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Katrina oral history series: Natalia Gonzalez


WRBH’s transmitter site in Chalmette (Photo: Ernie Kain)

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An excerpt from Natalia Gonzalez:

Well, we live on a corner, and for hurricanes it’s a bad corner because of the orientation. Katrina had knocked down every single fence. The wooden fences looked like pixie sticks. They were just piled on top of each other.

We also have huge 8-foot-tall chimneys. They’re not functional, but at one time they were. And one of the chimneys had just toppled onto the house. And there was a pile of bricks where this chimney had been. We tried to get into our front door, and it wouldn’t open. We didn’t know if the house shifted or if it had been so water-logged.

Water in our neighborhood was up to the top of our porch. It did not get into our house. It destroyed the ductwork underneath. It destroyed all the cars that were left in our driveway. We did know that we had an extension ladder, and we keep the laundry room door, which has access to the house, open. So Guy and I get that ladder from under the house. We hoist it up, so he can climb into the second story laundry room to gain access to the house. I’m holding it as a dutiful wife, and he’s climbing up. And we hear chi chi.

The National Guard had marched into our yard and said, “I.D. Now.” We put our hands up, and Guy says, “Let me come down. Let me come down. I have my license. We live here.” So he comes down very gingerly and carefully. I’m fumbling in my purse to grab my driver’s license.

We show them, and they say, “O.K. You have until we finish our rounds to get in, get what you want, and get out.”

Well, we really wanted to clean the refrigerator, so we hustled in, cleaned it up, left it out — really disgusting task, F.Y.I. Fortunately, I had cleaned out all of the meat products in the freezer. But, I’m telling you, it was not something for the faint of heart.

We left the doors to the refrigerator open. On the deck we grabbed clothes because like everybody else, I had only packed for two days max. I had gym shorts, and t-shirts, and tennis shoes. We packed suitcases. We got in, and we left to come to WRBH to see what was going on at WRBH.

I knew there were no flood waters because we’re so close to the river. What I didn’t know was: Did we have a roof? Had people broken in and vandalized? What I didn’t expect to see was the front door of WRBH papered with notes from volunteers.

What can we do to help?

Let us know when you’re back.

We’ll help you get back.

I was touched. I was humbled. And then I was determined for these people — for our volunteers — to get WRBH back on the air as soon as I could.

Natalia Gonzalez’s full story will be airing on Wednesday, August 26 from 12:30-1:00 P.M. on WRBH, 88.3 F.M. The Oral History Project is an ongoing series, and in honor of the 10-year anniversary of Katrina, they will be highlighting personal stories from New Orleanians. If you miss the live broadcast, you can find recordings of the full stories on WRBH’s SoundCloud page. Check WRBH’s full schedule by visiting their calendar.




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