Stella lives in New Orleans. She has lived there all her life. While living in the 9th Ward, she experienced Hurricane Betsy in 1965. In 2005 she lived through Hurricane Katrina.
Stella comes from a large family with nine siblings. All lived close by. Her husband also has nine siblings. Stella’s husband is an Army and Air Force veteran with 20 years spent in the military. In 1997, when he was coaching an Air Force basketball team he was injured and was left a quadriplegic. Due to her husband’s condition Stella has a rule, “Anytime they have a hurricane that’s category two, I leave.”
When they received warning of Katrina they headed to Beaumont, Texas to stay with her husband’s brother. At first things were comfortable. Then more and more family members began arriving. In the end, 20 people were staying in the house. First reports were that the city had survived. But then the worst happened. “We weren’t expecting the levees to break,” she says. When they did, they were told it would be at least six months before they could return home.
“We all searched for places to rent.” They found one but, “as soon as we moved in we were evacuated for Rita.” So they found another hotel but were then told to go further north. “We got to feeling if we were going to die, let’s do it with family,” she says. So they went to San Antonio. There, the family stayed in a church. With them was everyone who had been in the house and more. There was no air conditioning but some n neighborhood ladies invited them to their houses to shower.
After two weeks in the church they went back to the rented house in Beaumont. They stayed there for just under two weeks before sneaking back to their own neighborhood which had been closed off. When they arrived, they were devastated to see that, of her family of ten and her husband’s family of ten, theirs was the only house left standing. So Stella invited all 30 people to stay with them. “As long as I had a place to share with others, I was very fortunate.” Stella and her husband even had a trailer put in the backyard to accommodate more people.
Eventually everyone moved out of her house. But it changed their family. All but one of Stella’s sibling’s decided not to return. “They don’t trust the politicians,” she says. “People say that they’re going to do for you and they don’t. The Corps of Engineers knew these levees weren’t strong.” Stella and her husband know the risks of where they live. “After Betsy in 65, I was always prepared. I lived in the 9th Ward then and we saw those bodies floating by.”
They stay because it’s their home, but they have a plan. Someone in the family is assigned to pick-up the small children, they have a pre-arranged meeting point and she keeps a hatchet by the door, just in case they need to climb up to the attic and exit through the roof.
Stella’s hope is that she’s taught her daughter to raise her children with character.