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Watching coverage of Hurricane Isaac this week, New Orleans resident Bonnie Herberger swore the room took on an odor. She felt nauseated.
"I got physically sick," said Herberger, who temporarily moved to Naples in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. "It brought back so many memories. I could even smell that terrible smell that came from the city.
"It was a nasty, rotten, moldy smell, and it stayed on your clothes and your furniture and in your car. You could smell it anywhere."
Hurricane Isaac made landfall in Louisiana Tuesday night, 90 miles Southeast of New Orleans. It landed on the eve of the seven year anniversary of Katrina, which ravaged the Crescent City. The cataclysmic storm remains a powerful force in the lives of both former evacuees to Southwest Florida and local residents who traveled west to provide aid.
Following Katrina, Herberger taught exceptional students for a year at Barron Collier High School. Her son had been working in Naples as a civil engineer. She relocated back to New Orleans after the 2005-2006 school year.
Her family lost almost everything in the storm, she said.
Herberger said she had flashbacks of 2005 as she packed her belongings and headed north to Baton Rouge to escape Hurricane Isaac.
"It's like burned in your brain. My mother is 88, and I don't think there's been a year gone by that she hasn't had some sort of emotional breakdown from things she lost in Katrina," Herberger said. "As I was leaving, I just started crying because I could just visualize all of the things that I've put my heart and money into. I just visualized them all dripping with mud and destroyed."
For John Wilson, Lee County's public safety director, the damage from Katrina remains incomparable to anything else he's encountered in his career. Three or four days after the storm, he and a group of other Florida public safety officials headed to Mississippi to help coordinate relief efforts.
"I'd been doing this at that time for about 25 years," Wilson said. "I'd seen Andrew, seen Hurricane Ivan and what it did to Pensacola, Pensacola Beach. But I'd never seen the utter devastation that storm did to that particular coastline. You can't describe it.
"There was a debris line on the interstate bridge, 10 miles from the coastline, at 18 feet above main sea level. Can you imagine what 18 feet of water would do to our community, hitting I-75, how we'd be impacted by such an event? How many homes would be destroyed, how many people would be displaced?"
Former Louisiana resident Jan Duplechain said Hurricane Katrina not only displaced her family immediately after the storm, but scattered relatives across the country permanently.
She left New Orleans on Aug. 28, 2005, her birthday, and drove away with her sisters and their kids in a taxi cab she drove for work. They ended up in Naples, where she stayed until that November.
Since then, she has moved to Dallas and back to New Orleans for a short stint before settling in her current home outside Atlanta. Duplechain said she tried to live in New Orleans in late 2007 but didn't feel at home in the changed city.
"It has never been the same," she said. "It's been hard on our sense of family because before Hurricane Katrina hit, most of the family was in New Orleans. After Katrina, we had to scatter, and we got settled in the places we were at. Everyone's in different states now."
Just about the only good thing that came from Katrina, she said, was the sense of community and the welcome she got in Collier County.
At a fundraiser at the First Assembly of God, Duplechain said do-gooders gave her and her sisters' families homes, furniture, school supplies, clothes.
"I mean, it was just — in one and a half hours, we had everything we needed," she said. "Without the Collier County community doing what they did, we couldn't have gotten as far as we did. We didn't need Salvation Army or Red Cross; we went to the church.
"Seven years later, we still haven't forgotten everything they did for us."