WNYC’s Death, Sex & Money Podcast Presents “In New Orleans”: A Series of Post-Katrina Stories
(New York, NY – August 17, 2015) – To mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Anna Sale, host of Death, Sex & Money -- WNYC’s podcast about life’s more difficult topics -- traveled to New Orleans to meet five individuals and learn about their lives since the storm.
The resulting series, “In New Orleans,” shows that there is no single story of the storm. Instead, Hurricane Katrina serves as a jumping off point, one which leads in many directions: political office for a newly elected coroner, finalized adoptions in a growing family, and mixed emotions about what’s been lost in the rebuilding.
“Stories about Hurricane Katrina are often told in broad strokes, with sweeping generalizations,” said Sale. “For the 10 year anniversary, we wanted to get really up close. I interviewed five people with very different stories about New Orleans before, during and after the storm. They describe new jobs, lost neighbors, daily frustration, and lingering outrage. Together, these stories offer a glimpse into how individuals restart after a collective trauma.”
In addition to the five episodes, Death, Sex & Money will offer exclusive behind-the-scenes photos of each individual profiled in the series at wnyc.org/story/in-new-orleans/
“In New Orleans” Profiles:
Terri Coleman: “From Raising Hell to Raising Kids”
The storm allow[ed] my kind of weird adolescent destruction to be socially structured and socially acceptable in some way.
A decade after Hurricane Katrina, Terri Coleman is teaching a summer class to incoming students at Dillard University—a historically black college in New Orleans. But 10 years ago, when she was about the same age as her students, she was not the kind of kid to get a jump on freshman year with a summer class. “I did a lot of drinking. I did a lot of drugs. I did a lot of watching reruns of Family Guy all day long while super stoned,” Terri tells Anna Sale. In the aftermath of the storm, the landscape of New Orleans complimented Terri’s lackadaisical lifestyle. She recalls, “The storm allow[ed] my kind of weird adolescent destruction to be socially structured and socially acceptable in some way.” Now married with three children and a graduate degree, Terri recently moved back to her old neighborhood after several years spent out of state. She talks about her mixed emotions regarding what’s been lost in the post-Katrina rebuilding of New Orleans.
Simone Bruni: “Becoming The Demo Diva”
I said, ‘I’m in this and I’m coming out strong.’
Simone Bruni never saw herself as the head of a demolition company. “I grew up in a very traditional Latin home,” she tells host Anna Sale. “My mom did not work. I wanted her life. I wanted to be a stay at home mom.” But ten years ago, Simone was 32 years old and single, working in the hospitality industry. Six weeks after the storm, she got official word that she was laid off—there was no tourism industry to sell. “No one knew what to do. I did nothing,” she recalls. But when waves of aid workers showed up in town to help with storm cleanup, she saw an opportunity. “I realized the first step to coming home was demolition,” she says. Inspired by her background in hospitality, and armed with skills in marketing, Simone started Demo Diva, a demolition company geared towards women. “I had everything painted hot pink,” she laughs. “I said, ‘I’m in this and I’m coming out strong.’”
Big Freedia: “Big Freedia Bounces Back”
They were spending that money like crazy. Like water.
Right before Hurricane Katrina hit, Big Freedia, one of New Orleans’ biggest bounce music stars, had just come out of hiding. A shooting that left her with a bullet lodged in her forearm had frightened her so badly that she was unwilling to leave her mother’s house for six months. It shook her, she tells Anna Sale. “Just that whole process of getting to be well known, and then feeling like you have to look over your shoulder.” After finally mustering the courage to start performing again, Big Freedia also moved into a new apartment – and then, Hurricane Katrina hit. Big Freedia talks about growing up gay as a church choir member, coming out to her mother at 13, and leaving New Orleans after Katrina and bringing bounce music with her. But it wasn’t long before she was back home. “A lot was happening after Katrina. I mean money was slinging everywhere,” Freedia says. “You know everybody has FEMA checks, girl!”
Dr. Kiersta Kurtz-Burke: A Doctor’s Adopted Home
We just had a feeling of, ‘Can we slog through this?’
Ten years ago when Katrina hit, Dr. Kiersta Kurtz-Burke didn’t evacuate. Instead she stayed inside New Orleans’ Charity Hospital, where she worked for six days, caring for 18 patients on the 5th floor. There was no power, and it seemed like no one was coming to rescue them. Before they were finally evacuated, Kiersta – who was part of the last group of people to leave – helped clean up the space for when her staff returned. “We didn't want it to look messy,” she tells Anna Sale. “We were naive.” Charity never reopened after Hurricane Katrina, and Kiersta never got to properly thank the people who she spent the storm with. Dr. Kiersta Kurtz-Burke talks about the tediousness of rebuilding after destruction. “We just had a feeling of, ‘Can we slog through this?’” she says. But she stayed, and is now raising two adopted kids in the city with her husband: “We just got too weird for any place else other than New Orleans.”
Dr. Jeffrey Rouse: “How to Get Elected Coroner”
You work with what you’ve got, and this is what we got.
Dr. Jeffrey Rouse is New Orleans’ Coroner—a job he describes as the “interface between law and medicine.” But ten years ago he was studying PTSD, getting ready for a life in academia. When the storm hit, Dr. Rouse evacuated, but a moment he caught on television brought him straight back: “I can distinctly remember being glued to the television and seeing a police officer that I knew on camera, crying,” he recalls. “And that was not this guy's temperament.” Armed with his a background in psychiatry, Dr. Rouse hitched a ride back into the city with a reporter and set up a makeshift clinic to provide medical care to first responders. The experience was pivotal in his decision to run for coroner in 2014, which he calls “the most bizarre job interview a human being can ever go through.” Now, after a year in office, Dr. Rouse talks about having to make controversial judgment calls in police shootings, writing condolence notes to every family whose relatives’ death certificate he signs, and working out of a converted funeral home. “You work with what you’ve got,” Rouse says, “and this is what we got.”
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