East Texan reflects 5 years after Katrina

SMITH COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - By Morgan Chesky - bio | email | Twitter
Posted by Ellen Krafve - bio | email | Twitter

SMITH COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - Hurricane Katrina was one of the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history, leaving nearly 2,000 dead in its wake. When it hit the gulf coast, no one could have predicted the damage it would leave behind.

Five years later, survivors are moving on, some right here in East Texas.

A city was submerged - its people fighting to stay afloat.

"Katrina was a humbling experience," said Ralph Thomas. "Nobody told me I'd be starting life over again in my fifties and that is a hard pill to swallow."

Five years ago Thomas enjoyed his home in New Orleans east. Now, he zips around East Texas Food Bank in Tyler taking inventory of new deliveries and a new life.

"I call it baptism by blowtorch because our world changed," said Tammy Prater, director of Smith County Red Cross.

When the levees broke flooding New Orleans, Smith County Red Cross was equipped with a van, a trailer and little else.

"We had never imagined a scenario where people would people would literally be put on buses with nothing," said Prater.

"It was traumatic," said Prater. "I would say that which does not kill you makes you stronger."

Now, a new trailer able to feed and care for 100 people sits packed and ready near two new vehicles.

Thomas stays busy on the job, but can't shake the memory of sitting on his rooftop for three days before being rescued by a helicopter.

"It's like I was in a third world country," said Thomas. "You have people out there in their night clothes just running around. Some people didn't have anything."

Family and faith gave him the strength to start fresh in Tyler and to where his home once stood this year. It was a return described as depressing.

"To go back down there to me and the area where I lived at, you might have one or two people on one block no neighborhood is full," said Thomas.

"It's my actions that if anything happened to them like this they'd probably look to, 'What would dad do?' Well, they've seen what I would do. I don't quit. I move forward."

The Red Cross says the price can't be too high for being prepared.

Officials say this year $30,000,000 has been used to get ready as we head into the hurricane season.

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