As the country nears the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, 3 of our KSLA News 12 co-workers have spoken out for the first time since experiencing the storm first hand.
The New Orleans area was home to Charisse Gibson, KSLA News 12 This Morning co-anchor, Jacob Bradford, KSLA News 12 This Morning reporter, and Clay Ostarly, KSLA News 12 This Weekend forecaster.
Days before one of the biggest natural disasters to hit the United States many people living in New Orleans considered Hurricane Katrina just another storm.
"Hurricanes are normal of course in south Louisiana," said Gibson.
Bradford has been through plenty of south Louisiana hurricanes. “Whenever a hurricane hits you take a vacation and you get back home and you clean up the front yard and you're fine," he said.
All 3 of our co-workers were with their families debating whether or not to evacuate, but on the eve of Katrina’s landfall plans started to change.
"The mood changed with my mom and I actually credit my mom for being the reason we're alive right now," said Gibson. "Leading up to Katrina my dad was going to do the usual and ride it out. My mom thought this one would be different. She just had a feeling."
Bradford was in his living room watching then-mayor Ray Nagin issue a mandatory evacuation. He said, "at that moment my mom walked in with a laundry basket and said put what you think is important in this basket because I don't know if we're going to come home this time."
Ostarly had already convinced his family to leave.
"It took us almost 23 hours believe it or not to get from home which was Mandeville, Louisiana just on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain to Hot Springs, Arkansas," said Ostarly.
Gibson and her family lived in New Orleans East at the time of the storm. “They call it the upper 9th ward area," she said. "Everyone was leaving in RV's and cars, following behind each other, and now it was just trying to find where to go next.
"We drove until we couldn't drive anymore and landed in Monroe," said Gibson. "Every single hotel was packed. We ended up, and I still to this day don't know where this was, but it was converted into a shelter. We were at that shelter maybe a day or two. I don't think I showered. I didn't sleep."
All 3 went in different directions, but each one stopped where they were the day Hurricane Katrina hit and watched the destruction she left behind on TV.
"You see all of this water gushing in. In my neighborhood where I lived," said Gibson. "I think what hurt even more was seeing all of the people on the interstate's stranded on the highways and bridges and on the rooftops."
Bradford’s family were searching for signs that their family was safe, finally getting a text message from an Uncle and cousin who were located safely.
"We were getting reports that our house was underwater and that my grandparents how was underwater," said Bradford.
Ostarly was the first to come back to the New Orleans area to see the damage first hand. "When we were away the biggest and hardest thing to deal with was the unknown factor," he said. "We didn't know if we were going to have a house to come home to or not."
Neither Gibson nor Bradford had spoken about their experiences. They say it was just too hard.
"It's one thing to leave the city. It's another thing to be forced out. And you can't come back. And when you come back it's not the same," said Gibson.
“It was just something we didn't talk about. I just think when you're family goes through something like that that's so big and you walk through it together that you maybe you don't need to look back. You need to look forward," said Bradford.
One thing they both know is that the experience unified them.
“That's why me and Jacob have become close. That's why me and Clay have become so close," said Gibson. "These are people that we would've never said anything to each other in New Orleans because we lived totally different lives. But after Hurricane Katrina it didn't matter. We experienced the same things."
Gibson ended up graduating high school in Fort Worth, Texas before her family returned to New Orleans.
Bradford’s family never returned and he graduated from both high school and college in Texas.