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Thousands of Katrina evacuees who moved to Houston are reliving a nightmare

Thousands of Katrina evacuees who moved to Houston are reliving a nightmare
People take shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center after flood waters from Hurricane Harvey inundated the city on August 29, 2017 in Houston, Texas.[Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images]

Among those affected by Tropical Storm Harvey’s unprecedented flooding of Houston are likely thousands of survivors of Hurricane Katrina’s 2005 strike on Louisiana, who in some cases are once again seeing their homes destroyed by rising floodwaters.

Katrina hit New Orleans 12 years ago today. After the levees failed, inundating the city, as many as 250,000 evacuees temporarily relocated to Houston, and about 40,000 stayed permanently, according to a 2015 report in the Houston Chronicle. They and other Louisianans who came later generally praised Houston for its growing economy, with better jobs and salaries than in the New Orleans area. Parents also saw Houston as having a stronger school system, though many evacuees lamented the region’s sprawl and other cultural differences.

Even the former head of the New Orleans food bank now leads a similar charity in Houston—and he saw his home flooded by Harvey this weekend, ultimately evacuating by a neighbor’s boat after climbing through a second-story window, according to the Washington Post.

One 22-year-old Houston man fled his flooded apartment almost 12 years to the day that Hurricane Katrina pushed him out of New Orleans. “Most traumatic experience of my life, repeating itself,” the man, Romeo, told KHOU on Monday, according to the New York Post.

“That’s the crazy part … You see the cars under water. It’s the same thing. It’s the same thing again.” Romeo’s grandmother died in the wake of Katrina, he said. “Don’t forget to tell people that you love them because you’ll lose people.” (So far, Harvey, which some have called worse than Katrina, has claimed an estimated 10 lives; the aftermath of Katrina ultimately claimed over 1,500 lives.)

Living through even one serious storm isn’t psychologically easy: Studies after both Katrina and 2012’s Superstorm Sandy found many affected people had lingering mental health issues. And, The New York Times reports, therapists in Louisiana say their clients find news of Harvey stirs up painful memories—what one therapist calls “Katrina brain”—even if they don’t expect to be directly affected by the storm.

Related: From Katrina To Harvey: How Disaster Relief Is Evolving With TechnologySM