The memories of the devastation from Hurricane Katrina are clear for Keith Kreiter but it’s the resilient nature of the people that stand out most when the Saskatoon man is reminded of his time in New Orleans.
As part of the Mennonite Disaster Service, Kreiter went to help repair and rebuild houses just outside of the Louisiana city eight months after the Hurricane tore through.
“It was literally like being in the aftermath of a war zone. There was empty lots. There might be a set of concrete steps where a house sat, cars on their roofs, boats sticking in front windows of a house, trees down,” Kreiter said. “It was a real mess.”
Thinking back to his time in the flood-ravaged region, Kreiter said he still remembers the stories of survival from the locals he spoke with.
“Some of them hid in their attics and had to punch holes through the attic to get out onto the roof and wait for rescue teams to come and get them,” he said. “Some people managed to evacuate and get maybe into Texas or another state.”
It was the giant X’s on homes through the lower ninth ward, one of the poorest and hardest hit areas, where Kreiter felt overwhelmed by the cost of life the natural disaster left in its wake.
“The X one would indicate the date they went through the house and then it would indicate who had been in the house and whether or not they had found bodies or if there had been any people dead in the house,” he said.
“When we were in those areas, there wasn’t a word spoken between us, we were just speechless. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before.”
While facing tragedy head on, Kreiter said what he remembers the most is the warm and welcoming nature of the people.
“A lot of people there they have a different sense of home than we do. Here in Canada, we have no problem moving to Calgary or moving to Vancouver but there you will find the same family living in the same house for generations,” he said.
“So when they talk about wanting to be there because it’s home they have a lot stronger sense of home than what we are used to, I think.”
The experience left a mark on Kreiter and he has returned numerous times in the past 10 years. There has been a lot of work rebuilding, but the scars of Katrina are still clear.
“Each time there has been more homes rebuilt and it’s coming back to looking more like it’s pre-Katrina self,” Kreiter said. “But there is still places where there are empty lots and people have just chosen not to come back.”