Student embraces relocation after Hurricane Katrina

Keri DeCay, international business French junior, was 10 years old when Hurricane Katrina hit her hometown, New Orleans, on Aug. 29, 2005. DeCay was able to evacuate to Arlington, TX before the storm hit.

To most people, Aug. 29 is just another day, but to one student remembers that day as the day that changed her life. 

8-29-05 never forget how they left us to struggle...

— fleur de Cay (@fleurdecay) August 28, 2015

Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina destroyed parts of the Gulf Coast, including Mississippi and Louisiana, according to Eighty percent of New Orleans flooded when the levees built to protect the city broke under the pressure of the water.

Keri DeCay, international business French junior and UTA Ambassador, said she remembers being 10 years old and having to evacuate her beloved city of New Orleans.

“In New Orleans, we had hurricane days, like how in Texas we have snow days, so we didn’t think anything of it,” DeCay said. “It’s nothing really drastic. I was just thinking that I can get out of school that day.”

During a typical hurricane, DeCay said her mom would make a pot of gumbo and wait it out. This time was different. Concerned family members kept calling her mom and telling her they needed to evacuate immediately.

DeCay, her mom and two grandmothers left for Arlington the next day.

“It’s normally an eight- to nine-hour drive, but it took us like 12 hours,” Keri said. “I knew this trip was different because we got a flat tire on our way to Texas. It didn’t feel right.”

When Keri and her family got to her aunt’s house, she spoke to her father on the phone and he assured her that everything was fine. After two minutes, he called back and said that he saw the water in the backyard.

“He was talking about the levees breaking and how the water just basically looked like an ocean coming into the backyard,” DeCay said. “He tried to get all of the stuff and bring it upstairs.”

DeCay thought she had heard from her dad for the last time.

DeCay’s mom, Jarlene DeCay, said she was worried about not hearing from Keri DeCay’s father, Kerry DeCay, because of the news she was receiving about their neighborhood.

“We did not hear from Keri’s dad for four days,” Jarlene DeCay said. “We heard that there were no living survivors in our neighborhood, so we just assumed the worst.”

DeCay’s father said that this was not his first hurricane, but Katrina was different than the others because of the dirty water.

“It was the water that was bad — 15 days the water lasted. I saw a boat passing by my house, and the man on the boat offered me a ride if I could swim to the boat, but I couldn’t even see through the water,” Kerry DeCay said. “I saw gators and snakes in the water. The hurricane itself came and went, and everything was clear.”

Kerry DeCay said he spent four days trapped on the second floor of his house, and he wasn’t sure when he was going to be able to get out.

Kerry DeCay was picked up by a helicopter on his balcony and dropped off on Interstate 10 four days after Katrina hit the coast.

“I hitchhiked a ride on a pickup truck to Lafayette. It was me and three other firemen,” Kerry DeCay said. “I hitched a ride from Lafayette to Houston, and my family picked me up.”

They lost pictures, medical records and other valuables, but Keri DeCay is grateful her family was reunited, because a lot of people in New Orleans were not as fortunate.

“There were a lot of people who were not given help, and there were a lot of people who were stranded for days,” Keri DeCay said. “Why are all of these people taking video of them stranded instead of finding them help? Why are you able to fly out there, take a video of them struggling, and you can’t hand them a water? There were a lot of people that were left to die because they were just like, ‘They’re not important.’ ”

After the family was reunited, Keri DeCay said her family quickly realized they were permanently relocating to Texas.

Jarlene DeCay said that Keri DeCay handled the adjustment well.

“Keri decided to start her new school as just a new kid instead of a survivor,” Jarlene said. “The people here were calling us evacuees and refugees.”

Keri DeCay and her family received help from various organizations in the Metroplex to build a life here, and she loves giving back whenever she can.

“We went to the Mission Arlington. We went to the Red Cross. We went to churches,” Keri DeCay said. “Most of our stuff was from the Mission Arlington, which is why I love being so close to them. I am so thankful for them, so anytime I can, I give my time back to them.”

Keri DeCay said she is fortunate to be here, despite all she has been through. Because of this experience, she was able to branch out on her own and make her own path for college.

“All of my family went to Xavier University in New Orleans, and I’m the only one to not go there,” Keri DeCay said. “When I really came here and got involved, I saw that this was my home and this is where I wanted to be. This is where I was supposed to be.”

Keri DeCay said if Katrina hadn’t happened 10 years ago, she most likely would not have been at UTA at all. She said she would have ended up at Xavier University and wouldn’t be the leader that she is on campus now.

“I just want to say that I am very happy that I ended up here,” Keri DeCay said. “UTA has given me so much. I don’t know where I would be right now. I’m so thankful for all of the opportunities that I’ve gotten here, and I know that they’re all blessings.”


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