Harvey brings memories of Katrina’s devastation and hope

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

On this date 12 years ago I grabbed my WBEN microphone to hop a plane for Memphis– and then a day long drive to Louisiana to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

When I think about the week and a half that my colleague Barbara Burns and I spent traveling around Louisiana, it comes back in flashes and bursts. It’s some kind of PTSD.

As a journalist, I’m supposed to be able to tell you the narrative story of what it was like in New Orleans after Katrina, just like I can tell you about any of the other hundreds of stories I’ve covered.

Flooding still surrounding The New Orleans Superdome, more than a week later.

But unlike anything else in my 40 years, my memories from Katrina are in brilliant colors just outside my field of vision. They come in pungent odors and incomplete fragments. I recall very little on-going narrative, but plenty of still-photo-like impressions are etched into my mind along with the singular, unified feeling that seemed to be everywhere.

Wind damage along the bayou.

Whether we were encountering dead bodies in the street, nattily clad elderly men with cardboard suitcases waiting for helicopter rides that would never come, families that walked through shoulder deep water and then days for a safe place to stay, soldiers pointing anti-aircraft guns at our car as we drove by, or people raking through the muck at the edge of the bayou looking for any trace of the completely swept-away home which stood in that spot for generations…

The resounding feeling was the constant then, and it seems to be the constant with Harvey.

People dealing with hollowing depths of sorrow and unimaginable loss also experiencing– at the same exact moment– a wonderful new-found sense of family and community and the greatest sense of hope for the future ever experienced.

All at once, the most plunging depths and the most elated highs. It’s the worst nature can throw at us, bringing out our greatest human love, compassion, and hope.

It’s crushing to see this happen again. Let’s make sure we can make the burden of rebuilding a city– and millions of lives– as easy as possible for the people of Houston.

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon is a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. The operator of Buffalo Stories Tours writes about the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo special at blog.buffalostories.com and daily at buffalonews.com/history. The storyteller and historian has written six books, worn bow ties since the 80s, and spent 20 years working in Buffalo radio and TV, climbing his way to news director at WBEN Radio. Since then, he's been an adjunct professor and produced PBS documentaries. Steve's Buffalo roots run deep: all eight of his great-grandparents called Buffalo home, with his first ancestors arriving here in 1827.