A decade ago, Hurricane Katrina displaced an estimated 160,000 children. School classes were missed, friends were lost and families separated. Not all of them returned, but those who did faced a steep challenge rebuilding an adolescence in a battered hometown. Here are just a few of the thousands of stories about fleeing and rebuilding New Orleans.
Kenyon Dunbar in the 6th ward of New Orleans in July.
Kenyon Dunbar looks up at the apartment building where he and his family were during hurricane Katrina. Dunbar says water came up to the second floor where they were rescued days later by boat.
Kenyon Dunbar stands in a parking lot in New Orleans East on Chef Menteur Hwy where he waited with his family to get evacuated after Katrina.
Dvhante Woods, an eighth grader in 2005, ended up in Houston with his family. There were fights in those early months between the locals and the kids from New Orleans but the bigger challenge was keeping up with a curriculum that was much more demanding and moved at a much faster pace than at his school in New Orleans. He eventually earned a degree in business administration from a community college in New Orleans, and now works with Youth Rebuilding New Orleans, a nonprofit that refurbishes destroyed homes.
The Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans was hit hardest by Katrina — and it's recovery has proceeded more slowly than other parts of the city.
Prince Holmes was 12-years-old at the time of Katrina. The weeks after the flood initially felt like a gift. “No school. Hanging out with my cousins. Playing games all day. It felt like a vacation,” he says. His family ended up in Dallas, where a grandmother lived. “I loved it,” he says. “Their schools looked like colleges compared to New Orleans. All the girls loved us because of our accents.” His family's home had not flooded, which allowed Holmes to move back to New Orleans earlier than most. “I was miserable,” he says. “There were no movies, no social fun, nothing really going on at night.” He’s now studying criminal justice at Southern University at New Orleans and also working at Youth Rebuilding New Orleans.
Traelle Noble, aged 12 during Katrina, ended up in the Superdome alongside 25,000 other displaced people. “There was urine everywhere,” Noble says. “Number twos. Vomit. I was so scared I wanted to cry.” He was with his cousins, but separated from his mother, who had been in another part of the city with Noble's two-year-old brother when the levees broke. It was a week before he learned they survived the storm. His family spent the next two years in Houston. “I felt it was a good thing to experience something outside New Orleans,” Noble says. Today he’s studying air-conditioning and refrigeration at a local community college and working at Youth Rebuilding New Orleans.
A Youth Rebuilding New Orleans crew working on a home in the 6th ward this July.
Myron Miller's family returned to New Orleans in early 2007, when he was 14 years old. Now an education activist, he says the influx of young teachers “tried their best,” but they were being asked to handle classes filled with traumatized kids. Miller had once been an exemplary student, but post-storm, bouncing from Baton Rouge to Atlanta back to New Orleans, he was a regular in the vice-principal’s office. “I would yell at the teacher,” he says. “I didn’t pay attention to nothing.”
A Hurricane Kartrina memorial by artist Sally Heller stands in front of the New Orleans Convention Center, which housed overflow when the Superdome became overcrowded.