Published: Saturday, May 21, 2011, 10:00 PM
Huddled with three others in a bathtub, terrorized by the horrific noise of wood snapping and windows exploding, Kara Bovia’s mind focused like a laser on the irony of her predicament.
Good God, nature’s fury had chased her almost 300 miles, all the way to the hills of Alabama.
“All I could think of was, ‘Mother Nature, what is wrong with you?’” she said. “Why us again? Twice!”
The deadly tornado that tore through Tuscaloosa, Ala., on April 27 marked another disastrous turn in Bovia’s young life. Almost six years after losing her Chalmette home during Hurricane Katrina, Bovia, 26, finds herself once again having to pick up the pieces.
“Walking out and seeing everything and realizing now we’re homeless again . . .” she said of the moments after the tornado had passed, leveling the Charleston Square apartment complex. “I just kind of had a breakdown. Physically we’re fine. Mentally, well, that’s another story.”
It was all happening again. And she couldn’t help but flash back to 2005 and the nightmare of Katrina.
After the levees failed during Katrina in August 2005, Bovia’s family home on Riess Place took on 6 feet of water. Twenty-one at the time, she said she longed to return to St. Bernard Parish, the place where she was born and raised, and attended Our Lady of Prompt Succor School and Andrew Jackson High School.
“I went back about five months after Katrina. I was going to look for work and try to live there and possibly rebuild our house,” she said.
But things didn’t work out. Life in storm-ravaged St. Bernard Parish those months after Katrina was chaotic as the parish and its pioneering returnees went about the daunting task of rebuilding from the ground up. Bovia said her family just couldn’t get much traction, so she turned her attention elsewhere, eventually landing in Tuscaloosa, where her brother had set up his home after Katrina.
Bovia was able to find work and take business classes at Shelton State Community College. She, her brother, Ryan Bovia, 29, and Ryan Bovia’s daughter, Kadence, 4, lived together in an apartment. Bovia’s mother lives in Dothan, Ala., where the family had initially evacuated as Katrina approached.
This time, Bovia said the family had about 30 minutes notice that a tornado might be spawned in the area. She said they huddled in the apartment complex manager’s apartment as the twister destroyed the complex.
“We were all together in the tub, us and the property manager and her little dog,” Bovia said.
“I didn’t hear any trains, but the pressure was so great it made my head feel like it was going to explode,” she said. “You could hear windows shattering, bricks hitting things, stuff flying. I never want to go through that again.”
After the tornado passed, the group emerged from the bathroom to a horrifying scene.
“Just hearing the screams of the people needing help,” Bovia said. “I’ve seen some things I could go without seeing again.”
She said several of the complex’s residents were killed in the storm. Videos posted on YouTubeshow a massive tornado bearing down on the complex and, afterward, rescuers searching through the wrecked apartments with dogs.
The monster tornado, one of hundreds that ripped across the southeast U.S. in a deadly outbreak April 27, claimed hundreds of lives, at least 41 of them in Tuscaloosa.
“It was heartbreaking,” Bovia said.
Bovia’s apartment was trashed. The photos she had saved from her flooded home in Chalmette were destroyed. About all she was able to save from her former life, she said, was the quilt that her grandmother had sewn for her.
“We found it in a tree; they had to cut it down,” she said.
That first week after the tornadoes,the family stayed with a friend. The real estate company she works for was able to help Bovia find another apartment, which they recently moved into.
“Everything we owned was destroyed,” she said. “All we have now is what was donated.”
Dealing with the aftermath of the deadly tornado is difficult enough. Trying to shake the Katrina deja vu, the strange feeling that you’re in the cross-hairs of nature’s disasters, only compounds things, Bovia said.
“All along the sides of the road you see debris piled up,” she said. “It’s like it’s happening all over again.”
Her family back in Louisiana has been a salvation, Bovia said.
“They’re incredible. They’ve done so much to help us, especially my niece. All she keeps saying is ‘I want to go home.’”
Bovia isn’t sure what will happen next. One of the reasons she left Louisiana was to get far from the reach of hurricanes. But she knows the tornado sirens will haunt her.
“My goal in life is not to live through every kind of natural disaster,” she said. “The third time will not be a charm.”
Bob Warren can be reached at email@example.com or 985.898.4832.