When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, Taneshia Dunn watched the damage unfold on the television screen in a hotel lobby in Houston. She had evacuated her home in New Orleans, and she knew from watching the footage that her life was changing forever. When recounting her story of survival, Taneshia credits the American Red Cross as being a beacon of hope wherever she went.
Taneshia was working at a hotel when Hurricane Katrina began barreling toward the Gulf, but this wasn’t her first hurricane. Just a year earlier, Hurricane Ivan had rolled through. Taneshia and her fiancé William had hunkered down in the hotel where Taneshia worked and had survived with barely a scratch. So in 2005, they took a critical eye toward Katrina, but decided to wait and see.
On the Saturday before the storm hit, they went to Wal-mart. The lines to get gasoline trailed down the block. It was miserably hot, and Taneshia’s car didn’t have air conditioning. She was still skeptical about taking a long trip for nothing. All night, she and William watched the news. At one point, she heard a stern warning from the city’s mayor that changed her mind. At 4 a.m. on Sunday, they packed up a few bags and headed to Houston. It took them more than 8 hours to make the 4-hour trip.
Taneshia and William spent the first month after the hurricane living with family in the countryside. They had no power for that entire time, so they grilled their meals in the yard and relied on generators. When the city of New Orleans reopened, Taneshia went home to see what she could salvage. Almost everything in her house was destroyed. Her neighbor had stated behind and taken photos during the storm. “The whole street looked like a lake,” Taneshia said.
They headed to Baton Rouge and found a motel with an open room. “I remember thinking, ‘We’re here, now how are we going to eat?’” Before she could worry for very long, the American Red Cross arrived at the motel offering warm meals, cold water and snacks. “They came by every day, three times a day,” Taneshia said. “It made me think, ‘Wow, this Red Cross is really something special.”
After months of staying in the motel, Taneshia was offered an opportunity to relocate to Chicago. She had never lived anywhere but Louisiana, but she felt like it was the right choice. Soon, a temp agency found her a position at the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. The job turned permanent, and she has been here ever since. “After an experience like Katrina, your outlook on everything changes,” Taneshia said. “It taught me to appreciate things on a whole new level.” Working at the Red Cross has also helped Taneshia heal. “I made a vow that when I got back on my feet, I wanted to give back,” Taneshia said. “Now I get to be part of the organization I care so much about.”
To learn more about preparing for disasters, visit www.chicagoredcross.org/ready
-Kristin Claes is the senior writer for the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago.