published Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Isaac brings back memories for Hurricane Katrina refugees

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    People sit on a bench along the seawall in the storm surge from Isaac, on Lakeshore Drive along Lake Pontchartrain, as the storm approaches landfall, in New Orleans, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

When Hurricane Katrina came to the Gulf Coast seven years ago today, Cherita Adams' life went underwater.

Her home in New Orleans was sludge after the levees broke in the city. The same ruin came to her parents, her husband's parents, her sister, her cousins and her friends.

So two months after Katrina, Cherita and her family fled the city she loved and they settled in Chattanooga.

"There was nothing to go back to," said Adams who, along with her husband, Michael, owns the Blue Orleans restaurant on Market Street.

This week, watching Isaac -- newly christened Tuesday morning as an official Category 1 hurricane -- barrel up the Gulf of Mexico, threatening more flood waters, more power outages, more ruin, Adams isn't sure the pummeled city will ever make a real rebound. And she fears for family members who returned there after Katrina and won't get out in time this time.

Some mandatory evacuations have been called in low-lying parishes, but not in New Orleans. Adams told her family to leave anyway.

"I told them I thought it would be best if they evacuated. They feel safe because of the new levee system," she said. "I don't trust [the levees]. ... It's terrifying. It's just not worth it."

She'll watch the news closely until the storm passes.

Chattanooga residents who have come from New Orleans and still have ties there say their families and friends are battening down the hatches for the slow-moving Isaac.

Hurricanes are part of the coastal culture in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, they say. The first thing to go in the grocery stores is beer. People advertise hurricane parties on Facebook.

People enjoy getting the day off work, said Theodore Cossitt, who lived in South Mississippi for 20 years and went through 10 hurricanes before moving to Rossville after Katrina hit in 2005.

His sister still lives in a trailer in the line of the storm, he said.

"Until it gets to a Category 3, it's really only an excuse to party," he said. "I have some apprehensions, but I'm not too concerned."

Others are reliving storm nightmares.

Onita Pierce said her family and her husband's family still live in the New Orleans area, choosing to stay even after Katrina hit. She moved to Chattanooga in October for work.

Some family members have gone to stay with friends or relatives this week, and others have traveled north to avoid the winds and rain, she said. But she is terrified something will happen to her 75-year-old parents who live alone in a mobile home and can't travel.

"I have been crying all morning," she said.

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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