The storm that would become Hurricane Katrina formed Aug. 23, 2005, in the Atlantic. It crossed Florida as a Category 1 hurricane, then quickly gained strength once it hit the Gulf of Mexico.
Laurita Marie, 26, is a native New Orleanian who now lives in Poncey-Highland, works at the Javaology coffeehouse on Edgewood Avenue and takes part in the local spoken-word scene. She was living in a second-floor apartment in New Orleans' Uptown neighborhood and had just taken a barista job at Starbucks when she heard Katrina was approaching: "We usually had parties when a hurricane was coming; we didn't take it that seriously. I wasn't going to leave, but my girlfriend at the time convinced me to, and I told some other friends they should get the fuck out of town. So we went to someone's house in Zachary outside of Baton Rouge."
Steve Winn, 44, was born and raised in the suburb of Metairie and then moved intown at the age of 24. He dropped out of the University of New Orleans and worked several jobs before creating the popular "Cajun in Your Pocket" toy. Two years ago, he started his own toy company, which he runs out of his new house in Kirkwood: "New Orleanians are optimistic people and we always assume hurricanes aren't actually going to hit us, but when I woke up last August and saw the news about Katrina coming, I thought, 'That's a big one.' I left town with my girlfriend, Elise, two of her friends, two dogs and a cat. I brought a couple of T-shirts, a change of underwear and some drinks because I figured we'd only be away for a couple of days."
Flynn De Marco, 39, moved to New Orleans five years ago from San Francisco and quickly established himself as co-founder of a theater group, Running With Scissors. Now working as a graphic artist at the GameTap video-game network, he lives in Midtown and recently made an online splash by launching www.gaygamer.net: "When I first visited New Orleans during Mardi Gras, I fell in love with it and knew that I'd be coming back. There was a bohemian feel to the city that reminded me of what I'd liked about San Francisco, and I moved there four months later. I had just moved in with my new boyfriend, Sky, into Uptown in the biggest house I've ever lived in. We didn't decide to leave the city until Katrina turned into a Category 5 storm on Sunday; we drove across I-10 just before they closed the roads."
Hurricane Katrina made landfall Aug. 29 with winds of 125 mph. But it was the rain and storm surge that caused the levees to break and spill Lake Pontchartrain into New Orleans.
Winn: "We spent two nights in a crappy hotel in Mississippi and then went to Memphis. When we heard that the levees had broken and the city was filling with water, we knew we wouldn't be going back for a while. It was not a good feeling. We quit watching the news after the first day because it was so sensationalistic."
Marie: "Two days later, when I saw our neighborhood on TV and those people trapped on rooftops, I just started crying. All I'm seeing are black faces and I'm thinking, 'Where is everybody else?'"
Winn: "At first, I didn't want to take federal assistance, but I later received about $4,000, which really helped with relocation expenses. I think the system was really abused; the chaos seemed to bring out the worst in people."
Marie: "We went to the Red Cross, but it was completely disorganized; they were giving food stamps and relief checks to anyone who showed a Louisiana ID. It really made me mad to see everyone cashing in like that."
Unable to go home, evacuees spread throughout the country -- as many as 100,000 came to Atlanta.
De Marco: "We went to a friend's cabin in the North Georgia mountains, where we holed up for 10 days watching the TV news. We were so shocked by what happened, we didn't really know what to think, but by that time, we figured out that New Orleans wouldn't be habitable for quite some time, so we came to Atlanta. We'd heard about a private support network for gay evacuees and someone gave us a place to stay for two months."
Winn: "My house in Faubourg Marigny wasn't really damaged, but I couldn't run my business without electricity or phone service. I figured we gotta go somewhere for a few months, so we came to Atlanta because my girlfriend's sister was a student at Emory."
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