, Gavin is 12, and they also have a 5-year-old girl, Anna.

"For us, we felt blessed. We had our health, we had each other," he said.

Janice Seitzinger, another New Orleans native who has built a new life in the Triangle, said she felt hopeless as Katrina approached.

"I had my dogs and my photographs, and that was about it," she said.

Seitzinger left her home in New Orleans and went to a friend's house before the storm, assuming she would soon be back.

"I never went back to my home," she said. "I lost everything, and I did not have insurance."

Seitzinger's landlords in New Orleans were able to salvage three boxes of family artifacts, some of which dated to the Civil War.

They found the boxes tucked away in a closet, just above the 6 feet of water that had poured into Seitzinger's home.

"What I lost in Katrina, I'm not going to get back," she said.

Seitzinger is still struggling a decade later, but she says her faith in God has allowed her to try to help others. She says she teaches children in her neighborhood about cooking, which is one way she tries to give happiness to others.

"If I can ease someone else's burden, if I can I will try to do it because people did that so much for me," she said.