We woke up early, checked the weather reports, turned on the news and hastily packed the car, cramming in essentials: wedding photos, clothes, toddler toys, infant car seat in case the baby in my belly decided to come early.
And we left our home behind, a Category 4 hurricane barreling toward our beloved town.
I’ve evacuated from hurricanes before. It comes with the territory of being a resident of the Gulf Coast. But this evacuation, from my own house, with me in charge of packing supplies and boarding up windows, felt different, and not just because I was nine months pregnant.
I hung rosaries on every doorknob of the house before we left, whispered favorite Scripture passages over each room as I walked the halls, a Hail Mary on my lips as we locked the back door, closed the garage and drove away, unsure if we’d have a home to return to after the storm had passed.
Never have I felt more connected to Mary, shoving myself into our overloaded Subaru Forester to escape the wrath of an impending storm we were told could be the strongest to ever hit Louisiana. She must’ve been nervous as she and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem for the census, terrified when they fled to Egypt to avoid King Herod.
“Mary, pray for me,” I begged. “Mary, comfort me,” I mumbled. “Give me your strength,” I prayed, as I thought about every change of plans she’d encountered in her young life. “How’d you do this, mom?” I thought. “How’d you handle this fear and uncertainty?”
Hurricane Laura brought destruction upon southwest Louisiana in the form of unfettered winds and flooding, and it tied the strongest storm to hit our state. Roofs were stripped from homes like tin cans being popped open. Windows blew out of buildings, glass littering rain-soaked floors.
Water crept into homes, seeping into the walls, dangerous mold quickly setting in due to the unforgiving Louisiana humidity. Power lines, water treatment plans, streetlights, stretches of road were wiped away, the city’s infrastructure gone in hours. Every tree in the city seemed to be flattened, the landscape entirely different now.
There’s a gasping sound you make when you see pictures of destruction. It’s a quick intake of breath that then gets stuck in your throat, and your heart begins to pound as you realize “that’s my parish,” and “that’s our favorite restaurant,” and “that’s my house.”
For days I kept whispering, “Lord, have mercy.” It became my near constant prayer, followed with, “Mary, wrap us in your mantle of protection,” as more news poured in of what was destroyed, gone forever.
There comes a moment in everyone’s life, when the road before you seems too long, too treacherous, too steep to climb. I think every resident of southwest Louisiana has been standing on that road since Aug. 27, 2020, when Hurricane Laura hit. Homes gone, businesses destroyed, schools caved in, churches flattened, and life as we know it essentially on hold for the foreseeable future: The road before us is hard to walk.
But that road — steep and scary — is not walked alone. As the rebuilding efforts have begun, the cost of which is colossal, the pain of which is sometimes too much to bare, we walk that road with the merciful Lord and his protective Mother, “Lord, have mercy” and “Mary, protect us” on our lips.
Two days after the storm, my husband and dad drove back to Lake Charles to check on our homes. My husband called crying, “The rosaries are still on the door, babe!” Our roof was ripped up, our fence gone, the month-old swing-set toppled over and crushed, but the rosaries I’d hung on the inside and outside doors had not moved.
We fled. But we had not fled alone.
Our town was battered and beaten and will be for a long time. But we were not knocked down alone.
The road to recovery will be long, but we walk the road with Christ, who is present to us in every storm. Even the strongest storm to ever hit Louisiana. He’s there in that storm too.
(Katie Prejean McGrady is an international Catholic speaker, award winning author, and host of the Ave Explores and Ave Spotlight podcasts. She lives in Louisiana with her husband and two daughters. )