On the first anniversary of Katrina...
At Tattoo Central, we wanted someone to tell that story for us.
Lacking a single writer or photographer anywhere near the scene, we did the only thing we could do: try to recruit someone on the spot.
Figuring that a news-minded teenager might well be reading the same desperate message boards that we were scanning – they really were the only decent source of news that day – we posted a handful of pleas for any teens who had a story to tell about Katrina to contact us and write.
At 3:30 that afternoon in Louisiana, a girl named Samantha Perez entered our life.
She wrote this to us:
I was looking for news on the flooding near my home on the wwltv.com forum, hoping I'd find some better news than we were hearing from family that didn't leave the area. We left our home in St. Bernard, located in southeastern Louisiana, at 3:00 on Saturday morning, and we evacuated to Shreveport, Louisiana. I read your post in the forum, and I thought maybe I could help.
I've lived in St. Bernard parish all my life, and hurricanes are something you have to deal with here. It's part of living in this area. My entire family lives in St. Bernard, the parish that was hit the worst of all in this hurricane. The eye of the hurricane passed directly over my parish, which means our homes endured the eyewall, the worst part of a hurricane. We had the strongest winds and storm surges that broke the levees on the canals and ship channel. Water poured into neighborhoods and flooded the streets. We found out an hour ago from family that my street is under ten feet of water. I don't have a home anymore....
I've been writing stories since I was little, but my mother got angry before we left, looking for my cell phone that we were going to give my grandparents, who were also evacuating. She dumped out the bags I'd packed of my things, just dumped them on my bedroom floor. All the disks of my writing are there, under ten feet of water. We're 9 hours away from the parish now, but she's still yelling at me because I left my new senior ring on my bedroom dresser.
My parish, my home, the homes of my friends ... it's all gone. I don't know what I can do for TheTattoo, but I'd like to help tell people about what's going on. A close friend of mine lives in New York, and I tried telling her about the hurricane. She didn't understand what it means to have 12 feet of water in your streets, to have everything you have ever owned simply washed away. My family is very close and has lived here for generations. I grew up, listening to my grandparents tell stories of Hurricane Betsy in 1965 that sent people to their roofs. People went around in boats during the aftermath, taking dead bodies out of the water. Betsy was a category three. Katrina was a category five, and it hit my parish, my home, with a direct hit. New Orleans didn't take the direct hit. We did. St. Bernard parish. And all our homes are under the water because of it.
I have no home to go back to, and I'd like to write about it for your newspaper. This was the hurricane of the century, and I know that it would be a good thing if teens actually understood what happened in Louisiana. This wasn't just a "bad storm." This was a monster of a hurricane that brought total destruction to my home. My friends, family, and I have nothing left, and I'd like to help people know what really happened here during this hurricane.
Email back if you'd like me to. I'm not sure what you need. I've only heard of TheTattoo before briefly, but it'd mean a lot to write about this. Wish the best of luck to any other teens who've contacted you about this hurricane. We all need it.
- Samantha Perez
We couldn't believe it: through sheer luck, we'd found a real writer who could put our readers in the middle of it all. We grabbed at the chance, and so did Samantha.
She's kept writing, too, for all these many months of her gypsy life, giving us, and our readers, an enduring look at the emotional toll of losing nearly everything. It's been a story of heartbreak and courage, told with unimaginable skill by a genuine writer with an eye for detail.
We have no doubt that Samantha's journal is going to be read for a long time to come and are honored that The Tattoo had a role in helping her to find a worldwide audience for it.
Today, Samantha looks back over the past year in another of her wonderful entries. Please do yourself a favor and read it. Get others to read it. And if you haven't seen what she's been writing starting that awful day in August 2005, then go back to the beginning and find out what you've missed.
Make Sammy Perez a part of your heart and soul, just as we have.
Check it all out at: ReadTheTattootoo.com
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Copyright 2006 by The Tattoo. All rights reserved.