am Rene K., born and raised in New Orleans. Fifty-year-old
I've been in New Orleans all my life, fifty years,
fifty years old, born and raised, naturally New
Orleans, yeah. Work? I did different convention
work, banquet works, worked in hotels, did a little
bit of security work. Made a few investments in
real estate and I need to get back home and check
up on them. I have no idea what condition they're
in because of course, you know, I haven't been
back in now almost eleven days.
My situation was I was staying home by myself
to man the house. My girlfriend and my son and
my stepdaughter left to go to Kansas City. They
were smart. I was silly. I didn't think the storm
was going to hit New Orleans. I'm located in Mid-City,
which is really right between the river and the
lake, almost dead center. It's about three miles
from Lake Pontchartrain and I would say a mile-and-a-half
to two miles towards the Mississippi River. So
I'm dead center in Mid-City. That's why they call
it Mid-City because it's right in the middle.
And that was bad. That's where they had a lot
of water. Certain parts of New Orleans are high‹of
course, New Orleans is a city that's supposedly
five, six feet below sea level, and I would say
Mid-City, for sure, is below sea level, because
I was staying home when the storm was coming and
I was keeping an eye out on the weather report
the whole time. Just me and my dog, staying home.
I had boarded everything up and thought I could
weather the storm, but as I saw that this storm
was coming in at 89.8 longitude or latitude...I
get them confused, which one runs from north to
south. Which one runs from north to south, is
it longitude or latitude?
Well, New Orleans is located right on 90.30, directly,
on the geographic map of the world. And the storm
came in at 89.7, which is very close to New Orleans.
And as I was watching the storm at about 11 o'clock,
hoping it may turn and go like all of the past
ones have, like George, Andrew, Opal hurricane,
or Ivan, which hit last year, and I just started
to say we may just get lucky again, as we've been
getting lucky since Hurricane Betsey hit in 1965,
which I do remember. I was ten years old, I was
very young and I remember it. And of course, it
was not nearly as bad as this storm. But believe
it or not, the city weathered the storm good,
meaning structurally. All of the structures stayed
intact really well. What hurt the city was the
levee break. When the 17th Street Canal Street
broke, it was like a hundred yards wide, which
is the length of a football field gave way, water
was just gushing in and just filling up the city
About my house, I don't know, because what happened
at my house, when I saw that the storm was getting
close to New Orleans, I didn't feel safe because
it was starting to get scary and most people evacuated
to my house, except for some of the shady characters,
meaning some of the bad people that were going
around looting and doing a lot of things, they
were the only ones that were left in the city.
So I decided to leave and fortunately for me,
my brother had a hotel room in the New Orleans
Hilton and I was invited to go to the Hilton,
and I told him that if I needed to come to the
Hilton, I would make a quick call. And if the
weather started getting real bad, and this was
at 11 o'clock at night, the winds were blowing
about forty, fifty miles an hour, I called up
my brother and I said, 'I'm on my way to the Hilton
because I don't want to weather the storm. It's
getting too dangerous, it's getting too scary.
It's a catastrophic Category Five, winds of 150,
160.' I said, 'I don't want to be left home.'
I had to leave my Labrador by herself. I wish
I could have taken her, but when something like
that comes, you just have to look out for yourself.
I just took a few things that were laying around
and put it up high on some of the furniture, hoping
that if it did flood, it wouldn't get that high.
But I saw one of my neighbors just today, which
today's date is‹is it the 14th or whatever it
is‹meaning now it's been ten days since the storm
because the storm hit Monday and today is Wednesday,
so it's been ten days. And I just saw one of my
neighbors and I said, 'Hey, [neighbor], look at
you!' And she was like, 'Oh.' She's here in Austin,
yes. And I asked her how bad the water was, and
she said the water was up to the top of the roofs.
I asked her how she got rescued, and she said
by boat, not by helicopter.
But in my situation, I left before the storm and
I walked from my house to the New Orleans Hilton.
As I walked that night, there was not a soul on
the street because the curfew was in effect at
like six p.m. But I said, heck with it, I'm not
staying here. If I see a police officer's car
or whatever, I'll ask them for a ride, explain
the situation and whatever.
But, anyway, in that two-mile walk, I did not
see one soul. I did not see nothing but thunder,
lightning, and wind, just starting to blow. It
was the scariest twenty minutes of my life that
I ever had, because I just wanted to get inside
that brick building. And I arrived at the New
Orleans Hilton, my brother was meeting me with
security downstairs, because the hotel was locked
and keyed and everything, and my brother was down
there with security and they opened up the hotel
right at about close to midnight.
So I went up to his room which was on the fifth
floor and I got to the fifth floor...I was just
keeping an eye on the television to see where
the storm was because I was worried about my mother,
because my mother was staying in Slidell, which
was directly in the path. Slidell is located like
at 89.6, so Slidell, the eye wall went up Slidell.
Actually, the eye came in the suburbs of New Orleans.
The eye wall did not actually come over New Orleans.
The eye wall went from Chalmette, Louisiana to
the west, all the way to the east to the Pearl
River. So people know that geographically, that's
how big the eye wall was, which was about a 25-mile
radius, from Pearl River to parts of the suburbs
of New Orleans, which is called Chalmette.
And New Orleans, believe it or not, got a little
lucky because we were on the weaker side of the
storm. If you look and you see what happened to
Pass Christian, which is my summer playground‹I
went there on a weekly basis...if you see what it
did to Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian,
Gulfport, tore it up, and of course, what was
it? It was the thirty-five foot storm surge, the
highest storm surge probably ever recorded on
any kind of hurricane. And on top of it, it came
in at high tide. The high tide was up two or three
feet, so it was high tide. And on top of it, they
were having forty to forty-five-foot seas. Now
the people was not too sure out there, the buoys,
half of them got messed up and they couldn't even
do it, but if you look into it, they had recordings
of waves ninety feet offshore on some of these
buoys. They recorded waves as much as ninety feet.
But anyway, getting back to my story, I'm one
of the lucky ones. I did not even get my toes
in the water, I did not see any bodies, and I
did not see anything other than what I washed
up here at the Hilton. So I stayed at the New
Orleans Hilton with my family. They took me and
all of my family and put us up here for eight
days. I've only been in the [Austin] Convention
Center for two days.
What the Hilton did, VIP all of their employees,
and all of the people who paid to stay in the
Hilton, they wanted to get them out quick and
fast, because they knew what was getting ready
to break, with the Police Department not being
able to control 300,000 people. They knew that
the flood waters were coming in and things were
going to happen. So they got like twenty buses
that next morning, which was--Monday with the
hurricane...I was up Wednesday morning. I stayed
there all day Tuesday, the buses arrived for us
to get out of the Hilton Wednesday morning early.
They had about twenty-five buses and they filled
them up and they got everybody that had passes
and room keys, and they drove us to Baton Rouge.
Once we got to Baton Rouge, we had four destinations
to where we wanted to go: Houston, Texas; San
Antonio, Texas; Dallas, Texas; or Austin, Texas.
I chose Austin because I know it's a nice city
and half...everybody else was going to San Antonio,
Dallas, and Houston. So I said, 'I'm going to
Austin. I hear it's a cool town. It's a music
town. It's got the little Austin City kind of
lights and all.' And I figured that who knows
when I'll be able to go to New Orleans, and I
said, 'Well, I'll come here and relocate and hopefully
get a job.' Which I have a job right now. But
I don't have an apartment yet.
Yes, I got a job, but it's not permanent. No,
I got a guy...people take a liking, something about
New Orleans...I don't know if it's my accent, my
personality, or it's the way I look, or what,
there people have been nothing but nice to me.
I got a guy who's looking out for me. He works
for the workforce here in the City of Austin.
I have his card in my pocket -- if I took it out,
I couldn't see because I'm fifty-one, and my eyes
are not the same. I've had eye exams, these people
have given me eye exams. I don't have cataracts,
I don't have glaucoma. He says for a fifty-year-old
man, my eyes are really good. So I've got prescription
glasses when I need.
I've been seeing the medical, I've been going
to the medical for several things, and I plan
on relocating here in Austin and getting in the
City clinics and getting help and all. Because,
you know, I'm not a young man. I'm not old, but
I'm not young. But my family that evacuated to
go to Kansas City, they called me. They're fine.
Everything going great for them in Kansas City
and my mom that was in Slidell, which I was so
worried about, because they had the storm surge
come through, she called me in the Hilton three
days when I checked in, and it was like, 'Mom!'
and she talked to me, and I was just like...she
wasn't flooded out.
She made it all right. I don't know‹the house
had a lot of damage. She happened to be on a lucky
part of whatever, because the storm surge came
in on the east side and just took out all of the
east, all of the Gulf Coast, meaning from Biloxi
all the way to Pass Christian, the wave just wiped
out. Just like a nuclear bomb. When I see it on
TV, it kills me, because I used to go there. People
from New Orleans, that's like the playground.
I went there, we owned camps over there, but we
don't have them anymore. I used to go out to Biloxi
all the time on the weekend.
I'm going to miss Biloxi as much as I'm going
go miss New Orleans. I mean I know it will be
back, but hopefully, what I see for New Orleans
in the future years, the French Quarter is intact,
okay? The people here in Austin or around the
country, trust me, the French Quarter is intact
because it's just a little bit higher above the
level than the rest. All of the CBD area, which
the downtown office buildings are, is intact,
other than a few fires that broke out that we
saw on TV. But all of the office buildings and
everything is intact. All of the Garden District,
where the billionaires, where they had the homes
from the 1830s, 50s, 60s, 70s, all intact, everything's
fine. All of Magazine Street, the shopping district
with the beautiful antiques and the nice cafes
and all, intact.
But what I'm hoping and for anything, I'm hoping
for some good developers, some good engineers,
to come down there, because they're going to have
to bulldoze all the projects and all of the so-called
bad parts of the city. As we know, all your big
cities and inner cities have some bad parts in
the neighborhoods. I don't care where you go,
they have it. So everybody knows New Orleans is
a very high crime, a very, very high crime city.
What I'm hoping that they do, and with me, this
would be a great idea, because I have just a great
inquisitive mind, what I think to do is they're
going to keep the French Quarter which everybody
comes to, they're going to keep downtown, they're
going to keep St. Charles where the streetcars
are, they're going to keep Magazine where all
the restaurants and all of the antique stores
are, but what I'm hoping they do is on the other
side where it was kind of really flooded out,
in the lower sections, hopefully they'll get some
kind of way where they can level it up so much
and get it to a certain stage, and make it like
a little Venice. Do canals, make it like no other
city in the country. Make wide canals or something,
give it a Venice look. Give it a Naples look,
give it an Amsterdam look. Just make the city
that much better.
New Orleans will never be another city of a million-a-half
people, it's just won't be, because half of the
people left. Right now the whole city may just
be three or four-hundred thousand. It will never
revive. I'm looking at four to five-hundred thousand
relocating and just never living there again,
going back. But what I'm hoping one day is that
you have the French Quarter here, and when you
have the CBD, and on the other side, you make
it like a little Italy. You make it like a Venice,
you make it‹you do the cafes, you make it one
of the best.
It's a great idea. So any people, those developers,
wherever you listen to this from any person around,
take it from Rene K., a local guy. Make it the
best city. They say it's the greatest city -- San
Francisco, New York, New Orleans -- very few places
with the flavor, with the food, with the music.
The culture, everything, even with like the accents
like mine. Yes, and by the way, I'm a white Caucasian
man. I'm not black. You hear that accent, you
might say, oh, this guy, he's a little hip, he's
a little jive, a little bit of Brooklyn-like,
you know, inner city talking. But hopefully, I
would hope for one day for these people to do
it, and I think that that would be a great thing
for the city to do that.
I saw some of the looting going on. I saw some
of the young gang guys running around just being
mean. In the Hilton they were taking people's
purses. They were being real mean to them because
the Hilton didn't have enough security. The police
really wasn't around, and I just saw a lot of
people coming with shopping bags full of tennis
shoes and things. So I just saw a tip of what
was going on. Of course, everybody around America
saw what they were doing, you know. There was
killings, there was supposed to be rapes going
on in the Superdome. I mean, it was bad. That's
what I saw, but yes, I was one of the more fortunate
The Police Department, from what I say, they were
out of control. And I was only there while the
police were there. I left when the military started
coming in but what I saw on television, they were
telling the police, they were holding the M-16s,
the big rifles, pointing them up and having them
pointing towards people. You're supposed to keep
it down just in case something is to go off or
something, you know. But I think the Police Department,
I think the city didn't have a good plan.
I think it was very unorganized from the Mayors
to the Councilmen to the Jefferson Parish, everything,
it just wasn't planned well. They've been talking
about for years when a big storm comes, it's going
to hit us and it's going to do this to us. It's
going to hit us and it's going to do it to us.
I realize that the people that could get out,
with the money they've got, but the people who
couldn't get out, that didn't have the money and
the means of transportation, but I think that
the City should have had a plan to where they
should have went house-to-house and had people
in some kind of stuff, even it was being a catastrophe,
even it was a military ships on the river to bring
them and let people stay in military ships until
the storm passes. They could have brought military
ships up the Mississippi River and house people
and did things and stuff.
But of course, this was beyond that, because there
was so much water and there was so much stuff.
But I don't think that the plan for the City and
all was put together at all. It was bad. It was
pretty much you had to fend for yourself. The
City wasn't looking out for poor people, they
wasn't doing anything. All those poor people that
had no transportation, they were just stuck there.
So I think that they should have, and the Federal
Government should have had a plan for something
like that, because they know how New Orleans is
such a vulnerable city. I mean even if some of
those big aircraft carriers up the river, you
could put in thousands of people, with food and
water, and if need be, just bring them down the
river for a few days and if not, bring them up
to Houston or bring them to Corpus Christi or
take them towards Tampa or somewheres, something,
instead of having people staying up on rooftops
for six or seven days waiting for people to rescue
And by the way, there's a lot of lost lives in
Kenner with people that stayed up in the roofs,
because I've heard a lot of bad stories of people
riding around in the boats saving people and they
could hear people from other houses yelling from
the houses for help, which of course, they couldn't
because they already had the people in the boat.
It's just sad, you know. The City had enough time,
they knew that soon or later, you can't keep dodging
the bullet. If you look at the geographic of Louisiana,
it sticks out further than Mississippi, Alabama,
Texas, and all that. So we're in the middle of
So, you know, it just a matter of time. It's just
like you say, oh, we got lucky this time, we got
lucky that time. But the City should have had
a plan for people, for poor people to get out.
Mandatory evacuation. A big storm like this, everybody's
got to go, everybody. So anyway, that's my story.
Hopefully New Orleans will come back. I'm born
and raised so I plan on going back absolutely.
But do I plan on moving back there? I don't think
so because the economy never was good and it's
a corrupt city. The Education Department, the
education is bad, it's just everybody is on the
take over there. It's just not like most American
cities. It's a beautiful city.
Here, I've been treated like royalty. I've been
treated so well, it's incredible. I've even had
some of these people even have me a storage where
they let me hold my important stuff to where I
don't even have to worry about it. Because people
are stealing stuff out of the Convention Center
and all. I mean, people have got robbed right
out here from people that were being in the Convention
Center that came out here. The security here is
good, but they can't watch once you're out here
And the Fire Department, they weren't really around,
but it was bad. We finally got the big one, we
got it, and it hit. And all I can say is, when
New Orleans comes back and it will come back,
I just hope that they revamp the levee systems
operated. The Federal Government needs to make
the levees higher, make them sturdier and if they
can, in some kind of way, even if they got to
cement the foundation where they tear down buildings,
elevate it up five or ten feet. Do something.
I'm not an engineer, I'm not the most smartest
person in the world. But I got a lot of street
sense and I know how to survive, and I can see
black and white in front of me. It was just not
well planned. And for everybody that's got the
money and got the know-how and the engineers and
the politicians want to get it back, they're going
to have to do something like what I'm saying.
And anyway, that's the end of my story, and I
hope the city comes back. It is one of the most‹there's
no other place like it. Let's just put it like
that. I'm not going to say it's the greatest city
in the world, but I've seen tourists come from
all over the world, all weeks, all months of the
year, and have good times in New Orleans. And
they love New Orleans.
But according for it to come back, they're going
to definitely have to do something about the bowl
[of the city]. You just can't keep the bowl.
What am I looking forward to here in Austin? Temporarily
I met a real nice guy, I wish I could remember
his name because he's a great human being, and
he took a liking to me. Something about it, he
could see I was New Orleans, and could see I was
a little bit older of a guy. Anyway, he got me
a little four or five day thing, working for a
graphic place which is paying cash, and these
people have been nothing but good for me.
And I'm going to get a steady good job here. I
only have a high school education but I'm going
to get something in my means. It might take ability
to do it, but yeah, I'm going to relocate here.
Why? Because it's not that far from New Orleans.
It's not that far from Dallas. It's not that far
from Houston, and it's not that far from San Antonio.
And Austin is a great city. I went to the Capitol.
I was in awe when I went to the building. It's
the most beautiful building I've ever seen. I
was just in awe just looking at it. And the streets
are so clean, and everybody is so polite. And
it's conveniently located. It's an hour-and-a-half
from San Antonio, three hours from Houston, two
hours and forty-five minutes from Dallas, so hey,
what more can you want? Texas is a great state,
you know. And yes, I will relocate here.