Hurricane Katrina, 7 Years Later: A Saints Fan's Journey Back to New Orleans

Jason Bernos@Berns247Contributor IIAugust 27, 2012

NEW ORLEANS - SEPTEMBER 25:  An overall view of the first kick-off to start the Monday Night Football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints on September 25, 2006 at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Tonight's game marks the first time since Hurricane Katrina struck last August, that the Superdome, which served as a temporary shelter to thousands of stranded victims in the wake of Katrina, has played host to an NFL game.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

In honor (would honor be the right word?) of the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans will be receiving another cyclonic gift in the form of Hurricane Isaac on the same day as Katrina hit just seven years ago.

Now, to some people, seven years flies right past, but in NOLA since 2005, it could be Groundhog Day for some if they go in certain areas of the city that still haven't come back fully.

I have decided to share with you my account of my evacuation during Katrina, and the one thing that helped get my mind off of it, the New Orleans Saints.

The day that the Saints reopened the Superdome back in 2006 and that subsequent season helped ease the pain of this entire region, not just myself, but it took what felt like eternity to get there.

That hellish weekend of August 27-28, 2005 began with a panicked call from my mother needing her then-20-year old son back home to help with preparations, and possibly an evacuation. The people who i had been staying with had a hotel reservation in Galveston, TX that they weren't using and passed it along to me, again, just in case.

The next morning, on the 28th, I packed a change of clothes and my XBOX (the latter would keep me occupied in a hotel room filled with family members), piled into two cars and headed up to my uncle's house on the north shore of Lake Ponchatrain and see them before heading westward. We thought, like every other New Orleanian always thought about evacuations before '05, that we would be gone one night and be back home the next day just in time for dinner.

Only it didn't happen that way.

By the time that we got to my uncle's (mind you that a 45-mile drive took about three to four hours because of traffic), the hurricane track shifted and was now sitting over New Orleans with less than 24 hours to go before landfall.

From that point, my family and I would embark on a seven-day journey that brought us through four cities and back within 20 minutes of NOLA awaiting word when we could go back into town to check our property. There were conflicting media reports of what happened to certain areas, so we were eager to get back and see what was left.

Not knowing what to expect, we pulled up to the house, and it looked fine from the outside, but as you walked up to the door, there was a noticeable line of dirt going across it and the garage door.

At that point, there's no doubt that this house was flooded. That line was water line of where Katrina's flood waters had sat for who knows how many days. Mind you, this was a house and area that never flooded on any occasion, including the great May 8 flood.

The tile floor had a thin layer of mud on it. Walls were covered with black and green mold. Our fridge and freezer were filled with spoiled food in it from no electricity, and those reeked worse than Bourbon St. after Mardi Gras.

Everything I had in my room, gone. All I had was my family left.

After dealing with the shock value of that, my parents and I were relocated to Orlando a week later for a month for my mother's job. And if dealing with that wasn't enough, we got to come back home to "San Antonio Saints?" headlines.

Were they kidding me?

You're really going to do this, Mr. Benson?

After everything people were going through, you are going to take away the Saints?

You, sir, might own the Saints on paper, but this is New Orleans' team.

I'm glad he wised up and learned that because Louisiana would have been one state that was off of the map to him. (Just like New Orleans is to Roger Goodell now.)

To anyone who doesn't know how loyal fans are here, I'm going to drop some knowledge on you: Who Dat Nation will have your back on anything as long as you are genuine and honest; no matter what the results are on the field (and there have been a lot of lows), our support will never waver.  

Fast forward a year and we come to September 25, 2006, the reopening of the Superdome, playing the hated Atlanta Falcons

The enormous crowd outside were sharing their "Katrina" stories while watching the countdown clock on the outside of the dome. The clock hit zero, the crowd rejoiced and Who Dat Nation was back where it belonged.

By the time I got in, it still hadn't hit me yet.

I got settled in and looked around in awe.

New scoreboards, new everything. Looked good, but still had no reaction like I was seeing on plenty of fellow Who Dats that were gathering around.

But when Green Day and U2 sent the packed crowd into hysteria with their collaboration, tears came to my eyes thinking back to the worst month of my life.

Lost all my worldly possessions, but I was still here. Still standing.

In what felt like a matter of minutes, Steve Gleason shot through Atlanta's punt formation and block Michael Konnen's kick. Curtis Deloatch would recover, and that moment would become a beacon of hope for the Gulf Coast region.  

The eruption from that moment made the concert before the game look like they were whispering on stage. It was that loud.

There was a lot of hugging and high-fiving, and not one dry eye in the house. For that brief moment, no one had any worries. It was a small part in what would go on to give myself and this region some relief, if only for three hours at a time on a Sunday or Monday.

That's what sports can do. They will get your mind off of things, and the Saints were a big part of that in 2005 and in '06. They culminated the trek back to relevance with a Super Bowl title in 2009.

Hurricane Issac won't be as bad as Katrina, but nevertheless, the Saints will do what they can to give NOLA an outlet beyond watching The Weather Channel all day. 


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