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‘I just miss home’: Two stories of life after Katrina

August 29, 2015 at 2:27 PM EDT
Hurricane Katrina displaced hundreds of thousands of residents of New Orleans and many never returned. For the past decade, filmmaker Rennik Soholt has followed the lives of several families who fled. Now, hear the personal stories of two former New Orleans residents who spoke to Soholt about their experiences. This video was produced by Soholt, the director of the forthcoming documentary feature, “Forced Change.”
LISTENSEE PODCASTS

LORNE LAURANT, DISPLACED BY HURRICANE KATRINA: My name is Lorne Laurant. I’m 46 years old.

We are in Georgetown, Texas. I never would’ve imagined that, you know, we would be here in Texas, of all places, you know.

I work at a restaurant, The Roaring Fork.

I do miss New Orleans, all the time. All the old places that I hung out with, all the childhood friends that I met, you know, because basically here I just, I have my wife, I have the kids, but there are still a lot of memories and family in New Orleans.

I am split between two places.

For me, New Orleans is my — it’s my heart. My family has been in New Orleans for generations. It wasn’t until Katrina that everyone sort of separated. Some folks are in Mississippi, some are in Alabama, Florida. You know, everyone’s scattered about a bit.

At the time, I was working for both House of Blues and for, you know, the U.S. Postal Service. And I was doing well, you know. Made great money, we were able to take our trips, our vacations, you know, and I mean it was just, it was a good time. And when I think back to then, I don’t remember really wanting or needing anything, you know what I’m saying?

It’s like — it seemed like everything was perfect. We had the babies; it was just a happy life back then, you know?

Well, I mean, we’re happy still. But it’s not the same happy, you know?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAURANT (on video): Jesus, follow this man.

I remember my last day. My last day was, what? A Saturday. Lovee (ph) was calling me on the phone freaking out because the storm was coming. Calling me: leave work, leave work, leave work.

So I mean, I made sure that I got off pretty early. Came home, packed up very lightly, very lightly. I mean, literally all I took was, like, two pairs of jeans, two t-shirts, and some flip flops. That was it, and we left.

Home sweet home, baby. This was the living room. The water wasn’t very high — we got maybe a foot in here. But you can see all the walls.

Just got the bathrooms done. New walls, new floors, all this was just done. Like a couple of months ago.

This is nasty. This is nasty. I don’t want to touch this stuff.

There’s papers in the drawers here that I got to get, like important papers that Lovee (ph) got from my dad.

All right, cool. Yep, this is his ring. Yep, she’d definitely want that.

Tristan (ph) was like “Bring back my books, bring back my toys”. There’s really not much more we can take. I mean, his school supplies, he can use those later on. I was just glad my wife ain’t here. She’d break down in tears.

Like, for the past couple of days, couple of weeks, I’d just miss home. I’d just miss coming home to my house. I miss walking inside and plopping down in front of the television, you know, and I just miss home. You know, bringing the kids out in the backyard to play on the swing set, you know. Just the small things.

But there’s no way in the world that, you know, we’re going to go through gutting it out. No, we’re pretty much done here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAURANT: It’s been almost 10 years since Katrina and I’d say that my life is — my life is still pretty difficult. My wife and I, for a long time, were dealing with post-traumatic stress and, you know, we’d snap at each other and argue and just didn’t understand why we felt the way that we felt.

Katrina, to me, it was sort of like our 9/11. It just shook us to the core.

JANNA FIRMIN, DISPLACED BY HURRICANE KATRINA: My name is Janna Firmin and I live in Pearl River, Louisiana, now.

I right now live with my daughter Marly (ph) and my son Noah (ph) and my boyfriend Sean (ph). I’ve been here for about two and a half years.

I really feel like this apartment in Pearl River, it’s — it’s a grounding spot and this is honestly the first time that I’d felt that since Katrina.

I really like the peacefulness of Pearl River. I really like the quietness and the serenity. It’s a big change from the city.

It’s still empty in a lot of ways because, you know, the life that I knew is no more and I miss that and it hurts a lot.

God’s given me a whole lot of second chances so I really appreciate just the simple things, like a quiet cup of coffee in the morning with a simple book in the evening.

Shortly before Katrina, my dad died, and then Katrina happened, and then everything that I knew, you know, school, work, house, family, like it was just completely annihilated.

I feel like I was blindsided. Everything changed. Everything was just ripped away in an instant.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FIRMIN (on video): My house was only about a block away from where the levee had broke on the 17th Street canal.

I lived in my house with my little girl Marly (ph), who’s 7, and my little boy Russell (ph), who’s 2. And I took basically a backpack of clothes for me and the kids and I left.

If there’s anything to bring back out.

OK, this is where we kind of have to get in. This is what I heard, anyway; this is where you have to get in.

Oh my god.

Wow.

Oh my Jeezum — look at my room! You can’t even get in it. Holy — holy, holy Lord.

Oh man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh my god.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your bathroom’s soaked. Damn.

FIRMIN: Oh my gracious. I can’t even bel — begin. There’s no way I’m going in there. Wow. Wow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can’t even get in here. Let me get out of your way.

FIRMIN: OK. This is — like I honestly thought I was going to be able to get my dresser and like grab a couple of things off that I had left back here, like a little tiny jewelry box and whatnot. Wait, look. Here’s the jewelry box that I wanted to get. I don’t think I’ll be wearing any of that jewelry anymore.

Yeah, my daddy got me that jewelry box before he passed away. Too bad I didn’t take it with me, huh.

Here’s another jewelry box that was on my dresser. Woo. OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you fall, I’m not picking you up.

FIRMIN: Man, I just — I’m so — I can’t take this stuff because it’s just too toxic. I would love to but I can’t. I can’t do it.

Even though it’s just material stuff, it is a loss. It’s almost like a death. It’s a huge loss that you have to filter and deal with and it’s really weird. It’s hard to process all of this stuff.

I have to admit, this is way worse than I thought it was going to be. Like, I knew it was going to be really bad, but wow.

I left town with a box of pictures, a couple of poetry books, and that’s pretty much it. So I lost every else.

Good gracious. Stuff that I had hanging on my wall is in my bathtub. Shoes are in my bathtub.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) pictures anyway.

FIRMIN: Wow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FIRMIN: Katrina is definitely still haunting, it really is. But I’m not sure if it will ever completely go away because it was very much like a death, the death of an entire city, almost. And everything that I knew.

Yeah, I’m still — I still don’t think, ten years later, that I’ve learned to deal with it.

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