New Orleans: Houston is Here for You

Time to renew our catastrophic weather bond with Louisiana.
Time to renew our catastrophic weather bond with Louisiana. Screenshot
We saw the scenes of chaos after Hurricane Katrina. Shots from helicopters of people stranded on rooftops, the horrifying spectacle of the Superdome crowded with people, some dead, covered and left in wheelchairs. It was an unimaginable sight in America in 2005.

Hours away in the middle of the night, the first buses began arriving at the Astrodome, mostly bleary-eyed children traumatized, terrified and without parents. Over the next few days, more than a quarter million people streamed through the doors of the Eighth Wonder of the World as it and the entire campus surrounding the world's first air conditioned stadium became a resting place for people escaping the wrath of mother nature.

More than a decade later, our own city drowning in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, it was Louisiana's turn to rescue us. They came with rescue crews like states often do. But, they also came solo, fisherman in flat-bottomed jon boats pulling people out of the swirling, murky water. The Cajun Navy, so used to the bayous of their own state, risked their lives for ours without a second thought.

Now, in 2021, our neighbors are hurting again. As we write this, winds are still howling through eastern Louisiana. The French Quarter is deserted and the levies built after Katrina are being tested against the storm surge of powerful Hurricane Ida, only a year removed from two deadly storms pounding the Lake Charles area.

It's an unimaginable tragedy we all hope won't look, in the light of day, like what we saw after Katrina...or worse.

In the 16 years (to the day, in fact) since one of the most devastating natural disasters ever to befall the United States hit, much has changed. We've been through three presidents, a massive recession and a pandemic...and plenty of storms. The one thing that has not changed is the bond between Houston and New Orleans, between Texas and Louisiana.

click to enlarge
Not the first time we have seen our neighbors taking shelter in Texas.
Photo by Reggie Mathalone
Certainly we are physical neighbors, but we are more than that. After Katrina, NOLA's modern-day Louis Armstrong, Kermit Ruffins, set up residency for months here, so long in fact that it became his second home. Many of our guests (don't you think about calling them refugees) who ran from the storm decided to stay. They opened restaurants and played music. More importantly, they added to our deeply diverse and rich cultural heritage built on the foundations of weary settlers just looking for a place rest, even if it is in the middle of a mosquito-infested swamp that often floods.

Likewise, we have seen their kindness for us when we needed it. The iconic image of the Cajun Navy in the shadow of the skyline riding into town like an aquatic cavalry is something we can never erase from our collective consciousness. Nevermind the kindness and empathy, that knowing look that can only come from a fellow survivor.

Yes, that familial connection has been formed through tragedy. The Gulf Coast has a shared history of rising and falling at the hands of the wide blue ocean off our coastline, It is a devil's bargain to have thriving industry and incredible beauty and the ocean's bounty in exchange for storms like Katrina and Harvey and Ida. We understand the deal we have made and we know the only way to get through it is together.

So, as the winds begin to subside and the waters recede, we will return to the Big Easy and help them rebuild. That's what families do for one another. They don't just send thoughts and prayers. They bring hammer and nails, and jon boats, and hands to hold, and shoulders to lean on...and barbecue.

We will be there like we always have been, like you always are. Brothers and sisters in arms.

Don't worry, NOLA, you aren't alone. H-Town's got you.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke