EAST SPENCER, NC— Hurricane Katrina caused immense devastation and loss of life along the Gulf Coast when it made landfall ten years ago. It led to what is known as the Katrina Diaspora, the dispersal of thousands of New Orleans residents across the U.S.
Some of those displaced persons, including musician Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen, have settled in the Charlotte-area in the years since.
“I can't believe it's been 10 years. It's like I woke up one morning, and guess what? It's been 10 years,” Cohen said. “Who thought that this was going to really be the big one?”
Cohen was born in North Carolina, but had called the Big Easy, where she worked as a blues singer, home for about 15 years by August 2005.
As Hurricane Katrina barreled toward the Gulf Coast, Cohen said she was determined to ride out the storm from her New Orleans apartment, but that a voice saying her name woke her in the early morning hours of Aug. 28, 2005.
“I went to sleep and I heard a voice,” Cohen recalled. “No one can tell you God don’t speak to you sometimes. I brought maybe two outfits, a pair of flip flops, a pair of shoes, my computer and my car. That’s all I had. That’s all I had and planned on coming back.”
That same day the National Weather Service issued an unprecedented message warning of a catastrophic storm. Cohen joined thousands of others on the road out of New Orleans. She said it took her 24 hours to reach her brother’s home in Salisbury, driving in bumper to bumper traffic.
On Aug. 29, 2005, Katrina made landfall in Louisiana as a strong category three hurricane. When the levees gave way, about 80 percent of New Orleans flooded.
It took Cohen two months to get back to her home. While her second-story apartment had not flooded, Cohen said it was looted.
“When I went there, that was when it finally came to me that I lost everything. You know, I lost everything,” Cohen said.
Instead of rebuilding her life in New Orleans, Cohen started putting down roots near her family in East Spencer.
“I didn’t have musicians. I didn’t know where the clubs were, I didn’t know what to do. I had no idea what to do, and that’s displaced,” Cohen told Fox 46. “It's depressing and it took me about six years before I could shake that off of me.”
She’s since built up a following in the Charlotte-area with enough gigs to support herself. Cohen told Fox 46 News she cannot imagine going back to the city she once called home.
“It changed New Orleans forever. New Orleans is different now. It’s a totally different thing. Why even bother to go back? I’m comfortable here, stay here. Where ever you go, you take yourself,” Cohen said.