Alive In Truth Oral History: Rene K.
Alive In Truth Oral History: Rene K.

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Rene K.

9/14/05

I am Rene K., born and raised in New Orleans. Fifty-year-old single male.

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 for days.

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 ones, absolutely.

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 them.

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 the Gulf.

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 all.

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.

Thank you.