Boise State senior defensive tackle Armand Nance sees the coverage of Hurricane Katrina’s 10th anniversary this week and feels a mixture of sadness and happiness.
His family evacuated New Orleans two days before the storm hit and moved to Houston to escape the damaged city.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling because it’s sad, but then I get happy because I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity I have now if I still had been living in New Orleans,” Nance said. “Just seeing all that stuff — seeing the pictures and the video from the news in 2005, it hits you because the people you’ve grown up with for 11 years, you don’t see them anymore. It’s just completely different.
“I feel like Hurricane Katrina at the end of the day was a blessing.”
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Nance didn’t begin playing football until after he left his hometown. He played the drums as a child.
He says he might be teaching percussion if the storm never forced him to move, but he also wonders if the neighborhood where he lived would have caused him problems.
“The neighborhood I grew up in, it was bad,” he said. “Guys would get killed outside the corner store, which was three blocks from my house. There were drug houses all up and down the street. Not to say I would be involved in that stuff, but it would have been that much harder to get out of that situation.”
Nance’s family went to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to avoid the storm. He jokes about all the “A” logos he saw, not knowing about Alabama Crimson Tide football at the time.
“Why are there A’s everywhere?” he thought. “They must really like me.”
The family had a hurricane routine. They’d pack a bag and expect to return in a day or two.
Katrina was much different, Nance learned, when the family returned home to salvage what they could.
“I had 9 feet of water in my house,” he said.
After a week, his family moved to Houston because relatives lived there.
The transition to a new town was difficult for the 11-year-old Nance as Houston kids resisted the influx of New Orleans kids. The two groups would fight, Nance said. But he found an outlet in football the next fall and settled into his new city.
The “pent-up aggression” from Katrina drove him on the football field, he said.
That’s gone now.
“I’m in such a happy place,” he said, “that I can’t be angry. I can still deep down pull it out somewhere, but it’s not because of Hurricane Katrina. I’m mad I got a C on that assignment.”
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Another Boise State senior defensive lineman, Antoine Turner, has a much different Katrina story.
He was in the city when the storm hit. And he lived in southern Louisiana afterward.
“I really try to forget about Katrina,” he said. “That’s one of the worst times of my life. That not only changed the city, but changed me as a child — having that feeling of safety. That just changed my whole world. I was 12, I moved out of school, moved to another school, wasn’t accepted where I went because they had a bunch of us coming from out of the city. There was a bunch of racism and different things going on, fighting. It was a horrible time in my life. I try not to even think about it. But I’m happy the city is getting rebuilt. And after 10 years it’s still not where it needs to be, but I’m happy that it’s getting there.”
Turner was on the third floor of his apartment complex when the “scary” storm hit, he said.
“If you’ve never seen a storm surge before, the water is really strong,” he said. “You see water coming toward your apartment complex but it’s as high as the second floor. You see water coming toward you and it’s pushing cars out of the way like it’s nothing, so my Auntie had a brand-new car and the water hits the car and washes it like there’s nothing even there. I’m just sitting there scared. I didn’t know what to believe or how to feel at the time.”
Turner was evacuated by helicopter, he said. He was on the third floor of the building, above the storm surge.
“You chop a hole in the roof and then a (helicopter) comes and takes you and sends you to the bridge so you can walk,” Turner said.
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I’ll have a full feature on Nance next week. He has become a key leader for the Broncos.