After Hurricane Harvey, junior remembers escaping Katrina 12 years earlier

Back in 2005, junior Isabel Burke and her family left New Orleans as the incredible force that was Hurricane Katrina approached. Exactly 12 years later, as Hurricane Harvey has just left its destructive mark on the Texas coast, she recounts her experiences.

What do you remember about leaving New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Katrina?
I was pretty young, so I didn’t really know what was going on prior to the decision to leave. I remember waking up one night, and my mom was buckling me into my car seat, and I was really confused. I was pretty tired, so I didn’t really ask her, but I knew something was going on. My parents asked us where we wanted to evacuate to because there wasn’t much of a plan. I remembered visiting Austin the year before, and I liked their Children’s Museum, so I made sure that we [considered] Austin.

Why Austin?
My dad had lived here for a couple of years before he met my mom, and he thought it was a really good city. He wanted to convince my mom to move here, so we came here and lived for a couple of months in the Gables apartment complex. My dad went back to New Orleans a couple of weeks after the storm hit to see what was left of our house. Luckily, our house wasn’t really destroyed, but most of our neighbors suffered some sort of flood damage. Our house was raised, so it wasn’t that big of an issue. I remember FaceTiming with him while we were in our apartment, and he asked me what I wanted to bring back to Austin. I told him I wanted him to bring back my Polly Pockets and my princess dress … I was 5.

Was your family planning on moving here before the hurricane?
I don’t know if we were planning to move to Austin. I think after the storm, there was a lot of damage to be fixed, and there were a lot of corrupt politics going down [in New Orleans]. The school systems weren’t great, and crime was really bad, especially during the storm because there were a lot of looters and stuff. It just wasn’t that great of an environment to grow up in. So I think after the storm, that really heightened my parents’ desire to skedaddle.

How did you and your family feel about leaving?
I didn’t really mind; I was little so it didn’t matter. I missed my friends, because we were out for a couple months while they were trying to repair. I know it was really hard for my dad. I remember when we were still staying in our apartment, and it was the weekend that Hurricane Katrina hit. I remember my parents were watching the news with the storm update. I heard them talking and got out of bed to go be with them, because they were obviously tense. I remember seeing my dad start to cry, which was really weird because my dad doesn’t cry that much. To see him that impacted because that’s where all of his family and friends were, that’s where he grew up, was weird. I remember that night just being wowed that it was a lot more serious than my 5-year-old brain could comprehend. I think it was pretty hard on them because they were worried and didn’t know what had happened to our house at first. We could have lost a lot more than what we did.

How has Hurricane Katrina affected your life and who you are today?
Well, for starters, I probably wouldn’t live here in Austin, my mom wouldn’t be convinced about what a nice city it is, so that’s a big thing. I started kindergarten here. I almost started at a rinky-dinky private school in New Orleans, because every school there was just not that great. There’s definitely a better education here, and I think just also being appreciative of what you have. My aunt’s house was literally crushed and floated away. It just puts into perspective how much we could have lost and how lucky we are that our house wasn’t that damaged. You can lose everything. It’s kind of daunting.

Do you still hold strong ties towards New Orleans?
Yeah. All of my dad’s family is still there. We go back once, twice a year maybe, for holidays. My grandparents’ house, which is now my aunt’s house, is on the street where our old house was. We pass by it a lot, and there are new people living there. It just kind of reminds me of that time. We definitely go back and visit, and the city’s recovered really well. It’s been kind of a slow process, but overall they’ve done a really good job for the most part.

Why did your family choose not to return to New Orleans after the hurricane had passed?
We did return, actually. We went back for a year or so, because it hit in August. We went back a couple months after, and I actually registered to go to school at a place down the street. I was going to go there, but I think my parents realized, “You know, this isn’t what we want.” We moved to Austin for good in July 2006, and I started kindergarten at Eanes that year.

How do you feel hearing about hurricanes nowadays? For instance, Hurricane Harvey?
I definitely feel sympathetic, because I know what a scary situation that can be. Not that you can’t be sympathetic if you haven’t been in a hurricane. I think actually having been in a situation like that and knowing people that have lost their homes and livelihoods … Having a first-hand experience, you just feel bad, because you don’t want anyone else to go through that. You feel lucky that you’re not in that path of destruction again.