Hurricane Katrina, One Year Later: UT Alumnus Still Struggling To Get Life Back In Order

KNOXVILLE –- Less than 36 hours before Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast last year, University of Tennessee alumnus Dereck Terry was returning from a business trip, exhausted and looking forward to having a little R & R at his condo in the French Quarter.

He didn’t get it.

Dereck Terry
Dereck Terry
Terry, a pharmaceutical company manager who has a bachelor’s degree from UT-Knoxville and a pharmacy degree from UT-Memphis, huddled with friends, neighbors and their pets to ride out the storm in his condo.

The sights and sounds of that night are unforgettable.

“There was lots of noise, some water and flying debris. The wind howled and howled. It lasted, it seemed like, forever.”

During the storm, Terry’s condo lost power and the heat began rising.

When the wind and rain finally subsided, Terry and his friends ventured out to see the damage. Things were bad, but didn’t seem catastrophic.

“But as night fell, gangs and looters and gun fire moved in. It was pitch black with no power. The madness began.”

By the next morning, “the city was in frenzy,” he said. News that the levees had broken was spreading. “People were scared. The water was rising and no one knew how to get out.”

After several days, Terry and some of his friends got to one of their cars and evacuated New Orleans.

On the way, they passed the New Orleans Riverwalk and Ernest N. Morial Convention Center where thousands had evacuated and been seemingly forgotten.

“We saw gloom, despair and death. We saw folks on foot walking up the on ramp to the bridge, walking over the bridge. They were dirty, hungry, in despair, beaten down, hopeless, helpless. It was heartbreaking.”

Terry and his friends drove to Memphis, where Terry’s family met him and took him to his hometown of Oneida. He didn’t return to his French Quarter home until early October.

Compared to some, he was lucky. His condo needed a new roof, shutters and gutters, but it hadn’t flooded.

He remembers his first week back as being “surreal.” The stench of rotting food, of the death and debris Katrina left behind, was overwhelming. Few restaurants or stores were open and discarded refrigerators lined the streets.

Now, a year after the storm, Terry finds himself growing increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of city’s recovery and the struggle to get repairs done to his own home.

“I have only been able to get a new roof,” he said. “Now that we’re in the height of storm season, we’ll probably end up not getting anything moving before October or November. It has been extremely frustrating with no end of that in sight.

Terry has been trying to keep the rest of his life on track, but everything has been up-ended by the storm.

“I travel extensively for my work. This has been both good and bad. It gets me away from this dysfunctional city and into a ‘real world’ but bad in that it limits the repair and progress that I can make when I’m here,” he said.

“All but two of my closest friends have moved away and one of them will likely leave within the next six months.

“Recovery is slow and there is much apprehension about this storm season. City services are hit-and-miss, and I haven’t had high-speed internet for a month now.

“The city also seems to be moving forward in developing a citywide recovery plan and, if this season spares us major trauma, I’m optimistic that we’ll see an upswing in activity and progress in the fall and beyond.

“I still love this city,” Terry said. “I just hope that I can find the energy, faith and perseverance to stay.


Contacts:

Amy Blakely, (865) 974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu