Katrina Survivors Tell Their Stories

As the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, the stories of those who survived the storm are being told. A local archive of stories has been gathered by an organization called "Surviving Katrina and Rita in Houston". On the occasion of this anniversary, the group has produced four 8-minute audio segments profiling first person accounts of survival.

"Surviving Katrina and Rita in Houston" is believed to be the first large-scale project in which the survivors of a major disaster have taken the lead in documenting it. The project's stated goal is "to voice, as intimately as possible, the experiences and reflections of those displaced to Houston by the two major hurricanes that pounded the Gulf Coast in August and September of 2005".

The dozens of survivors who participated in this project received training on how to do an interview of a fellow survivor and how to record their stories. The point was to gather, for contemporary audiences as well as posterity, memories of lost neighborhoods, personal stories of survival and the experiences of transitioning into a new "post Katrina" world.

The voices heard in these audio segments reflect the diverse cultures found along the Gulf Coast. Organizers of the project say representing this diversity honestly is critical to the completeness of their project. They hope to counter any inaccurate depictions of survivors in the simplistic and narrow terms so often applied to them. The varied voices collected through the "Surviving Katrina and Rita in Houston" project help answer the single most significant concern expressed by the survivor-participants themselves: "We want people to know who we are.

The four 8-minute segments presented in honor of the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina can be heard by clicking on the links below.

  1. "Bridges to Nowhere" - This segment profiles first-person stories about how bridges and overpasses in New Orleans became islands on which survivors fleeing the flood waters were left stranded and without aid for days.
  2. "Cell Phones" - Among the many casualties of Hurricane Katrina was basic transportation and communication in the flooded areas of New Orleans. This program features seven survivors recounting ways in which cell phones saved lives, facilitated aid and effected reunions.
  3. "Intimate Strangers" - All along the evacuation routes to Houston, Katrina evacuees encountered strangers who, without being asked, offered food, a tank of gasoline, or a place to spend the night. These acts of kindness became commonplace and people who were once strangers became friends with a common goal. In this episode, evacuees express their gratitude to the angels they met along the way.
  4. "Why?" - For many forced to evacuate Katrina's wrath, many questions were raised. Why did it happen? What does it mean? Why was I spared? The overnight loss of thousands of lives and dozens of neighborhoods is not easily explained. In this program, four survivors now living in Houston offer varied explanations of the disaster and speak of the lessons they have learned from the storm.

More information can be found at KatrinaAndRita.org

"Surviving Katrina and Rita in Houston" credits three major collaborators:

  • Texas Commission on the Arts—is acting as fiscal agent, administering all funds without charge to the project, thus ensuring that hurricane survivors receive the great majority of funds raised. TCA is also publicizing and presenting project outcomes and supporting its growth.
  • The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress—helped develop the training curriculum and participated in launching the first field schools and will house a copy of the collection, making much of it available online.
  • The University of Houston—is providing faculty and student help, classroom space, technological resources, and archival aid in classifying and storing the materials gathered by the project. The University of Houston the Department of English, the Vietnamese Studies project, the Women's Studies Program, and the Honors College are all active participants. Trauma specialist Professor Mary Armsworth of the Educational Psychology Department and ITV Manager Phil Booth of Technical Support Services have made invaluable contributions to the project.

"Surviving Katrina and Rita in Houston" credits these funders and is grateful for their support:

  • The Houston Endowment
  • National Endowment for the Arts
  • Cultural Arts Council of Houston
  • Miller Theatre Advisory Council
  • Texas Commission on the Arts
  • Gerald Davis Fund, American Folklore Society
  • Douglas County School District, Douglas County, Colorado