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'There was a sense of desperation' | Hurricane Katrina survivor now living in Dallas reflects on experience

"There will be ease at the end of this," Omar Sulieman said. "We are a resilient people from New Orleans. We've made it through this before."

DALLAS — As Hurricane Ida approaches and will make landfall soon, many who survived Hurricane Katrina are thinking back to the day it hit in 2005.

Imam Omar Sulieman now lives in Dallas. He calls the city home. But his hometown is back in New Orleans, where he was when Hurricane Katrina hit.

Credit: Omar Sulieman
Omar Sulieman helps another volunteer after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in 2005.

"There was a sense of desperation," Sulieman said. "There was a sense of, 'Are we ever going to get back?'"

Sulieman said it was one of the most surreal moments of his life seeing what his community had become after the hurricane.

"It didn't feel like New Orleans," Sulieman said. "It didn't even feel like the United States."

Living in an apartment at the time that was destroyed, Sulieman was involved with his local mosque and also got involved to do what he could.

"I was told multiple times, I should wait a few days," Sulieman said. "I did not wait a few days."

He went to shelters around town and volunteered. He noticed others, of all religions and backgrounds, doing the same.

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"People opened their homes," Sulieman said. "People picked up people off the streets. Did what they could. People were taking their boats around, rafts around."

Sulieman said he will never forget that day. He also said he frequently went to social media to remind himself and others of what happened...and how his community responded.

"When everyone is that vulnerable, they're all vulnerable to the point that they could connect in their vulnerability," Sulieman said.

New Orleans mayor Mayor LaToya Cantrell said on Saturday the time to prepare is now.

"Today, everyone, right now, has to make a decision to leave or stay," Cantrell said. "You need to be prepared for damaging wind, power outages, heavy rain and tornados. What I am told is this storm in no way will be weakening."

Sulieman said he knows the anxious feeling many have right now but that people should also know difficult times can bring out strength.

"There will be ease at the end of this," Sulieman said. "We are a resilient people from New Orleans. We've made it through this before. We'll make it through again, God-willing."

He also said he hopes the relationships built by tragedy and hardship can build a better New Orleans and society in the long run.

"Don't wait for tragedy to build a relationship with someone that you don't know," Sulieman said.

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