16 LSU football players share their Hurricane Katrina memories

Children shouldn't see what Leonard Fournette and his family saw in the days during and after Hurricane Katrina.

Rapidly rising flood waters that overwhelmed New Orleans in August 2005 trapped Fournette, now a star sophomore running back for LSU, and a group of family members in their home city. Also in the group was his younger brother, Lanard Fournette, now a freshman running back with the Tigers. The brothers were 10 and 8 at the time.

With the family stuck for four days and five nights on the city's Claiborne Avenue Bridge, they were forced to wade through waist-deep water to scavenge what food and drink they could find. They even witnessed the ultimate toll -- death -- that the storm took on some of the city's residents.

The Fournettes were among thousands of families left scrambling to survive after Katrina. Nearly a third of the players on LSU's football roster list either New Orleans or one of its neighboring communities as their hometowns, and many of them were displaced by the storm for long periods of time.

Here, in their own words, are 16 LSU players' stories from that time period, starting with the Fournettes.


Hometown: New Orleans

Leonard: It was my whole family, more than a dozen people. Not just my mother, father, brothers and sisters. It was everybody -- cousins, grandmother, grandfather. My entire family was on the bridge.

Lanard: We kept going back and forth from the bridge to my grandma's house on Frenchmen in the Seventh Ward to get food because that's where the food was. We kept going back and forth, back and forth traveling through the water.

Leonard: We had covers and we had certain things we took with us. We were wet, the wind was blowing, it was cold, so everybody kind of bundled up together.

Lanard: There weren't people killing each other, but I did see a dead body in the water, right under where we were sleeping. It was a dead body laying there for days. I'd never seen a dead body at that age. It was right there. That messed my head up.

Leonard: We left New Orleans and went to Baton Rouge by one of my dad's friends first, and then we moved to Portland, Texas.

Lanard: We were staying in a shelter and I don't know who or what made these people do it -- be such generous people -- but they took me and my family out of that shelter and put us into a home and bought us a truck. We didn't know these people at all. They just randomly did it.

Leonard: We stayed there for about five months, then went back to our house in New Orleans. It was demolished. It was standing a little bit, but we had to start all over. Same house, but we had to start over.

Lanard: If I can make it through that, I can make it through anything.


Hometown: Buras, La.

Me and my mom and my dad, my sister and my brother got into our GMC Denali and evacuated to Baton Rouge a couple days before the storm. We were in there 14 hours because of the traffic. Buras is where the eye of Katrina hit. Where I'm from, everybody lives in trailers. When we went back home, I walked in my double-wide trailer and it was like somebody picked my house up and shook it. It was still standing, barely. We didn't even think it would be there because every other house was gone.

Driving down to Buras, it's a one-way-in, one-way-out type of deal, and we drive back in and all you see is pieces of clothes in the trees. There's no leaves in the trees. All the trees are dead from the salt water. It was just bad.

I had one of my cousins just come up to my mom and start crying when he hugged her because of how bad it was. I can just see it, but I didn't really understand because I was just 11. Just seeing everybody trying to pick up whatever they can that was good enough to keep.

When you walk in the house, you've got to watch out for snakes and everything because you never know what's in there, and the craziest thing -- you can believe me or not -- was out of everything that was ruined in the house, my mom had a Bible on the table. I guess it floated up, because I had 17 feet of water in my house, all the way up to the ceiling, and then it floated down. And not a page in that Bible was wet. It's really crazy. I still have that Bible to this day.

ED PARIS, Sophomore CB

Hometown: New Orleans

I didn't understand. I understood it was a hurricane and there had been hurricanes before where we just stayed and it was just a bunch of rain. Like the hurricane before Katrina, it wasn't really serious, so I wasn't thinking I was going to lose everything I had. That's exactly what happened. We lived in the Seventh Ward in the St. Bernard area. It had to be about 20 of us that evacuated after my aunt told us it could be really, really big.

We couldn't go home. We didn't have no house. The only clothes that we had were the clothes that we took on us. We were thinking like we were going on another vacation because it's a hurricane.

We went through Shreveport and stopped at a vacation ranch near Tyler, Texas. They provided my family and I with a place to stay and gave us clothes and everything. They fed us. After we left there, we figured out that we wouldn't be able to come back home, so we had to get situated in Texas, so we wound up going to Fort Worth, Texas. That's where I rolled into a school later on. We lived there for a while. We had a free apartment. Nothing was in the apartment, so we were just literally sleeping on floors and still wearing the clothes that we had, and we went to the Red Cross to get more clothes because we didn't have money at the time. Then from there, my mom found a job and everything went back kind of to normal.


Hometown: New Orleans

My dad made the good decision to leave because at first he didn't want to go. My mom, she wanted to leave. And we were just in there in the house, no lights and stuff, and we were just sitting in there talking to each other and we just made the decision to leave. And as we were packing to go, the roof caved in and then we were in a hurry to get out of there. We got out of the city and went to Atlanta and caught the rest on the news.

After we came home, my mom and my dad were able to get in and get some of our stuff out. I had a bunch of Hot Wheels that I always cherished. I still have them. My mom, she went and got those first because I told her I needed them and she was able to rescue them out of there. It was amazing to get them.

My great grandmother, she's 97 years old. She has a house in the Lower Ninth Ward right where the water first came, and we were able to get her out and we just rebuilt her home that she's been owning since she was a young child. To see her back happy in her home is just amazing.


Hometown: New Orleans

My grandmother stayed because she's that old New Orleans native. We left the West Bank to stay with family in Magnolia, Mississippi, but she didn't leave. She was like, 'Oh, it's not going to be that bad. You're freaking out for nothing. They always say it's going to be bad.' They wound up bringing her to the Superdome. We were out there trying to get in touch with her and we couldn't get in touch with her. We didn't know what happened. We were just hoping and praying that everything worked out.

She called us from a Dallas number and we packed up and went to Dallas, drove all the way there and pretty much went to school. She wound up passing six months after we were there, and that's what made us come back home. We came back to bury her.


Hometown: New Orleans

A few days before Katrina actually hit, we moved from New Orleans to Richardson, Texas. We were settling in in Texas and my grandma and all them were still down here in New Orleans, and they called us the night of the storm and said they were on their way up there. My family came up there and it was like the whole family was just basically staying with us. My uncles, my grandma, her sisters, her brothers, my mom.

One of my aunts stayed with her six children, and we couldn't locate them in the chaos after the storm. They wound up in Arkansas. Once we found out they were safe, we were OK, but that whole time, we didn't know where they were at because nobody had had contact with them. One of my cousins, she was a police officer, and you know all the police had to stay in the city, so she was out here the whole time and her kids were out there with us in Texas. It was just a stressful time. We really didn't know if people were going to make it, we didn't know if they were safe, we didn't know if they were alive, we really didn't know what was going on.


Hometown: New Orleans

Evacuating was a pretty common thing. I remember we evacuated plenty of times before that and we always were home within two or three days after the storm. I thought it was going to be the same thing, so I packed pretty light and we ended up staying for nine months in my uncle's condo in St. Louis.

I didn't see my house for nine months. I saw pictures of how bad the damage was. The whole first floor was gone. We had to rebuild the first floor.

A lot of people still call it home, but still never came back like a lot of people in my neighborhood didn't. I'd say a lot of places, especially by my house in New Orleans East where it was so bad, it's still not 100 percent back to where it was before. There's still a lot of places closed by my house. They're still up, just vacant, not demolished and just sitting there. It's hard to believe that it was 10 years ago.


Hometown: Mandeville, La.

We were predicting that the winds would slam Mandeville, Louisiana, but it moved toward Mississippi, so they kind of got the brunt of it. We live close to the swamp, so we were just expecting to get flooded. But eventually when the storm hit, my mom, me and my brother went to Hammond because she works at a hospital there, North Oaks, and we stayed in the weight room for like three or four days. We slept on treadmills and other stuff.

I think everyone that went through that kind of [tragedy] has a [mindset] where if you bring up that period of time and those two people were both here in that time period, there's a connection. You feel connected. 'Oh, you went through that, too?' Especially in New Orleans and that area. Definitely you have like a bond because you went through all that hardship.

WILL CLAPP, Redshirt freshman OL

Hometown: New Orleans

We actually didn't have a place to go, so one of my dad's old teammates from LSU let us use his trailer at his camp on False River. It was me, my three little brothers, my grandmother, my uncle, my parents and my two cousins all living in a two-bedroom place. We lived there for about two months. We had to sleep on the floor. That was just something that we had to go through. When we got back, luckily our house didn't get flooded, but a lot of our family members' did, so we had tons of family members living with us. So for at least a year, we were either in somebody's house or people were living with us. I was just thankful that I was lucky enough and blessed enough not to have my house flooded.

Now I can definitely tell people are more afraid of hurricanes. My junior year, we missed a whole week of school for a hurricane that never even hit. I remember that week, my junior year, it didn't even rain and we were all at home. So it definitely changed the way people look at hurricanes, and plus every time hurricane season rolls around, I always have that, 'What if?'


Hometown: New Orleans

We left New Orleans East a few days before Katrina actually hit and went to Laplace, Louisiana. Me and my mom ended up going toward Houston, Texas and I went to school out there for about two, three months. We had been gone from New Orleans for maybe five months. Once we came back, we didn't actually move back into the house that we had because it had to get remade. I did get a chance to see the damage that had happened to my house. It was really sad. The whole city was really devastated. It just didn't look the same. You'd walk into your house and see your refrigerator in like the living room and your clothes in the hallway.


Hometown: New Orleans

I remember the last day I was in New Orleans before the hurricane hit; I was playing pee-wee football out somewhere in Kenner, Louisiana. I remember that we loaded up the car after the game and we headed up to Baton Rouge to a friend of my mom's house, and my dad stayed behind to look after the furniture and keep watch on the house. So we moved up here and the storm hit and my dad called and said, 'It's not that big of a deal. Just a lot of rain, not much flooding.'

And then I remember the next day he called and he said, 'There's a lot of water in the house. I don't know when I'm going to be coming up. I don't know if it's going to be OK.' So I didn't see my dad for about a month after that point. Our house got eight feet of water.


Hometown: Marrero, La.

We evacuated probably two or three days before and went to Opelousas, Louisiana. We stayed there almost a whole year. Our house didn't hold up at all. My room was caved in. Just the whole house was just messed up. It was so bad we had to move into another house.

It was just like a heartbreaker because the house I'd stayed in my whole life, it was gone. We had to live in a trailer until our house got fixed. We were there for about a year.

We lived in Lincolnshire in Marrero, about five minutes outside the city. The neighborhood is all right now. I go back and visit because I stay maybe two minutes away, right next door, so it's still my old neighborhood.


Hometown: St. Rose, La.

My family went to Destin, Florida, the night before Katrina. That's where my grandma and auntie stayed at the time with some of my little cousins. We all just stayed there and we were kind of like refugees. I would have to say we were gone about two weeks.

My side, Destrehan and River Parishes didn't get that much damage. But my grandmother actually lived in the Lower Ninth Ward, right across from the Sewage and Water Board, so her house was under like 12 feet of water. I went inside and we actually had to help, me and my uncle, and we had to go in there and clean up some stuff, some trash, wear masks. Then my auntie, she stayed in Gentilly and their house, they got water real bad. I walked in the house and her bed was like in the living room, the TVs were in other rooms. Everything was just bad. It stunk so bad.


Hometown: Edgard, La.

Basically all my family that was from New Orleans -- I would say we had about 20-25 people -- we all evacuated to Atlanta where we had other family members. We were away for two or three months.

When we came back, our house wasn't too destroyed. We just had to do minor repairs to the roof and I just got back to my everyday life.


Hometown: Metairie, La.

I was only 9, so I don't remember how long we were away. We evacuated to Lake Charles, pretty much my whole family, and when we came back, our house was messed up. There was a lot of damage. We had to get rid of a lot of stuff, lost a lot of stuff.

My mom was obviously devastated, but me being young, I didn't really realize how severe it was. I was pretty much just ready to go back to school.