Katrina Survivor: "Remember With Me, Then Help Me Forget"
Photographs of New Orleans Lower Ninth Ward line a wall in a local art gallery. It’s the images Danita Bright captured of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.
Surreal and devastating, one particular picture draws my attention.“Oh my God, that’s the barge that broke in the levees,” she exclaims.
A huge, red barge blocks a road at the base of the wounded levee. A leaning utility pole and crumpled home reveal the barge’s impact as it came to rest.
On that late August day in 2005, water began to pour into the neighborhood. Some residents were trapped, some never escaped. Danitarecalls her grandfather’s rescue from the rising flood. “He had a bird window in his attic, he knocked it out and was able to call for help. A boat came by and was able to take him to dry land just ten blocks away.”
At the time, she lived in Chalmette. “I did medical coding. I had a career. Had three kids, was married. Everything was sort of normal, then Katrina hit.”
For Danita, fleeing Katrina also meant escaping a personal storm. The marriage, she admits, was failing. She found herself seeking a change, and peace for herself and her children. “I knew I needed a change. I just didn’t know how to do it,” she says, “I needed a miracle. I prayed on a Wednesday, evacuated on Saturday, Katrina hit Monday morning.”
Leaving home, the crawling traffic and stormy weather had the family exhausted. After a 10-hour journey, they found themselves in Monroe, hearing an emergency shelter had opened. “We were at the civic center. We were one of the first families there. When we signed in, it was the firemen and us,” she said.
She agrees resilient is an accurate description for those so affected by the storm. She felt that way in the days following the storm. Great uncertainty met with determination day-by-day. Eventually, Danita was put in contact with a local church, and sense of normalcy began coming back. “If it were not for the friendships and the people helping us with our home and getting to school and around town, we wouldn’t have made it.”
Today, she takes on the role of giving back in operating City of Refuge. The group works with area school systems, providing care packages and essential items for at-risk children.
Danita now calls Monroe home. Some family members returned to New Orleans after the storm. It’s only an occasional trip she makes to the Crescent City. “I don’t want to be drug back because of emotional attachment. I know God has put me here for a reason,” she said.
Approaching the 10th anniversary, there’s still much sorrow.
Through her eyes, Danita sees it as a process of grief and growth. “Remember with me and then help me to forget. I want to remember those that were lost, the struggle, and the goodness that came out of it. But, I still want to forget, so that I can move on and really live. I feel like I haven’t shed it all yet.”
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