Sample text for Not just the levees broke : my story during and after Hurricane Katrina / Phyllis Montana-Leblanc.


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My husband and I start hearing about the hurricane and the chances of it hitting New Orleans on August 26, 2005. I call my sister Catherine and we decide that my husband, Ron, and I will go over to her house and bring her and her son Nicholas over to my mom's apartment so that we can be together. Catherine lived about a mile away from us in eastern New Orleans. Ironically, that's where our FEMA trailer is now located.

Mom's apartment was directly across from ours. She had moved there after a short stay with my sister Cheryl in Los Angeles. When Ron and I first walk out of the apartment, I look up at the sky. I notice an odd kind of gray color, but otherwise it's a normal day. I pause for a second in thought and then go about the business of getting my family.

I'm looking around as Ron is driving and I'm thinking, "What in the fuck is about to happen to us and this city?" I think this because the newscasters are saying that a huge storm could possibly happen but "it's not definite at this time."

This is why we're so confused and don't know whether to run for our lives or just "ride it out." We've had this happen before where the weather people tell us that the forecast is bad and then that turns out not to be the case. We are cautious kind of by nature, and wait to see what's up. But, honestly, this time I have a feeling that something is about to go down in a serious-ass way. We get to Catherine's home and start packing her truck.

My nephew Nicholas is running around without a care in the world. I envy him right about now. He has autism and is unaware of "real time." I know it sounds crazy, but in anxious moments like this, you do what you have to do to mentally escape.

So, we're packing juices, clothes, Nicholas's backpacks that Catherine has just purchased for school, cans of food, extra bottles of water, Nicholas's school uniforms, and her favorite music that her late husband had taped for her. And just as we're ready to head back to our apartment complex, Catherine yells that she has to go back in the house to get her husband's pictures. All I can say to Ron is "Oh, my God, not now." She runs into the house and grabs the picture of their wedding and jumps into her truck. Her husband, Helmon Michael Gordon Jr., succumbed to liver cancer on September 4, 2004.

We ride back to the complex and all the time I'm thinking that all of this effort is for nothing. Ain't no damn hurricane gon' hit New Orleans, this is some bullshit! Every time they tell us there's a hurricane, people begin running for their lives and nothing happens. So we get to my mom's apartment. Once we situate Catherine and Nicholas, Ron and I go back to our place. I put the Weather Channel on and begin to cook and put food away in ziplock bags. The media are saying we need food for the two or three days when we may be without power.

I know people say that black folks love some chicken and I gotta say they are correct. I fry chicken, barbecue chicken, smother chicken, buffalo-wing some chicken. You name it, I did it to the chicken, okay? I fixed some egg and rice for Nicholas and some gravy and rice, because those are his favorite foods. I fill our tub up with water because the news is saying to "fill your tubs up with water, just in case you need to flush your toilets." Then I remember something that I used to see my mother do back in the '70s when there was a predicted hurricane. I put gray electrical tape on all of our windows so that if the wind breaks the windows, they won't shatter and cut anyone.

All the time I'm running around doing all of this, Ron is looking at me and not saying anything because he would upset me. Ron later told me that the way I was yelling and screaming he was thinking that I was going to have a mental breakdown or a heart attack. He'd already made up his mind to let me do what I wanted and that's why he only called my name every few minutes or so in hopes I'd calm down. I have to do what I have to do, and nothing is going to stop me. My anxiety is building by the minute because the media's starting to talk about what to do if water comes into your home and you have to go into your attic. They are recommending that we keep handy a hammer or something that could make a hole through the ceiling to your rooftop. I was like, "Oh, hell no, fuck this, this shit is about to be serious."

So, I begin to think, if it's going to be this serious, why in the hell is there no mandatory evacuation right now? What does the mayor have to say about that? Where is the governor? Why are they not telling us to get the hell out of town? So, I'm thinking maybe, just maybe, this is all for nothing. Don't worry, Phyllis, this is all going to pass us by just like it always does. Still, I prepare. Just in case.Copyright © 2008 by Phyllis Montana-Leblanc


Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Montana-Leblanc, Phyllis.
Montana-Leblanc, Phyllis -- Family.
New Orleans (La.) -- Biography.
African American women -- Louisiana -- New Orleans -- Biography.
Disaster victims -- Louisiana -- New Orleans -- Biography.
Hurricane Katrina, 2005.
Hurricane Katrina, 2005 -- Social aspects -- Louisiana -- New Orleans.
New Orleans (La.) -- Social conditions -- 21st century.