I’d always imagined that once I became a teenager, everything in my life would be completely different and new. August 27, 2005 was my thirteenth birthday. August 29th, I’d fallen asleep on the floor of the meeting room next to my dad’s office, in the military hospital where we’d sometimes shelter for hurricanes. As my mom shook me awake, I could immediately tell that something was wrong. Only the hallway lights were still lit, indicating that the hospital was running on backup power. There was too much noise coming from the hallway for everything to be normal. Everyone was scrambling around and hauling things up the emergency exit staircase. In the midst of all of the confusion I ended up being handed a three-year-old and a sleeping bag and told to get upstairs and out of the way. Right after I made my way up the staircase, the emergency lights flickered and then went out. I turned briefly and caught a glimpse out the windows on either side of the emergency doors. There was just enough light coming in to make sense of the situation. Black water, littered with debris and leaves, was slowly crawling up the outside of the window. It looked like the entire ocean had swept two miles into land, and we later figured out that that was exactly what happened. In the complete confusion I found my way to a couple of boxes near the top of the stairs. I don’t know how long I sat there until I heard what sounded like a gunshot. Wind started rushing up the stairwell and into the hallway. It took me a little while to put the pieces together, but I soon realized that the “gunshot” I’d heard was the metal security door breaking off its hinges and slamming against the far wall, propelled by the pressure of the water. It was 5 days until we were finally allowed to leave that hospital. Five days passed sitting in a dark and excruciatingly hot hallway, surrounded by hysterical, sweaty people, not knowing if I had a house to go home to, and living on raw Ramon noodles. My life was completely different after that week, and after that birthday. No matter how horrible and tragic it seems to people on the outside, I could not have asked for a better wake-up call than Katrina. One of the first things I heard on the television when we finally got into a hotel in Alabama was along the lines of, “Victims of Hurricane Katrina…” I was surprised. I didn’t feel at all like a victim. The level of pride and power that I had achieved in those few days spent in the shelter was more than anyone could ask for. This storm that had destroyed so much of my world, so many things that were familiar, so strong, couldn’t destroy me. Katrina wasn’t a disaster to me, it was a miracle. It was a well needed wake-up call. I now believe that I’m invincible as long as I have myself. Material things don’t last forever, but hope does. It doesn’t matter that a house is destroyed or a town scattered, anything can be rebuilt if there are people that believe it can be. I believe in hope.
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