First Person: Hurricane Katrina

New York, N.Y. I watched Hurricane Katrina on TV with a terrible sense of despair and deep sorrow. I thought there must be something I could do and decided to go to Houston. Almost half a million evacuees from New Orleans had fled to Houston. By the time I arrived, there were 35,000 evacuees in the Astrodome alone.


I rented a car and drove straight there. As soon as I arrived at the dome, I saw 24,000 temporary cots lined up and felt dizzy. Most of the evacuees were of African descent and I did not spot any white people at all. Red Cross staff told me to begin sorting enormous bags of clothing lined against the wall into Men, Women, and Children. It was a difficult, but an important and urgent task as evacuees were wearing the same clothes for more than a week.

They had fled New Orleans, as they were, many without shoes. The first day, I went to the medical center and helped register the list of doctors and nurses from all over the world. The number of doctors was enough, but the nurses were in short shortage. I worked until dawn.

We also went to the quarantine room for sick and unstable patients who were kept until the doctor could see them. They were all healthy looking, but we had to talk and comfort them so that they wouldn’t leave. They were confined to one place and filled with anxiety.

Later, I was assigned to counseling and worked to assess the degree people were suffering from trauma and mental instability. I was very happy to have the opportunity to talk to them one-on-one. I comforted them and provided them with hugs. I spent my birthday, September 6th, at the Houston Astrodome.

What I Felt – and Noticed

  • The evacuees were dirt poor. Not only had they not owned their own cars, most could not even afford bus fare to evacuate before Hurricane Katrina hit. Now, in Houston, they were able to start a new life with the help of our government and volunteers.
  • In the richest country in the world, America, most of us have no idea that there are such desperate people among us who have neither the ability nor opportunity to live outside slums or move out of poverty.
  • The hopeful faces of evacuees. Most were calm, calm, and peaceful. Children were playing happily. They had escaped Hell. Katrina perhaps had saved. Three meals a day, clean water, and police protecting them 24 hours a day. They could sleep safely without harm. There were a lot of volunteers, too, and the medical situation was smooth. They even were provided $10 stipends from FEMA for entertainment. Although their lives were saved, many felt deep sympathy for those left behind, or who had lost pets. Although I lent my phone to more than 100 evacuees, almost no one was able to get through to friends and family in New Orleans.
  • When I went to the hotel to take a shower, I met a group of lucky evacuees who were staying there. They said they were delighted to be able to stay in such a place for the first time in their lives. Of course, the government paid for this hotel. Children were happily jumping and playing in the pool.
  • Katrina has the meaning of “purification,” and I thought that through this calamity God taught to help the poor. Even in the face of sadness and suffering, we can convert natural disaster into positive energy. Here was a great opportunity to be considerate of our fellow human beings. If we think about evacuating 500,000 people, stabilizing and restoring their basic lives, we all need to help. As we know, African-Americans were freed from slavery, but not necessarily poverty. God and the power of the Universe have led us to help those who suffer from poverty. We are called to assist such people improve their lives. Not only by government, but by all of us helping. Step by step, with a compassionate, humanity is moving in the right direction.
  • The whole world has criticized the U.S. government, but I disagree. Although the operation was delayed, our government mobilized helicopters and ships to help evacuate New Orleans after Katrina. We should be grateful the number of casualties was much less than the Kobe earthquake in Japan or Indian Ocean Tsunami in Indonesia. Human beings often arrogantly think they can control nature. On occasion they can, but not always. Extreme arrogance creates a negative flow of energy. In Katarina, I saw best of humanity. This gave me a strong and positive feeling for compassion.

Since I returned to my home from Houston, I have felt vibrant and full of positive energy. This experience was highly memorable and irreplaceable. I am so very grateful to have been able to serve even a little.

About Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura

View all posts by Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko was born into a distinguished old family in Kyoto, Japan, and graduated from Toho conservatory of Music in Tokyo. In 1961 she came to U.S. as a pianist sponsored by the Boston Symphony. She studied at Boston University, New York University, and received her Ph.D. in Oriental Medicine from New York State University and the International Academy of Education in Tokyo. From 1968 to 1992, she promoted cultural exchanges from East to West and vice versa, and became a world famous impresario, producing 2,000 events each year all over the world encompassing over 140 countries. In this connection, in 1972, she went to Dharamsala to find the lost Tibetan Folk Opera, and met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with whom she remains a lifelong friend. In 1973 and 1991 she arranged and funded personally the tours of the Folk Opera of Tibet to the West. She has received many medals and honors from different countries. Her tireless life long work in Philanthropic field is vast and well known ranging from Save the Beacon Theater, Save the Boat People, Help the Homeless, natural disasters of earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as relief to AIDS and HIV positive children in Africa. She has been a dedicated Board Member to both the J. Luce Foundation and Orphans International for years. Her work focuses on the Tibetan people; Tibetan children remain especially strong in her heart. She raised fund for the new academic building for Manjushree Orphanage in Tawang, India and supported many aspects of the school. See HuffPo pieces entitled Japanese Holistic Healer in NYC to Build School for Tibetan Orphans in India, A Japanese Dinner with Raul Castro’s Daughter, and NYC Gala in Support of Tibetan Orphans Set for January.

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