I’ve seen the catastrophic devastation caused by a
natural disaster with my very own eyes. Having lived in New Orleans all of my
adult life – I was there for Juan, Camille and Andrew…but none of them prepared
me for Katrina. We usually stay and hunker down during hurricanes because of
that gnawing natural instinct to secure and protect your home and your
neighborhood. But then it happens. Disaster strikes and it strikes hard. Your
preparation efforts seem futile in the eyes of Mother Nature. During Katrina,
we left for safety in Baton Rouge early on the Sunday morning before landfall.
The Saturday after the storm, I returned to my flooded house via boat with an
armed sheriff’s deputy (the city was still inaccessible to residents) to
salvage some clothes for my children. Upon reaching my house, I floated over my
8 foot fence and then climbing onto my
2nd floor balcony.
My neighborhood was still swamped with 12 feet of
chemical-filled, sewage laden, salt water that created an unbelievable stench of
destruction. Katrina had destroyed my house, my neighborhood, all my family
belongings and my city. We relocated to Jackson, MS, temporarily and later
moved back home to a historic New Orleans home having rebuilt and sold our
Katrina flooded house.
During that time, you struggle with understanding the
how and the why, and even more with the “what’s next?” Through that despair and
confusion there is hope. Hope in humanity and the perseverance to rebuild your
hometown better than it was before the disaster. It is during times of turmoil
that you see some of the best in people. All of us from different backgrounds
but united in the desire to survive, rescue, relieve and just make it another
One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the incredible job our system does responding to the needs of the communities we serve in times of natural disaster. The system was there for us in Louisiana and even hundreds of miles away – we are supporting the affected communities in Oklahoma. I know that whether through the $100,000 Foundation grant to American National Red Cross or the countless pallets of product, our colleagues and associates are at the ready. Ready to lend a hand to hold, provide shelter to protect and any and everything in between. Oklahoma, our minds and prayers are with you.Kel Villarubia is Director of Public Affairs at The Coca-Cola Company in Louisiana.