Local News

Katrina evacuee looks back five years later

Posted August 29, 2010 6:01 p.m. EDT
Updated August 29, 2010 11:27 p.m. EDT

— 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.