My husband and I went on a several-month, across America road trip back in 2006, including stopping in New Orleans in June, ten months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region.
My former editor connected us with her sister and brother-in-law; he had been a lifelong resident, including living in a house in the Lower Ninth Ward in 1965 and surviving on the roof when Hurricane Betsy came through. His son had the same experience during Hurricane Katrina, living in that same house and surviving on the roof, and still, they were rebuilding. But at that time, less than a year after the storm savaged the city, many of their neighbors weren’t.
I believe that couple gave us the tour so I’d write something–a magazine piece, a New York Times worthy piece–about what I saw, but all the loss shut down my words. Eventually I penned a blog post, but always felt like there was more to say, and that I was incapable of saying it. My life was not disrupted by the damage, it wasn’t my storm, all I could do was witness, and as witness, I took these photos. All are from June 2006, with my Nikon D70; many are from the window of the car as we drove through neighborhoods plagued by quiet, by absent voices, by cars that didn’t work. The tour started in the Lower Ninth Ward, and landed in Metarie, where boats were still marooned on land, wherever Katrina had deposited them. The damage was much less severe there, but still there was plenty.
The last few photos are of once-bustling entertainment businesses along the Gulf Coast, as we drove on.
When I found Ellen Urbani’s Landfall, a manuscript about two daughters and their single mothers, four flawed but resilient characters, I knew this book told a story that I wanted to know more about, a story that I had seen echoes of in June 2006. A story that I decided I was unable to tell in words; one that I chose to record with my camera instead.
Ellen’s at Powell’s today, at 4 p.m. at the flagship store, with Cheryl Strayed introducing her, after her first tour leg of the South, including New Orleans, where an architect gladly gave her a tour of the restoration efforts, which have progressed much farther at this ten-year anniversary than they had at ten months.
Publishing this book has given voice to the survivors, with Ellen using fiction to piece together a compelling narrative, a story about a storm, but mostly about these two eighteen-year-old girls with the same name–Rose–and how their lives were interrupted by Katrina.