People were on rooftops fighting to live.
People were in boats floating on lakes that were once residential streets...fighting to live
People were in hospitals, senior citizen homes, youth centers, grocery stores, and everywhere else you can imagine....fighting to live.
People sought shelter and safety in sports arenas - fighting to live.
Many left the South - especially Louisiana to escape the storm and its aftermath, never to return to their homes. Generations of family history and tradition for many Americans had to be left behind for new beginnings in other parts of the country.
About 2,000 people did not survive the storm at all. 2,000 fellow Americans.
I remember crying through the days following the hurricane. I nearly made myself sick watching the news stories of people missing, families being separated, and the overall despair and fear I saw in the eyes of the people being interviewed on television. I was frustrated about the slow response of our government to bring supplies and assistance to the people. I was even more frustrated that the levees in New Orleans ever broke in the first place.
It was also one of the first times I think I had ever heard of news media outlets referring to Americans as "refugees."
It was 2005, and at the time many people were arguing that referring to American citizens, (many of whom were poor and people of color) was offensive because of the negative connotations of the term refugee from the American perspective.
However, I know now that use of the term refugee to refer to Katrina survivors was not correct because the survivors did not fit within the legal definition of "refugee" under international law. Article 1 (A)(2) of the 1951 Refugee Convention defines "refugee" as a person that is outside of his or her country of nationality and unable to or unwilling to avail him/herself to the protection of their country due to fear of persecution based on certain characteristics (race, religion, nationality, etc.) So, it was not correct to refer to Katrina survivors as refugees because they did not fit within the legal definition of refugee. They were not outside of their country of nationality at the time of the hurricane. The term "evacuee" or perhaps "internally displaced" were more proper ways to refer to Katrina survivors.
I brought the issue of refugee up because it further displays the discussions that Americans need to have about what we understand the term "refugee" to be and why there are such negative connotations behind this term. At the time, many argued that referring to American citizens (survivors) as refugees meant that they were second class citizens. To many, it meant poor, black, and in need. This is not the definition of a refugee. The issue of terminology also, in my opinion, took attention and energy away from saving lives and restoring the respect for the dignity of Katrina survivors.
But I digress
I think ultimately for me, to see fellow Americans endure such catastrophic conditions without proper resources was a very painful experience. It was especially painful to see poor, black Americans from already depressed communities on rooftops and rafts narrowly escaping death. Those are images in my memory that I will never forget.
And I only watched in horror from Michigan.....I could only imagine being a person who lived through the horror.
Thank God for our Nation's first responders. Without them more lives would have been lost. Even the United Nations stepped in to offer aid to Katrina survivors. About 90 other nations offered aid to the United States after the hurricane as well.
10 years later, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama are still rebuilding. However, the tragic memories of Hurricane Katrina will always be.