Hi everyone, and welcome back to Riley’s Resilience Blog! Today, I want to share a story I first read my junior year of college. I was in my first Emergency Management course, Mitigation and Recovery, with my favorite professor, Dr. Caroline Hackerott. One of the first assignments in this course was to listen to This American Life: Lower 9 +10. In this episode of the radio show, the show’s hosts talk to residents in New Orleans, particularly the Lower Ninth Ward, about their experience with Hurricane Katrina and the state of the Lower Ninth Ward ten years after the disaster. In total, the radio show captured the stories of six residents. My favorite story is the story of Jean Gibson.Zoe Chance, one of the show’s producers, wandered down to Mercedes Bar, one of the only remaining bars in the Lower Ninth Ward. There she met Jean Gibson, a sixty-year-old woman and survivor of Hurricane Katrina. Gibson told the story of her family’s struggle both during and after the hurricane. She spoke about evacuating to Houston, Texas and being kicked out of the hotel her family was staying in because her credit card hit the limit. Gibson rushed to the nearest ATM, only to discover her bank in New Orleans fell victim to the hurricane. She spoke about begging for food, money, diapers, and anything else her two grandchildren needed. After Gibson, her husband, and two grandchildren had traveled around Texas for a little over a month, she received the call she had been waiting for. Gibson was told to come back to her job in New Orleans. She was under the impression that everything would be exactly how it was when she left, with the exception of a few buildings needing a fresh coat of paint. However, New Orleans no longer looked like New Orleans. Gibson described the scene as a warzone, with soldiers in the streets and hotels with the windows blown out. As she made her way to the Lower Ninth Ward, she was in amazement of all the destruction caused by the hurricane. Upon returning to her home, Gibson did not see the things she was used to seeing. She did not see her neighbors, her favorite bar, or the dog that had always barked as she drove by. Without these things, she didn’t know who she was. When she pulled into what used to be her driveway, Jean Gibson understood that her life would never be as it was before Hurricane Katrina.
I didn’t make you read all of that for nothing; there was a point to me recounting that story for you. Without your community and neighbors, it becomes very difficult to return to normalcy. Your community is a very essential part of the recovery process. These people and these daily interactions are a part of your identity.
This story does have a happy ending. Remember Mercedes Bar, one of the few remaining bars in the Lower Ninth Ward? That is where Jean Gibson regained her sense of normalcy. As residents of the Lower Ninth Ward made their way back to New Orleans, many would gather at Mercedes Bar. They talked about their struggles, their suffering, the challenges ahead, and together, they rebuilt their lives. Since Hurricane Katrina, Gibson’s home has been rebuilt and she is still working for the city, the place she had worked before the disaster. The husband she made it through the hurricane with passed away in 2007. But, she has remarried, and out of all people, to the son of the owner of Mercedes Bar.
To hear this story and the stories of other residents of the Lower Ninth Ward, click here.