Remembering Katrina: Freshman student recalls experiencing hurricane as child

Alexa Christianson, Contributing Reporter

After enduring a struggle a decade ago to safely escape New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, freshman Lauren Bourgeois is more than happy to be back in the city.

Bourgeois is no stranger to Tulane – her father, grandfather and grandmother are all proud alumni with long-reaching roots at the university. Green button-downs and a scarf marked with vintage Tulane logos, acquired from family, are tucked in her dorm closet.

Having lived most recently in nearby Thibodaux, Louisiana, Bourgeois and her family were living in Raceland, about an hour’s drive from New Orleans, when the storm hit 10 years ago. 

Warnings about the impending storm pervaded the area. Bourgeois’ father, however, a member of the National Guard who still serves today, was unsure whether his services would be needed. 

“They weren’t sure how bad it was going to be,” Lauren Bourgeois said. 

It was not until the day before the storm made landfall that Bourgeois, her mother, brother and sister finally evacuated to San Antonio, Texas. Her father stayed behind, reporting to Jackson Barracks to aid in human recovery. 

“They had him on lifeboats in the water, finding people stranded on the roofs, or whatever people needed help with,” Bourgeois said. “He was down there for weeks. He didn’t actually come home for good for about two months.” 

Bourgeois herself was only about 8 years old when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. She does not struggle, however, to enumerate the many worries she was forced to carry with her as she faced the potential loss of her father and her home. 

“I was scared to have a parent there, [in the storm],” Bourgeois said. “I couldn’t believe it was happening, but I was still old enough to know it was going on. I knew I might not have a house anymore, and I was nervous to come back home, and worried about all my toys.” 

Bourgeois’ family also had the roof torn from the top of their home. 

“Everything looked like a jungle, with roofing shingles all down the road,” Lauren Bourgeois said. 

Bourgeois’ father returned safely from his service in the city, but not without feeling the burdens of intense loss and suffering experienced by civilians. 

“He wasn’t the same for a while,” Lauren Bourgeois said. “After seeing people whose homes were destroyed, and losing their loved ones … it affects a person.” 

Bourgeois’ father also spent time serving in Iraq prior to Hurricane Katrina, and Lauren Bourgeois said that the experience of the hurricane was “equally traumatic, if not worse.” 

The physical rebuilding process is a long-term effort that still persists across the city today.

“It’s been slow, but steady,” Lauren Bourgeois said about New Orleans’ recovery progress. “It took a long time for the restaurants to open. Waiting for stuff to reopen, it took years, just waiting for people rebuild.”

Thibodaux, Bourgeois’ hometown, is still working to recover as well.

“Even now I still see blue tarps on houses,” Bourgeois said. “They never got repaired.” 

Bourgeois, holding close the experiences of her father and the change viewable over a decade, is optimistic about what the future contains. 

“There was nothing we could have done to prevent it,” Bourgeois said. “And I’m young. My life’s not over.”