As told to Peter de Saint Phalle
On this day in 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans, beginning a cycle of disaster that still affects the city today. MTV News' Sway was on the scene in Houston to talk to evacuees about the aftermath of the storm. This is the story of his encounter with a young refugee named Terrell.
My four-person film crew and I arrived at the Astrodome in Houston on the Friday (September 2, 2005) after the storm had struck. The arena had become a drop-off point for the people being evacuated from New Orleans. When I first watched the media's coverage of the storm and its aftermath, it all seemed like an event too devastating to be real. Now as I saw the mass of people crowded outside of the Astrodome, the reality of Katrina's destructive power hit me in a whirlwind. These people were separated from families and friends, often with no changes of clothes, no identification, no money and no idea of what to do next.
The situation inside the stadium was even more ominous. I remember my crew and I walked out of the players' tunnel, almost expecting to see grass, goal lines, and referees. Instead we were met by a sea of people camped out on the floor of the stadium. There was very little food and water being distributed while bathroom facilities were overflowed and no longer working. I remember how the elderly were stationed below the bleachers, left without proper care and medication. One elderly woman had recently passed away. Her body was left where she was originally dropped off.
The people who came up to talk to me were angry and confused. They felt like their government didn't value their lives and that they had been abandoned in their time of great need. During those moments it was hard to expect any feeling of hope to emerge from such a seemingly hopeless situation, which is why I was surprised to meet a young man like Terrell.
Terrell had recently been bussed in from New Orleans and was looking for his family. Busses were dropping refugees in areas scattered across Texas and Louisiana, but Terrell would not rest until he knew where his family was. I was apprehensive about my crew following Terrell on his search. Even I, a stranger far removed from the situation, could feel the hopelessness of Terrell's circumstance. I was worried about exploiting the man's potential loss.
We followed Terrell for hours, searching cots, rooms and surrounding buildings for any sign of his family. His tenacity was rewarded when he found his brother, nieces and nephew at a refugee site not far from the stadium.
What Terrell taught me that day was that even through a terrible disaster, people will survive their struggles if they look to survive with hope in their hearts.
What are your memories from Hurricane Katrina? Let us know in the comments!