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The last word: Discovering what really matters

Anderson, in a hazardous materials outfit, outside her hurricance-damaged home.

With Hurricane Katrina bearing down on our New Orleans home, my husband, John Sebastian, and I loaded up our big duffle bag with clothes and packed some books so maybe we’d get some work done while we were gone. We grabbed our wedding photo proofs (we’d been married all of one month) and, of course, our cat, Guinness.

Our plan was simple: to evacuate to my parents’ house in central Florida and return to our home after the big false alarm on Monday.

We got on the road Saturday afternoon, Aug. 27, before most people started evacuating. As we drove toward Florida, I realized, a little too late, that I should have taken our college degrees—just in case. I also had forgotten my favorite Lehigh sweatshirt, the one I got after I took my campus tour during the summer before my senior year of high school. And I had neglected to grab the T-shirt quilt that I made using all of my sorority and Lehigh-related T-shirts.

None of these precious items would have taken up a lot of room in the car. Yet, in the mad rush to leave town, I had left them behind.

After we arrived in Florida, we spent our days glued to the television. When the news came that the levee had been breached, I finally started to cry. I broke down when I was on the phone with my mom, who was up in New Jersey, because the whole city was being swallowed up by Lake Pontchartrain. To find information about our little enclave known as “Broadmoor” was nearly impossible. The Lower Ninth Ward was media-sexy because it was entirely under water. Uptown was the non-flooded oddity. We were technically living Uptown, but in an area that had a greater tendency to flood, near Mid-City.

From satellite imagery on the Internet, we determined that our neighborhood was under 8 feet of water. Our home was built on 3-foot perimeter pilings, so we figured a few feet of water was definitely possible. We spent the entire month of September waiting and hoping for some word of what was going on back home.

Finally, in early October, after six agonizing weeks, we were allowed into our flood-ravaged home. Our landlords had been allowed in because their home was over on the West Bank so they were able to sneak into the neighborhood. The news wasn’t good. We arrived in New Orleans late in the afternoon, and the smell was overwhelming. Musty doesn’t begin to describe the odor. Morbid doesn’t begin to describe the scene.

My father outfitted us with hazardous materials outfits (he was a HazMat fire captain in Newark, N.J., prior to his retirement), and we ventured in for a quick look around. We couldn’t stay long because there was no power for lights and the curfew was still in effect. What we saw bore little resemblance to the house we left in late August.

Anderson lost nearly everything she owned in Hurricane Katrina.



The first items I looked for were the ones I had thought about in the car as we fled from the approaching hurricane. My Lehigh degree was still hanging on the wall. My T-shirt quilt was still on the couch where I left it. My treasured Lehigh sweatshirt was hanging in the closet, still wet, even though the water had receded a few weeks earlier. I took all three precious items.

The frame for the degree had started getting moldy, so the important piece of paper was rescued just in time. The T-shirt quilt and sweatshirt were washed about 10 times to get the smell out. The quilt needs to be reassembled, and the sweatshirt is embarrassingly faded on the bottom, but I was thankful that each of these things that were so important and represented such a wonderful part of my life were once again mine.

When we walked through the house and saw what was salvageable, it was surreal. Our china, crystal, and a few tokens from my days on South Mountain were just about all that remained after Hurricane Katrina. The rest of our possessions were damaged or destroyed.

Before Katrina, I would often get questions about my T-shirt quilt. Now, there is another story attached to it. My husband used to insult my beat-up sweatshirt. He knows better now! And I’ve always received compliments on the beautiful lithograph of Packer Chapel in my diploma frame. All of these things mean even more to me now that they, like us, survived Katrina.

--Christy Anderson '01

Anderson graduated with a B.A. in Journalism in 2001, then attended Caldwell College in New Jersey to get a teaching certificate. She has taught American History at middle schools in New Jersey and Louisiana. She is currently living in Cedar Grove, N.J., and is relocating to Washington, D.C., for the Spring 2006 semester, where her husband will be an adjunct at Georgetown University, until they find a more permanent home. She is involved with Lehigh as a class agent and as a member of the Young Alumni Council.

Lehigh Alumni Bulletin
Winter 2006

Posted on Friday, January 27, 2006

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