Hurricane Katrina: Narratives From New Orleans To Atlanta | WABE 90.1 FM

Hurricane Katrina: Narratives From New Orleans To Atlanta

Aug 24, 2015

On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast and destroyed New Orleans' levee system leaving the city underwater and vulnerable to the category 5 storm. Nearly 2,000 people died because of the storm, most of them in New Orleans. 

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it’s estimated that 100,000 New Orleans residents evacuated to Atlanta according to data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

Ten years later, we found six people who stayed in Atlanta. Here are their stories. 

Robert Davis

Robert Davis, originally from Ohio, lived in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward and worked for a number of years as a New Orleans public school teacher.
Credit Stephanie Stokes / WABE
When we left, I think it was a Friday. It took us 14 hours to get from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.

Robert Davis grew up in Ohio and moved to New Orleans for graduate school. He lived there for more than 25 years, “in the mighty nine, where they didn’t mind dying,” he says of the Ninth Ward.

When Hurricane Katrina approached New Orleans, he and his wife first evacuated to Alexandria, Louisiana. But as soon as it became clear they couldn’t return home, Davis and his family headed to metro Atlanta.

They lost two houses and two cars in the aftermath of the storm. In one house, their grand piano had floated on its side against the front door, barring them from entering. As for the rest of the city, he says it’s hard to describe the devastation. “It was unbelievable,” he says.

Davis, retired, now lives in Johns Creek. He’s not enthusiastic about his new home in metro Atlanta. There is too much traffic, he says, and he misses the friendliness of people in New Orleans.

Edgaranna Bardwell

Edgaranna Bardwell now lives in DeKalb County, but she says she hopes to one day retire and move back to New Orleans.
Credit Stephanie Stokes / WABE
I remember when my son and my nephew called me and said, "Come look at this TV. This is what they saying is happening in New Orleans." And when I came, they say I didn't move for three days. I just sat and I would watch places and just cry.

Edgaranna Bardwell is originally from Jacksonville, Florida, but lived in New Orleans for 28 and a half years. “I tell people I became grown in New Orleans,” she says.

She evacuated to Texas before the storm and stayed there for 18 months before moving to Atlanta. She lost her home after it was flooded in the days following the hurricane.

Today, she works as a speech pathologist in DeKalb County Schools. While she likes Atlanta, she still dreams of returning to New Orleans.

Jeanine Osborne

Jeanine Osborne was just 22 years old at the time of the storm.
Credit Stephanie Stokes / WABE

I can remember sitting on a bench by myself, just like wow, I'm not going to be back in New Orleans for a while. Like my home is destroyed. That's when I felt displaced.

Jeanine Osborne grew up in New Orleans and was about to finish her last semester at the University of New Orleans the August that Hurricane Katrina hit the city.

Just before her family evacuated, she remembers, “The weather was beautiful, like there was a breeze, it was mild outside. We almost didn’t leave.”

Her family drove for about 23 hours before they arrived in Albany, Georgia, where they stayed in a hotel. Once she realized she couldn’t return home, Osborne enrolled at a university in Albany so she could graduate on time.

With a little FEMA money, Osborne eventually relocated to Atlanta. She still lives here today and works at Public Broadcasting Atlanta.

 

Timothy Gray

Timothy Gray hopes he can perform theater in both Atlanta and New Orleans in the future.
Credit Stephanie Stokes / WABE

I mean it was in the middle of the day almost dead quiet in a city known for noise. It was very jarring.

Timothy Gray grew up in Peachtree City, Georgia. He went to Tulane University in New Orleans for college and ended up staying there for 18 years. At the time of the storm, he was working in theater, as well as picking up shifts in restaurants on the side, and he lived in the lower garden district.

Originally he hadn’t planned to evacuate for Hurricane Katrina, but a friend convinced him to leave with her just before the storm hit.

“I evacuated with two pairs of underwear and a Miles Davis cd. That’s what I took,” he says. “I thought in 24 hours we’d be turning around.”

When he finally returned to the city six weeks later, he was shocked by how empty the city was and was struck by the sadness that hung in the air.

Eventually he decided to return to Atlanta to continue his career in theater. He has since started Shakespeare Follies, a variety show that puts a new spin on Shakespeare’s works.

 

Beatrice Soublet

Beatrice Soublet, a poet, published a book, including poems based on her thoughts about Hurricane Katrina. It’s titled, “Watch Words: Thoughts on Race, Water and War.”
Credit Stephanie Stokes / WABE

I remember the first couple of years I always wanted to look nice when I went out. So people wouldn't [say] "Oh, that's one of those refugees." I had a sense of being an outsider.

Beatrice Soublet was born in New Orleans, but left for college and spent decades in other metro areas around the country. When she finally returned to the city in 1992, she assured her friends, “My next move is heaven. I am home,” she says.

“Then here comes Katrina,” she says. “I mean, who would have thought?”

After a brief period in Dallas, during the storm, she relocated to Atlanta, where her daughter lived. Her then fiancé Larry Soublet eventually joined her there and, after getting married, they found a home of their own in East Point.

Soublet says they stayed largely because of the medical attention her husband needs. While she misses certain aspects of New Orleans, she says they’ve gradually made Atlanta their home.

“There are good things you can do wherever you are,” she says.

 

Dominic Fernandez

Dominic Fernandez lives with his wife and son, who was just about a year old during Hurricane Katrina, in Union City, Georgia.
Credit Stephanie Stokes / WABE

I would not move no other place. I will go out but that flock will always come back, and Georgia is my home now.

Dominic Fernandez was born and raised in New Orleans. His family, he says, are “die hard New Orleanians.” 

Hurricane Katrina hit on his wife’s birthday, and they were reluctant to leave. But he says when they heard it would be a category 4 or 5, they knew their only option was to evacuate.

Fernandez and his family returned to their home in the West Bank suburb of New Orleans just two or three weeks after the storm, but with no power or city services, he says the living conditions were unbearable. He says, New Orleans was “a ghost town.” Houses were moved off their foundation, boats were sitting on land, and dead bodies were still in the streets.

“It happened, I think we strived on,” Fernandez says, “but it was bad, bad, bad.”

He and his wife decided to relocate to a family member’s home in Fairburn, Georgia, and they have since moved to Union City. Today, Fernandez says he’s very happy to reside in Georgia, but he never forgets the hurricane or his former life in New Orleans.