God sends signs amid Katrina's destruction


By Barbara Ann Carlow Lacoste
Guest Columnist

There were signs with Hurricane Katrina. I should have known with the very first sign.

We were making our way home from our evacuation trip, traveling roads that were closed and violating curfews. We were hearing of Katrina’s destruction on the radio on the journey that seemed to take forever. We didn’t know if our family members and neighbors were alive or dead. Then the information on the radio indicated that the water had come up all the way just under the Tchoutacabouffa River bridge.  

My then 4-year-old daughter Elena reached from her car seat to grasp my arm and she told me, “Don’t worry Mommy. It’ll be OK. We have Jesus in our hearts.” 

Driving through my neighborhood in the days and weeks that followed Katrina, each house had its own sign – be it spray-painted onto the house itself or otherwise posted for all to see.  

We had been told by various sources that what was left of our homes might have to be demolished due to impending mold contamination if not for structural instability.   

We had all painted our house numbers, our insurance policy numbers and sometimes our FEMA numbers prominently onto our houses in case the many inspectors came while we were at work. We wanted to be sure what was left of our homes could be easily found and identified as ours. But these aren’t the signs I am talking about.  

Some flew American flags. Others wrote “Katrina sucks.”  One neighbor, in a religious vein, wrote, “Grace like rain pour over me.”  Directly across the street was posted, “Everybody’s got to believe in something, and I believe I’ll have another drink.”   

Inside the house, we found many signs – messages to us probably from God himself. While most of our furniture had left the premises (and our property and in some cases, our neighborhood), our refrigerator lay on its side atop  about three feet of debris. It was bashed in, leaking awful fluids from the spoilage inside, and beginning to rust. However, my favorite refrigerator magnet was still firmly affixed to its host. The magnet is a smiling blue cat with the words, “A smile is a little curve that can straighten a lot of things.”  Outside, prominently entangled in the gardenia bushes, was my daughter’s pink plastic “peace sign” necklace.    

While all the destruction to the coastal burial sites left so many wondering about the state of their loved ones’ remains, we found the funeral booklets from my mother-in-law’s passing away just three weeks prior to Katrina, still on the mantle,  undisturbed. Other framed pictures and many heavier items from the mantle were never found and the furniture in the room had washed out of the house. The picture of my smiling mother-in-law on the cover of those paper booklets was prominent on the mantle.   

Elena located my “past-present-future” necklace in the debris. It is a small gold bar with three diamonds on that bar, so her finding it was very unlikely in the massive debris. I told her as we “mucked” that this was certainly not the future that we had planned for her, but that this would somehow be a much better future. This disaster had forever changed what we had envisioned our paths to be and had forever changed us. This new path would cause us to meet people we would never have otherwise met and learn things that we could not have learned without Katrina. Those around us represented God’s own hand as they gave their vacation time, their energy and their sweat to come from North Carolina, Alabama and many other states to help people they didn’t even know. 

These angels salvaged, mucked, cleaned, cleared and re-built with their compassionate hands. We were then blessed with many other blessings – high on this list was the blessing of less stuff. There is nothing like seeing a pile of debris about 30 feet long and 12 feet high at your curb to let you know you had too much stuff. We lost so much because we had so much. We have a lifestyle that is beyond the dreams of those living in Central America and many other underprivileged areas.  

We had so much and were so richly blessed, but we still had so much even following Katrina. We had our church and our faith and we remained richly blessed. Our every need was met. We also had the blessing of staying with merciful friends who took us in – small children and all. We had the blessing of staying with many good parents and appreciated all the parenting tips they could muster in these difficult times.  

We moved back into our home (right, after the storm) on Aug. 29, 2006 – Katrina’s one-year anniversary. We invited many of those who helped us during the year for dinner that night, including the preacher who blessed the house. There were 28 guests for dinner that night.    

God wanted us to keep our senses of humor as we sifted debris. Prominent within our debris was a framed print of Winslow Homer’s “Hurricane.” It is no longer a favorite! Another print that could not be located was Winslow Homer’s “High Tide.” Has anyone seen it? This print has also lost favor with me. I replaced it with a print of a couple dancing after the tide has all but left the beach. The man and the woman each have someone helping them, holding umbrellas over them. This for me symbolizes the joy of rebuilding and all the help that the volunteers rendered to us personally and to the Gulf Coast. The print is by Jack Vettriano.  

I don’t think there is anyone that wasn’t touched by another sign that we had scattered about the Coast. It was the blooming of tall, wild sunflowers suddenly in the most unexpected places. It was also the simultaneous blooming of flowers and plants out of their season. We had azaleas ablaze while the Easter lillies bloomed. The United Methodist Church referred to this as the re-greening or Second Spring. In part, it was a time for our spirits to be revived after all the grief and suffering. I believe simply this was God’s way of giving us a much-needed hug. Have faith. Cheer up. Expect the unexpected. All things are possible.    

My husband was able to locate one of our Christmas decorations amid the debris weeks after the storm and promptly posted it – a likeness of Santa’s face with the word “believe.” It became our mantra and remained posted for the entire year it took us to re-build our home and for most of the year following our move back home. The lessons of the signs still hold true.     

Lacoste attends Heritage UMC in D’Iberville with her husband Jeffery and daughters Elena and Evita. They are eternally grateful for the generosity of the work teams who made it possible for them to move back into their home.