Hurricane Katrina Survivor Rides Out Abilene, TX Tornado in Closet

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on The Nola Chic’s blog and has been reprinted here with permission. There is a link below to the original, where you can view more photos.

Hurricane Katrina survivor Warren Brown and his wife Kenyetta Woodard have survived yet another natural disaster. A confirmed tornado tore through parts of Abilene, Texas early Saturday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

Residents had described seeing the tornado around 6 a.m. Saturday. Several homes were destroyed, and many were left without roofs.

No fatalities or major injuries reported.

Warren and Kenyetta’s house
Warren and Kenyetta’s house moments before the tornado it.

“I watched it through the window. It started as just a little bitty thing then it just started spinning faster,” said Warren Brown, whose home was ripped apart by the strong winds.

Moments prior, it was a whistling sound that awakened Warren, and he went to open the door to figure out what it was. That’s when he saw basketballs swirling in the air, followed by trees and even the basketball goal. “Dee, I don’t know why I was looking for so long. I guess I couldn’t believe it.”

He said he looked up and saw a little white funnel cloud with things swirling inside of it coming down over the house. “Call the police; call somebody!” Warren shouted to his wife as she screamed for him from the bedroom closet; she knew it was a tornado.

“I cried for Warren come to get in the closet, but he wasn’t hearing me until I said, “Warren, it’s a tornado!” and he finally came, ” said Kenyetta.

“Typical Warren,” I thought to myself, relieved that it finally clicked that he was in danger.

Warren and Kenyetta’s house

Warren mentioned the tornado was worse than Hurricane Katrina, describing the flooding opposed to the wind blowing over 100 miles per hour and throwing stuff around. Like thousands of others, Warren suffers from PTSD and depression the results of Hurricane Katrina.

“Dee, I never have seen it before. I watched the thing eat up my house from the closet.”

Warren and Kenyetta’s house inside

Warren was all smiles and googly eyes when he received his wife’s quick and reassuring actions. “If my wife weren’t there, I would be dead… Plus, I was hollering like a lil girl, and don’t you know she told me to shut the hell up.”

Vendetta chimed in and said, “Yes, girl, I had to snap on him. He was telling me to call 911, let’s go check on the neighbors, and just screaming; well, he had a panic attack.” We were able to laugh now because they were safe, but they were in a life and death situation, and her quick thinking and knowledge saved their lives.

I can not imagine what is going on in their minds. Hurricane Katrina was too much for anyone to handle, and now this. Before Warren hung up, he said, “This thing wasn’t like Hurricane Katrina, it came for you. It swooped down, sucked up, destroyed everything in its path, and spit it out.”

Warren and Kenyetta’s house ruined

Warren’s side of the family lived in the Iberville Projects before Hurricane Katrina; it was the only home they knew. I learned the ins and outs of Canal St., the French Quarter, Bourbon St, basically the entire downtown area, because of the Brown’s.

Warren, whose nickname is Mr. Nola, was the embodiment of all things New Orleans, and he was very popular, known for his great sense of humor and style. Back in the day if Warren wasn’t in the courtyard, you knew where to find him, at the Game Room on Canal or at the foot of Bourbon St. He was a Nola tour guide before it was thought of and he did it for free, just to show the tourists a great time. He would bring tourist to the St.Louis Cemetery (there was no cost to visit the graveyard back then), and the night usually ended with good cheap eats at Dejavu in the Quarter.

New Orleans was all he knew and loved; it was his city, plus he was Mr. Nola! Enduring Hurricane Katrina, seeing the aftermath and the treatment of the people wore hard on his heart. His testimony of the all that went on at the days after the lever broke to being shipped to a little country town named Abilene will have the strongest breaking down.

The uprooting of Hurricane Katrina broke his heart and wounded his soul. There were many days when we worried about Warren’s emotional and mental health, but he always pulled through. Usually, a road trip home helped with feeling depressed, but also heartbreaking. Coming home isn’t the same; everyone is gone, and cannot afford to go back. The Iberville Project has been replaced with luxury condos, leaving those who called it home before Katrina with no choice but to live in the cities they were shipped to.

One would think since Katrina effected predominately poor communities that the city’s focus would have been to rebuild so these families could come home, but no. Rebuilding, renovation is for new non-New Orleanians to move to the city.

Now, Warren and Kenyetta are back at the place where they first met: survivors of natural disaster, with hearts, and minds full of uncertainty and fear. Kenyatta wasn’t here when the storm hit, but over the years she has lovingly stood by Warren’s side through sickness and in health. They were able to find each other in the muddy waters of Katrina, and together, they must find the strength to rebuild again.

Life in Abilene wasn’t bad at all; they married, are homeowners, own Warren’s dream truck, Kenyetta is a nurse, and Warren is self-employed. Warren would call me on Facetime showing me his massive backyard and how clear the sky was at night, so clear I could see the stars from the phone.

He spoke of missing his family and friends but admitted that Katrina did get him to travel and get a piece of the All American dream. But New Orleans was apart of him and not having the option to move back home hurt – how they treated our families way before Katrina hurt.

“It’s like they just want us out the way, but there is no New Orleans without us, and one day we will move back. I’m Mr. Nola for life; ya heard me.”

Warren is a poster child for New Orleanians who suffer from emotional and mental health issues because of Hurricane Katrina. His life is proof that New Orleans lives in one’s heart and soul, and living away feels like the death of a loved one.

I know the feeling, oh too well. It’s heartbreaking when we are ripped from her bosom, torn from her loving embrace and uprooted from her nurturing soil; it has devastating effects on us. New Orleans is a part of us. The city lives within us, and those of us who remain do it with great sacrifice.

You can view more photos of the tornado damage on Nola Chic’s blog.

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