A Katrina survivor with a disability tells her story

Oct 13, 2022, 5:06 AM | Updated: 5:51 am
Karen Nix sits in her home before leaving for her evening work shift in New Orleans, Tuesday, Aug. ...

Karen Nix sits in her home before leaving for her evening work shift in New Orleans, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. Nix tells her story of surviving hurricanes Katrina and Ida while living with cerebral palsy. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Karen Nix was working at Tulane Medical Center, monitoring the vitals of patients, when the levees failed and Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans on August 29, 2005.

By evening the medical center was inundated – water rose several feet into the first floors of buildings. Everyone in the hospital spent the night on upper floors, waiting for their chance to get out. Nix, who usually worked the night shift on the fifth floor, continued to attend to patients. Then the backup generators began to fail.

Conditions deteriorated, especially for Nix, who has mobility issues caused by cerebral palsy. “I remember that it was hot and we didn’t have power, so it was miserable,” she said. Medical staff began gathering in pockets of the hospital where it was cooler. That crowded Nix, who uses a walker.

The next day patients started climbing stairs to the seventh floor of the parking garage, where Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters waited. As part of the hospital staff, Nix stayed behind another night, caring for patients that remained.

When it looked like her turn had finally come, Nix needed help climbing two flights of stairs. The elevators weren’t running. Nix and other medical staff ended up spending a third night in the parking garage, using a makeshift bathroom, before finally boarding helicopters that took them to a shelter in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Using that commode chair, surrounded by borrowed emergency room curtains for privacy – is burned into her memory.

“I worked the whole time and it was horrible …. That was a difficult time for me because of my disability,” she said.

Nix, 59, has lived with cerebral palsy most of her life. She was diagnosed when she was six and said because it isn’t as severe as for some people, she has been able to work, go to school and graduate from college.

Still, she imagines a world where she would not have to work when hurricanes and storm surges are on the horizon, but would instead get some type of disability pay since most places she’s worked, even hospitals, become inaccessible during disasters.

That way, she could spend more time making preparations to get out of town. She can’t board up the windows of her house in New Orleans East to withstand potential wind damage. And in the event that rain and wind damage her home, she can’t do the cleanup.

She has support, though. She is married and has children, so her family are often the ones to fortify the house before a storm and clean up the damage.

But not all disabled people in regions getting hit by climate-related disasters have that support. She said local, state and federal governments don’t create adequate emergency plans for people with disabilities, whether for hurricanes, floods or wildfires.

“I think you get left out of the equation if you’re not self-sufficient or don’t know how to get the resources you need,” Nix said, “or if you don’t have someone to be a voice for you.”

___

Follow Drew Costley on Twitter: @drewcostley.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


              Karen Nix arrives for her evening work shift at New Orleans East Hospital in New Orleans, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. Nix tells her story of surviving hurricanes Katrina and Ida while living with cerebral palsy. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
            
              Karen Nix checks into her evening work shift at New Orleans East Hospital in New Orleans, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. Nix tells her story of surviving hurricanes Katrina and Ida while living with cerebral palsy. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
            
              Karen Nix sits in her home before leaving for her evening work shift in New Orleans, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. Nix tells her story of surviving hurricanes Katrina and Ida while living with cerebral palsy. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

AP

FILE - In this May 24, 2004 file photo, a Mount Graham red squirrel darts through trees on Mount Gr...
Associated Press

Endangered red squirrel found in Arizona sees increase in population

The latest survey shows another increase in the population of the endangered Mount Graham red squirrel in the Pinaleno Mountains of Arizona.
19 hours ago
FILE - Johnny Hincapie raises his fist as he leaves the courthouse in New York, Jan. 25, 2017. Atto...
Associated Press

Man to receive almost $18 million for wrongful NY conviction

A man who was freed in 2015 after spending a quarter-century in prison for an infamous tourist killing will receive nearly $18 million in legal settlements from the city and state of New York, his attorneys confirmed Friday. Lawyers for Johnny Hincapie said it marks one of the largest settlements for a wrongful conviction in […]
19 hours ago
Associated Press

Mamie King-Chalmers, woman in civil rights photo, dies at 81

DETROIT (AP) — Mamie King-Chalmers, who as a young Black woman appeared in an iconic photo about civil rights struggles in Alabama, has died at the age of 81. She died Tuesday in Detroit, her home since the 1970s, daughter Lasuria Allman said. A cause wasn’t disclosed. King-Chalmers, 21 at the time, was one of […]
19 hours ago
Associated Press

Nebraska man gets prison for leaving noose for coworker

LA VISTA, Neb. (AP) — A former employee at the Oriental Trading Co. has been sentenced to prison for leaving a noose on a floor scrubber that a Black colleague was set to use. The Nebraska U.S. Attorney’s office said Bruce Quinn, 66, was sentenced Friday to four months in prison and one year of […]
19 hours ago
Associated Press

Guest lineups for the Sunday news shows

WASHINGTON (AP) — ABC’s “This Week” — Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and Dave Joyce, R-Ohio; Sam Bankman-Fried, founder and former CEO of cryptocurrency exchange FTX. __ NBC’s “Meet the Press” — Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu; Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass. __ CBS’ “Face the Nation” — Secretary of State Antony Blinken; Reps. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., […]
19 hours ago
Rev. Paula Stecker of the Christ the King Lutheran Church tidies up a memorial outside Club Q follo...
Associated Press

EXPLAINER: What do we know about the Colorado bomb threat?

DENVER (AP) — More than a year before police say Anderson Lee Aldrich killed five people and wounded 17 others at a gay night club in Colorado Springs, Aldrich was arrested on allegations of making a bomb threat that led to the evacuation of about 10 homes. Aldrich, who uses the pronoun they and is […]
19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet edges out cable for everyday use

In a world where technology drives so much of our daily lives, a lack of high-speed internet can be a major issue.
...
SCHWARTZ LASER EYE CENTER

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
A Katrina survivor with a disability tells her story