Find out why Good360 is launching DisasterRecovery360 on the 10th anniversary of hurricane Katrina… to make sure that folks like Medea get the right goods at the right time when recovering from a disaster.
When Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans, neonatal intensive care unit nurse Medea Gabriel’s role as a caregiver is put to the ultimate test as she tries to save her babies, her ailing mother, and herself. On July 31st, Good360 will bring you her untold story of craftiness, care, resilience, and survival in a weekly podcast mini-series commemorating the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the launch of the DisasterRecovery360 platform.
Tune in here to get a sneak peak of her story which will be played over 4 weeks beginning on July 31st and every Friday thereafter.
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When Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans, neonatal intensive care unit nurse Medea Gabriel’s role as a caregiver is put to the ultimate test as she tries to save her babies, her ailing mother, and herself.
Resilience: Medea Gabriels Story | Episode 1: The Storm
Medea Gabriel: My life before Katrina? It was just living in New Orleans, a good thing, nothing like living in New Orleans.
In August of 2005, Medea Gabriel was was a nurse at Memorial Medical Center. She worked in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The NICU, for short. It’s the place in the hospital for sick or premature babies. And, everyone who I’ve spoken to about Medea — her friends and family, co-workers, parents of the babies — they said that she was an amazing nurse. And she LOVED her job.
Medea Gabriel: You were their, extension of their family. You were their mom while you were there. We cared for them, we bathed them, sing with them, rock them to sleep. You can just sit there and get your cuddle time. Medea Gabriel: You can’t get cuddle time in every job. Without doing something illegal! [laughing]
Patrick Jones: Well, Medea takes care of people. Almost too much.
This is Patrick, Medea’s brother.
Patrick Jones: I kinda think she puts her energy into caring for people and caring for her patients, because she doesn’t have children.
Medea and her husband were living next door to Patrick, and Medea’s mother. Medea’s mother was diabetic, had a previous heart attack, and stroke. She was independent, but she was getting older, and Medea and Patrick worried about her. So they played tag team in taking care of her. Medea also had a new puppy to care for, named Bandit.
Now, this whole Medea being caring thing — I’m hammering it in, because it’s so true. You can feel that glow when you’re with her. She’s warm, she’s friendly, she’s constantly smiling. After our first interview she insisted that I join her for a family dinner. It was the best meal I had when I was in New Orleans. Mostly, because Medea served it with a lot of TLC.
10 years ago, Medea was just as caring in her day to day life. But Katrina was coming. And everything was about to change, in a big way.
This is Resilience: Medea Gabriel’s Story brought to you by Good360, a non profit organization that distributes donated goods to qualified charities. August 21st marks the launch of its new Disaster Recovery 360 technology platform. I’m your host Alex Kapelman.
Medea first heard about Katrina a few days before it was supposed to hit.
Medea Gabriel: They said the storm was coming. We’re not doing much. It’s just another hurricane coming. It was routine. Oh there’s a storm coming, board up some windows, get some food, make sure you have your supplies.
Medea’s husband and his brothers boarded windows around the house. Her five nieces and nephews were running around. So she thought it would be a good idea to get them out of the way.
Medea Gabriel: I said I’ll take the kids I’m not doing anything, we’ll go to the zoo. The streets are kind of quiet. And so when we get to the zoo the parking lot is empty. This is strange, there’s usually a lot of people here.
The animals had been sheltered so the zoo was closed.
Medea Gabriel: I don’t ever remember a time where the animals were put away or taken away for their safety so this must be a little bit more dangerous than it had been previously so I guess we need to go home.
Medea had to work during the storm. But the hospital said the staff could bring their families. They could stay there until the storm blew over. So Medea’s husband, brother, and mother started packing. Snacks, flashlights, baby wipes, batteries, meds. They put their puppy Bandit in an animal carrier, and drove to the hospital. They expected to be back home soon.
Patrick Jones: We were just thinking it was gonna be a little overnight at the hospital and maybe two days and come back and check the house. [laughs lightly] and go right back to living life in New Orleans. Did not go quite like that!
Medea and her family got to the hospital. They dropped Bandit off in a spot where the pets were being held, and they went to the 6th floor. The families were staying in the hospital’s brand new waiting room. It had giant, floor to ceiling windows, all along the outer wall and that’s where all the families were staying. It was hectic. Everyone’s stuff was all over place. But the atmosphere was light. People were listening to the radio, playing cards and eating their snacks. Medea had to go start her shift at the NICU. So she made sure that her family was all settled.
Medea Gabriel: Ya’ll alright? They said yeah. Ok call me if ya’ll need something. Text me if ya’ll need something.
Medea was scheduled to work from 7PM to 7AM throughout the storm. The night shift. And one of her tasks that night was to remove the 16 remaining NICU babies out of the nursery to a room where there weren’t windows. Medea and the other nurses spent the first few hours of their shift moving the infants and all of the necessary equipment. The route they took passed right by the room where her husband, her mother and Patrick were staying.
Medea Gabriel: That was an opportunity for me to check on my family. And every time I passed I could see them and wave at them.
Medea kept working. Despite having to move the babies, the NICU was running smoothly.
Medea Gabriel: I was getting ready to feed a baby, it’s feeding time, I’m warming milk. And I get a text from my brother, Mom’s having chest pain. Oh my god.
Some of the other nurses offered to cover for Medea. So she hustled down to check on her mother in the emergency room. Patrick was with her too, and they waited as doctors checked on her. The doctors didn’t think it was a heart attack, but they admitted her as a patient so they could watch her.
Medea worked through the night, in the windowless room, that held her babies. She finally left when an IV went out. She had to go to the old nursery, to replace it. It was that same trip as when they moved the babies earlier that night. Where she could wave to her family in the waiting room. But as she walked by this time, it was totally different scene.
Medea Gabriel: That same waiting room that was lit up before, bustling with people doing their own thing, now it was black, desolate, and there were these two big gaping holes in the window right in the waiting area.
The storm had made landfall earlier that morning. The winds had reached 140 mile per hour that night. The force was so strong that those huge, sturdy glass windows, completely shattered. It looked like someone had taken a pair of scissors and had randomly snipped out part of the glass. The families were moved to a different area.
Medea Gabriel: So, when that happened I kinda knew that we were in a serious situation.
Later that morning, the weather improved. The storm had passed. Medea’s husband told her that he wanted to survey the damage to her mother’s house. So he took their puppy Bandit, got in his car, and left the hospital.
Medea’s shift was over. But her next one was coming up in a few hours. She was exhausted. So she went to sleep in the nurses’ quarters.
Medea Gabriel: I woke up suddenly. The room that I had gone to sleep with forty other women, was now down to three women.
Medea found one of the nurses who left the room. The nurse told her that there was water coming into the city. Medea called her husband in a panic, to warn him. He was already out in the water, but on his way back to the hospital. He’d seen the house. The flooding hadn’t reached it.
Medea looked outside the building on to the streets below.
Medea Gabriel: Everywhere you looked, there was water. As far as you can see, there was water. You didn’t know which was it was coming from and where it was going.
Medea Gabriel: We watched a car, go from water to the bumper, to the dashboard, to over the car. By nighttime, darkness, the water had come up to as high as the tops of the stop signs, and I’m shorter than the stop signs, so it’s pretty high for me.
The hospital was completely surrounded by water. Medea knew they were in trouble, and there was only one solution.
Medea Gabriel: Are we going to evacuate the babies? Are the babies going to get where they gotta go?
Nursing supervisors told the nurses that the babies would be evacuated by helicopter.
Medea Gabriel: We got into mobilization mode. We need to get these babies ready to go to another hospital.
The helipad hadn’t been used in 10 years. And they were loading tiny, fragile babies, in a chinook helicopter, that’s made to move troops. These babies belonged in a nursery, getting better. But the water was rising. The babies needed to get somewhere safe. And it was Medea’s job, to help them get there.
Resilience: Medea Gabriel’s Story, is produced by me, Alex Kapelman, with help from Erica Kramer and Rachel Hammerman. Audrey Quinn is our editor. The mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder provided our theme music, with additional music supplied by BWN. This episode was mixed by Anne Pope. Good360 is a non profit organization that distributes donated goods to qualified charities. August 21st marks the launch of its new Disaster Recovery 360 technology platform. Disaster Recovery 360 will revolutionize the ways goods are distributed following disasters. I will insure that critically needed goods are distributed to the right place at the right time in the immediate aftermath of a disaster and also in the months it takes for a community to rebuild and recover. Find out more at Good360.org/podcast. We’ll see you next weeks with a new episode.
On Tuesday morning, August 30, Medea Gabriel looked out the sixth floor window of Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans. She was a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit, the NICU. The hospital was surrounded by water, for as far as she could see.
The babies in the NICU had to evacuated by helicopter, to a hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And she had make sure that her babies would be prepared to survive the trip. And then, once they were gone, that her ailing mother could be transported to safety.
Resilience: Medea Gabriels Story | Episode 2: Evacuation
Hey this is Alex. Before we start the show, I just wanted to let you know that this is Part 2 in a four-part series. So if you haven’t heard Part 1, you might want to go back and listen to that episode first. OK. On with the show.
On Tuesday morning, August 30, Medea Gabriel looked out the window on the sixth floor of Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans. She was a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit, the NICU. The hospital was surrounded by water, for as far as she could see. So many thoughts were going through her head.
Medea Gabriel: How we gonna get out of here? How long are we gonna be here? What’s gonna happen, is this the end of New Orleans?
But Medea had another big concern. The babies in the NICU had to evacuated by helicopter, to a hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And she had make sure that the babies that she cared for — her babies — were ready for the trip.
This is Resilience: Medea Gabriel’s Story, brought to you by Good360, a non profit organization that distributes donated goods to qualified charities. August 21st marks the launch of its new Disaster Recovery 360 technology platform. I’m your host Alex Kapelman.
Medea had to break the hard news to the babies’ parents. The babies would be evacuated by helicopter, to a hospital in Baton Rouge. When I asked her how she told them parents, she put hand on top of mine, and looked me directly in the eyes, as if I were one of those parents.:
MG: they’re going to be evacuating the babies and you can’t travel with them. You’re going to catch up with them, we’re going to get you to them. It’s going to be OK. We’re going to make sure your baby is OK.
Babies in a NICU are extremely fragile. They’re there because they’re sick, or premature. Packing up these babies, as helicopter cargo, terrified Medea. She didn’t have a lot of time, but she did everything that she could think of to prepare them for the trip. She filled their bassinets with supplies like diapers, formula, an ambu bag in case the baby stops breathing. Medea thought the flight would be cold, so she put nursery hats on them. And she gave them these snuggle cloths that their mothers had rubbed on their skin so the babies would have their mothers’ scent with them.
The nurses got word that the helicopters were on their way. They placed the babies in the bassinets, with all of the supplies. Then, they wheeled the bassinets, on silver carts, to a section in the hospital that Medea had never been before.
MG: it was stale. It was moist. Not a place for a baby. But that was our place to get ‘em through the window to the other side.
That window, was a hole in one of the walls of that room. A few feet wide, tops. To Medea, It looked like someone had just smashed it in. On the other side was a truck.
MG: We had to lift them out of their little silver cart and pass them through the brick wall and we were all crying because we — these are our baby’s you know it’s not our babies but you know we’ve helped care for them and now we’re putting them on the back of a truck bed to go up to the helicopter and that was the hardest thing it was. It was — [Sigh, pause.] It was so hard. All I can remember is just seeing those babies on the back of a truck wondering is it going to be too cold to go up the ramp. They’re open to the air. You know we can control the environment we control everything that goes on with these babies and now they’re in the back of a truck bed. Is he going to ride too fast? Is there going to be a bump? Is there going to be a pothole. Everything that you know as a nurse went out the window when you put that baby in the back of a truck bed.
The nurses finished loaded the bassinets into the back of the truck. Medea watched it drive away, up to the heliport. The babies that she had cared so deeply for, were gone.
Alex Kapelman: I feel like if I were you I would feel totally powerless in that situation.
MG: Helpless. I can’t do anything else. I’ve done everything I could do and I don’t know what it’s going to be on the other end.
By the end of Tuesday night, all the NICU babies had been evacuated. But Medea and her family were still at the hospital. Her mother was still a patient. The doctors still weren’t sure if she’d had a heart attack. And the hospital was still surrounded by water. On Wednesday, two days after the storm hit, things got worse. The hospital’s backup generators stopped working. Taps stopped running. Toilets stopped flushing. No air conditioning, no fans, and temperatures in the mid-nineties. Most of the hospital windows didn’t open. Everything combined, to smell, terrible. Medea didn’t witness this, but later, there were allegations that a doctor and two nurses administered lethal doses of morphine and other drugs to patients who they believed would not survive an evacuation. Things in the hospital were rough. And there were a lot of people wondering how they were going to make it out.
Monique Diles: We’re hot, we’re sticky. You don’t know where anyone is, you don’t know how long you’re gonna be there.
This is Monique Diles. She was also a nurse at Memorial. And she’s one of Medea’s best friends.
MD: We would hear thru the grapevine in the night if someone happened to get a radio transmission that they were coming to get us, no they weren’t. They’re gonna come get patients tomorrow, no they’re gonna come get patients the next day.
Rumors spread about how many people were dead or that New Orleans was wiped off the face of the map.
MG: It was getting scary.
This is Medea, again.
MG: Because you didn’t know how long how much rations they had in the hospital. How would they keep it up? But they were starting to evacuate. So I perked up. I’m like, “OK we’re going to get momma outta here.”
Medea had heard that they were looking for single nurses to accompany patients. Monique didn’t have any family with her. So Medea jumped on the opportunity.
MG: So I’m like Monique go get your stuff. You can get on the boat with mom and make sure she gets to wherever it is she’s going to get.
Monique was conflicted. She wanted to get out, but she was worried about leaving Medea and Medea’s brother and husband behind. But she decided to get Medea’s mom to safety. She packed, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to come back to the hospital for her things.
MD: So I put on every pair of underwear, every bra, everything I could put on my body with me, I put on.
Medea was also busy getting her mother ready for the trip. Shewould be evacuated in a big fan boat. Medea wasn’t taking any chances. She organized all of her mother’s meds, prepared insulin shots. She even waterproofed her mother’s medical records and medication instructions, and stapled them inside her mom’s underwear, so they wouldn’t blow away. She also put another copy of her mother’s records and a list of contacts in a diaper bag. And strapped that around her mom.
Medea’s college roommate Tammy lived in New Iberia, Louisiana. Less 150 miles away from New Orleans. She told Monique to call Tammy. Because if Tammy could, she’d go get Medea’s mother. Medea had no idea where the boat was going.
MG: All I could do was prepare and that was my saving grace, doing what I could do. That’s what I had control over, preparing up until that point. But once they crossed over that threshold it’s out of my hands. I could just sit and pray.
Medea loaded her mom onto a boat, and watched as they took her away, to who knows where. Medea had never gone more than a day without speaking to her mother. Now, she didn’t know if she would see her ever again.
MG: My babies were now gone and my mama was gone. And I can remember me my brother my husband going up where our car was, and just sitting up there looking outside of the garage.
The parking garage was attached to the hospital, a few floors up.
MG: And we were just looking down wondering what we going to do. And my husband’s like what we got to get out of here. I said, I know. So at that point we made a decision we were gonna go ahead and just get our things and get in line to get on a boat to go.
Medea, her husband, and her brother didn’t know where they were going, or what was out there beyond the hospital. They were about to enter the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. They didn’t know it yet, but they a hard trip ahead of them.
Resilience: Medea Gabriel’s Story, is produced by me, Alex Kapelman, with help from Erica Kramer and Rachel Hammerman. Audrey Quinn is our editor. The mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder provided our theme music, with additional music supplied by BWN. This episode was mixed by Anne Pope. Good360 is a non profit organization that distributes donated goods to qualified charities. August 21st marks the launch of its new Disaster Recovery 360 technology platform. Disaster Recovery 360 will revolutionize the ways goods are distributed following disasters. It’ll ensure that critically needed goods are distributed to the right place at the right time in the immediate aftermath of a disaster and also in the months it takes for a community to rebuild and recover. Find out more at Good360.org/podcast. We’ll see you next week with a new episode.
Two days after Katrina hit New Orleans, Medea Gabriel was still at Memorial Medical Center. The babies she cared for had evacuated. Medea had just sent her mother off. And now, she needed to get to her, and escape the hospital and city herself. To do that, she had to navigate the dangerous, unknown world of post-Katrina New Orleans.
Resilience: Medea Gabriels Story | Episode 3: Escape
Hey this is Alex. This is Part 3 in a 4 part series. So if you haven’t heard those two parts yet, you might want to listen to those episodes before this one. Alright. On with the show.
On Wednesday, August 31, 2005. Two days after Katrina hit New Orleans, Medea Gabriel was still at Memorial Medical Center. The babies she cared for had evacuated. Medea had just sent her mother off with her friend Monique Diles, who was a nurse, and told them to call Medea’s friend from college, Tammy Ford. Tammy would pick them up, if she could. But Medea needed to get to her mother. To make sure that she was OK. She couldn’t do that, from the hospital.
Medea Gabriel: She’s already gone, I don’t know where she’s gone, but she’s out there, and, you, know my babies are gone. So, time to go.
Once again, Medea packed. She took a diaper bag — it’s like a small satchel, with lots of pockets, some even waterproof — and she filled it up with things she or other people could need. Water. Baby wipes. A couple extra pairs of underwear. Hand sanitizer. Band-Aids. Gauze. Tape. Diapers. And she braced herself, for the world outside the hospital.
MG: I didn’t know who I was going to meet along the way. I didn’t know what we were going to run into what was going to happen. I didn’t know when my next bath was gonna be. I didn’t know any of that.
Medea, her brother Patrick, and her husband got in line to evacuate. When it was their turn, they stepped onto a boat. And traveled away from the hospital. Directly into the madness of post-Katrina New Orleans.
This is Resilience: Medea Gabriel’s Story, brought to you by Good360, a nonprofit organization that distributes donated goods to qualified charities. August 21st marks the launch of its new Disaster Recovery 360 technology platform. I’m your host Alex Kapelman.
On the boat, Medea passed by through the neighborhood where she grew up. She saw buildings she knew. Like her elementary school. And a building even closer to her heart.
MG: It was kind of weird because I’m passin my church that I was baptized in, I was married in, I buried my father in. All water, up to the doors. You don’t see anybody there.
But Medea didn’t have much time to reflect. After about 7 blocks, the water got shallow, and she and the other passengers were told to exit the boat. Buses would be picking them up. They stepped into murky, knee deep water. Their pants, shoes, socks, were now soaking wet. But that was a small annoyance, compared to everything going on around her.
MG: Babies crying, people are hot. Elderly people are in wheelchairs. Just people standing around waiting. There’s no buses there’s none and they say buses are coming but there’s no buses. There’s nobody taking down names. There’s nobody organizing.
It was chaotic, and Medea, her husband, and Patrick waited there for about an hour. Some people were standing around, but others were looting. Medea watched a police cruiser drive by with a man sitting outside the window of the car, holding a huge gun. And… they just ignored the looters. And drove on. For Medea, that was a big sign. Her husband suggested that they walk to Medea’s brother-in-law’s house. Where he had left their puppy, Bandit. It was about a mile and half. They’d have a stay for the night. So, they started walking. They had bags, full of stuff, that other people could use. So they had to stay alert.
MG: Nobody was saying anything, we just were walking. It was very quiet. It was very still. There was no cars moving. There were people sitting who hadn’t evacuated, and their houses didn’t flood. And they were looking at us like we would come and take something from them.
Patrick Jones: I don’t know if I can describe the situation to you.
This is Patrick, Medea’s brother.
PJ: Uhh [groans]. OK, sorry. It’s like being — um — It was like being in the jungle!
One of Medea’s favorite things about New Orleans, was that everyone was so friendly, gregarious, talkative. But as they walked, all of that was missing. These were good people on the streets, being really desperate.
MG: We didn’t speak to anybody that day. Hey, how you doing, how y’all making out? None of that. We kept quiet and had our just – had our location that we were going in mind.
And when they did talk to others, it was definitely not friendly.
PJ: We actually had someone walk passed us and go, “Whatcha got there?” And, you know, my brother in law turns and looks and he said something in the neighborhood of like, “You know, you just need to keep walking.”
By the time they got to Medea’s brother in law’s house, it was pitch black outside. They completed their trip for the night, and could rest. They’d move on, the next day. In addition to Medea, her brother, and her husband, there was Medea’s brother in law, his roommate, and his roommate’s girlfriend. And Bandit was there. With two other dogs. They ate well that night — they barbecued some meat from the freezer that had thawed out. And cooked some beans on the gas stove. That was a welcome comfort. The roommates had filled up the bathtub before the running water cut out. So Medea was able wash herself. She took a coffee mug, and filled it up with water. She cleaned off days of dirt, and grime.
M2 Bath felt amazing
Alex Kapelman: That must’ve felt amazing.
MG: Yeah, because that was their first bath ahead in three days. It wasn’t a whole bath but I made a cup of water go a long way.
Medea had a lot of trouble sleeping. Just like in the hospital, it was hot. No breeze, no power for a fan or for an air conditioner. And she could hear all the bumps in the night.
MG: You couldn’t see your hand in front your face it was that black out there but you can hear things. People were breaking into other people’s houses. You can hear crash, boom. You don’t know who’s out there you don’t know if they’re trying to get in your house.
They made it through the night. That morning, the had to walk 5 miles, across the Mississippi River Bridge, and out of the city limits. Medea’s husband had family outside of the city. And they needed to get in touch with them. The batteries were dead on all their cell phones. And no power to charge them. But there was a payphone half a block from the house. They could use it to make arrangements to get picked up. But first, Medea called her college friend Tammy. To see if Medea’s mom had made it.
After a few tortured rings, Tammy picked up the phone. And she told Medea, that Monique, and Medea’s mother, were safe and sound, with her. Medea, was elated.
MG: And when you get filled with joy like that, you do a little happy dance, and your hips move from side to side and you ball your fists like you have a little samba shakers, and you dance and move your head back and forth — that’s the happy dance.
Tammy put Medea’s mother on the phone, so she and Medea could talk.
MG: I’m like, “You by Tammy? She was like, “Yeah!” I said, “Are you alright?” “Yeah!” I said, “You got a book?” She said, “Yeah!” [Giggles]
Tammy then put Monique on the phone. Monique told her the whole story of the evacuation with Medea’s mother. They were stranded by the highway, waiting for ambulances to take them. And Monique kept pestering a member of the National Guard. Asking her, when are they going to get evacuated. Eventually, she was told, “If you’re not dying, you’re not getting out.” When she heard that, Monique had a panic attack. There were a bunch of television cameras nearby, and she just started screaming bloody murder, in front of them. A few minutes later, they were an ambulance, on their way out of New Orleans. They ended up in a makeshift triage area at a stadium, surrounded by a sea of people. Monique found an outlet to charge her phone, and called Tammy, who went to pick them up and take them to her house as soon as she could. Medea’s mom’s chest pain, ended up being indigestion. She was in not in the best shape after the journey, but she was safe.
Now that Medea knew her mother was OK, they placed a call to Medea’s husband’s family’s house. To tell Medea’s brother in law, Anthony, to come pick them up. They decided on a set spot off the highway, on the other side of the bridge. They would need to get there, and wait for Anthony to arrive to pick them up. Once they hung up, they swung by a local supermarket. The manager told people to take what they needed. So they got water, dog food, and a couple of other things. And they went back to the house.
MG: Here we go again. We’re preparing for another journey. We prepared to babies for their journey I prepare my mom for her journey, now we’re preparing to take our own selves across the river.
They took a gallon of water per person, and a gallon of water for each of the three dogs. They only had a few snacks, their ID’s, some cash, credits cards, and baby wipes, gauze and tape. They started walking, in a line, dogs in tow. Medea figures that it was about 95 degrees. On streets and highways that were baking.
MG: Sweltering. Smothering. It beats down on you. It takes your energy. It takes your breath.
As they walked, they passed people on the road. Two or three here and there. Medea made sure Bandit that was hydrated, but they didn’t have much water. And the journey was getting to the dogs, too.
MG: All their paws were raw from the walk. The pads on each of their little paws were bleeding. One of the dogs was an Akita. She was like the momma dog, and Bandit and the other dog was like the little baby dogs. And she would nudge them along.
Eventually, they got to the Mississippi River Bridge. They were exhausted, hot, and out of water, but they were almost out of the city. As they crossed the bridge, tanks passed by them. But they kept moving. They exited the bridge, and were outside city limits. They waited for Medea’s husband’s brother Anthony to pick them up. There were people on the road, with nowhere to go. A milk truck passed by, and gave everybody cold drink. The first one in days. Eventually, Anthony showed up. They all piled into the van. About an hour and half later, they were at Medea’s sister-in-law’s house. They escaped the city. But recovery, would be a big struggle.
Resilience: Medea Gabriel’s Story, is produced by me, Alex Kapelman, with help from Erica Kramer and Rachel Hammerman. Audrey Quinn is our editor. The mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder provided our theme music, with additional music supplied by BWN. This episode was mixed by Anne Pope. Good360 is a non profit organization that distributes donated goods to qualified charities. August 21st marks the launch of its new Disaster Recovery 360 technology platform. Disaster Recovery 360 will revolutionize the ways goods are distributed following disasters. I will insure that critically needed goods are distributed to the right place at the right time in the immediate aftermath of a disaster and also in the months it takes for a community to rebuild and recover. Find out more at Good360.org/podcast. We’ll see you next week, with the fourth and final installment of the series.
In the final episode of Resilience: Medea Gabriel’s Story, Medea finally escapes New Orleans. Katrina and its immediate aftereffects, could no longer touch her. But she finds out that recovery might be even harder than her escape. Before she’s able to come back to New Orleans, she must deal with a new city, increased marital troubles, and a house that’s completely destroyed.
Resilience: Medea Gabriels Story | Episode 4: Recovery
Hey this is Alex. This is the final part in a four-part series. So if you haven’t heard the first three episodes, you’re probably gonna wanna listen to those before this one. Alright. Here’s the final episode of Resilience: Medea Gabriel’s Story.
On Thursday, September 1, 2005, Medea Gabriel arrived at her sister-in-law’s house in Lafayette, LA. It was three days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. She evacuated the babies in her care at Memorial Medical Center. She made sure that her own mother got out of the hospital. And now she was focusing on herself. She was dehydrated, hungry, and covered in grime. But she was safe. She ate a plate of white beans and drank water. A few hours later, she was at her friend Tammy Ford’s house, in New Iberia, LA. Taking a nice, long shower.
Medea Gabriel: I think I must have been in the bathroom for about an hour. It wasn’t heated water because the power wasn’t on but it was a bath nonetheless.
Katrina and its immediate aftereffects, could no longer touch Medea. She was out of New Orleans. But she’d soon find that her recovery, might be even harder than her escape.
This is Resilience: Medea Gabriel’s Story, brought to you by Good360, a nonprofit organization that distributes donated goods to qualified charities. Today, August 21st, marks the launch of its new Disaster Recovery 360 technology platform. I’m your host Alex Kapelman.
Medea’s family and her best friend and co-worker Monique all needed a place to stay. Tammy and her family stepped up.
MG: Tammy was a family of five and she took in a family of five and we just made do.
That extra five people included Medea, Monique, and Medea’s mother, brother, and husband. And then there was their puppy, Bandit. They hadn’t brought much of their stuff out of New Orleans. They basically just had the clothes on their back. And Medea’s outfit was so gross, that she had to throw it out. So Tammy gave them whatever clothing fit. They picked up some things from Walmart. And they dropped by the Salvation Army, which offered free clothes to all evacuees.
MG: Just getting those First the pieces the clothes was so exciting.
Alex Kapelman: Why?
MG: Because you had the same clothes on for about a week! [Laughs.] And you didn’t have anyone to wash it or anything like that. And you had no belongings. You had nothing.
Medea’s family and Monique spent a month at Tammy’s place. Towards the tail end of that stay, they decided to head to New Orleans, to check out the damage to their houses, and pick up their cars. It was a long ride. When they got there, they city looked, smelled, felt different.
MG: Everything was brown. There was a stench in the air. Like death. A sour bitter smell. Most of the trees were laid over. Everything was muddy, just caked up dried mud everywhere. We came around a corner. I’m lookin I don’t see my house. I’m wondering, “Where is my house?” And I looked down, and it was on the ground.
All of the other houses around Medea’s, were still standing. But Medea’s house, was now a pile of wood.
MG: It looked like the Big Bad Wolf came through and huffed and puffed and blew my house down. You could see the pinnacle of the roof. It had that little ornamentation on it, but everything else was toothpicks piled up together like pick-up sticks.
So Medea needed to find somewhere else to live. The corporation that owned Memorial Medical Center, where and Medea and Monique worked, ran a bunch of hospitals. They said that Memorial employees could go to any of their hospitals that had open positions. Medea and Monique wanted to stay together. So they weighed their options.
MG: Everybody and their puppy had gone to Houston, we didn’t want to go to Houston. Monique used to live in Alabama and she didn’t want to go back to Alabama. Another hospital was in California, that was too far to go to come back and check on your property. So Dallas got it by default.
Medea and Monique found two nursery positions, and Medea brought her husband, brother, mother, and puppy with her. Her brother Patrick got lucky — he worked for Whole Foods, and they found a job for him in Dallas. At first, they got a few rooms at an extended stay hotel, with FEMA money. Then Monique got her own apartment, and Medea and her family moved into a house together. The transition was hard for Medea. For her, New Orleans was a city where you could just sit on the porch all night, and talk to neighbors. Medea didn’t see any of that in Dallas.
MG: I was like [whispers] where’s everybody at, nobody’s outside. [ends whispering] I used to have the whole cul de sac in Dallas to myself I would roller blade ride my bike. Nobody was outside. No there were no porches.
Medea’s home life was also tough. Even before Katrina, her husband never had a full-time job. He would raise his voice, swear at her. But now — after the stress of the storm, the evacuation, the relocation — things got even worse. And then one day, they were in the car. Medea was driving, and Monique and Medea’s mother were with them. Bandit was in the back seat getting hyper, and he wouldn’t stop. Medea says that her ex held Bandit violently by the collar, and hit him. When I spoke with her ex, he said that and he didn’t hit Bandit — he was worried that Bandit would bite bite him, and didn’t want to get taken advantage of by his dog. Either way, Medea was shaken up.
MG: I got off at the next exit and pulled into the rest stop, and I said: “Let me get my dog out, let me see if he can walk, let me see if he’s okay.” “No, you better just get back in this car and drive it.” I said “No, just let me see, just let me see.” “No, you heard what I said.” So I went in the bathroom, I’m crying, and Monique came in the bathroom behind me and she said: “You know you have a problem, huh?” And I said: “Yeah I do.”
Medea’s a devout Catholic. She took her marriage vows seriously, and she was really conflicted about what to do.
MG: I went to a priest and talked to him and told him everything that was happening and going on, and he said God don’t want you to live like that. I said that’s all I needed to hear.
Medea went to a lawyer, who started drawing up the paperwork. She was still living with her mother and soon-to-be ex-husband.
MG: I shut down in my home at the point. I would cook for my mother, and communicate with her but I had no words to say for him. I slept on the edge of a queen-sized mattress, at the very edge, as far as I could sleep, and this went on for months.
Medea moved back to New Orleans in February 2010. Her divorce was finalized that May. And she found herself responsible for three houses there — hers, her mother’s, and her late grandmother’s. That made dealing with homeowners insurance, restoration grants, and house notes all that much harder. But she got the houses fixed up. And she got a new job, as a nurse, at a pediatric infectious disease clinic, doing HIV/AIDS research. Being a nurse, in a crisis situation — Medea can no longer do that.
MG: There are people who are meant for that. And since the storm, I’m not one of them. I’ll help you if you need, but I don’t want to be a first responder anymore.
Medea’s not alone. Some of the nurses that worked with her at Memorial Medical Center, aren’t doing any hospital work at all anymore. Medea’s best friend Monique is one of those people. Here’s Monique.
MG: I’ve got a lot of nightmares about water. When it rains really hard, I can’t sleep. And I’ve got lights on. Um, I just over the last 2 years, unpacked my car. ‘Cause I kept the trunk of my car packed, ready to go at any moment, because I was afraid to actually be left here.
These are real scars, that still hurt ten years later. And Medea now has to deal with these feelings without the help of her mother, who died in 2013 of congestive heart failure. Medea still misses her mom a lot. But she does have another shoulder to lean on now.
AK: Can you tell me that story?
MG: Are you serious!?
AK: Yeah, I want to hear that story Medea!
MG: [laughs] Oh, well he is my happily ever after.
In 2010 the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl. The city had a huge victory parade. Medea went to watch it with her cousin Gabe.
MG: And the whole city was electric! The whole city was excited about everything.
She was standing in the street with Gabe, arm in arm, so they could to warm each other up. It was kind of cold outside. And a man walked up to them. And said…
MG: Y’all look nice together, let me take y’all picture.” I said “sure! So he snapped our picture.” And I said “How bout you get a picture with me?” And he said: “What about your boyfriend?” And I’m like: “That’s my cousin!” Well that’s all he needed to hear. [Giggling.] We strike up a conversation and watch the parade together.
By the way, that guy’s name? Is Wade… Wade Gabriel. He and Medea really hit it off. He got Medea’s number. And didn’t wait very long to use it. Medea’s phone died at the parade, so she wasn’t able to receive calls or see any messages until she got home. She plugged her phone in, and checked it.
MG: And I had 15 messages. “Madea, this is Wade Gabriel, I was calling to uh… make sure you made it home alright.” “Madea, this is Wade Gabriel, do you think you can give me a call back?” “Uh, Madea, this is Wade Gabriel, I just wanted to make sure you made it home safe, I hadn’t heard back from you yet!” I’m like: either he’s a stalker or a good man. So I called him back and we talked from about 2 am that morning ‘til 6 am that morning until he went to work, and the rest is history.
Everyone who I’ve spoken with close to Medea, says that Wade is a great guy. He bought a brand new car for her. He’s a commercial fisherman, and he recently got a new boat. He named it Miss Medea.
Wade works on the bayou of Louisiana, about an hour southeast from New Orleans. Soon, he and Medea are moving about a halfway between the city and his work. Which means that Medea won’t technically be living in New Orleans anymore. In the city that Katrina hit so hard changing her life, completely. But a lot of that change is for the better. Medea is stronger than she ever realized before the storm.
MG: Well, Katrina took my house and many things that we owned… It took my job, it took my connections, it took my church family, it took my location. All those things it took. But Katrina taught me: I think I’m more important than anything to build up.
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