3 Vikings bound by 3 unique Katrina stories

- On the week of Aug. 29, 2005, Mike Wallace was supposed to be focused on his first game week as a college football player. But on that Monday in Oxford, Mississippi, his attention shifted from the opening opponent Memphis to his hometown of New Orleans.

"My family, I didn't know where they were,” Wallace said. “I knew my mom evacuated with her job, but I had no idea if the rest of my family was down there. Calling home, and not getting through for weeks, that was probably the toughest part. It's scary because you are looking at the news and you see how crazy it is. You try to go to class, but you're worried about your family and your whole city is in danger."

30 miles due north of New Orleans, Michael Mauti witnessed the wind rip through his hometown of Mandeville, Louisiana.

"Once we got out of the farm area we were at, all we saw were choppers and it was like a warzone. It's something I'll never forget,” Mauti said.

But riding out the storm was just the beginning of a long ride to normalcy on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain.

"We just cut and cleared trees from sun up to sunset for 3 or 4 weeks, and that truly gave you appreciation for the little things in life,” Mauti said. "You didn't have a phone for a month, or two months. You didn't have TVs or anything of that nature, no smart phones. It was definitely a humbling experience."

“In an emergency response situation, it was a real touch and go situation. We had to protect our house. People were sitting on the porches with shotguns because we heard reports that people were coming into our neighborhoods, and looting up houses. It was a scary time. Especially being 15 years old, it's something you never expect to see at that age."

One state over, Tom Johnson was preparing for his final season at Southern Miss in Hattiesburg, and his future in football.

"I tell people all the time that it hit Mississippi harder than it hit Louisiana,” Johnson said.

While Katrina ravaged campus, he and his team were evacuated to Tennessee, but Johnson’s family faced the storm on the Gulf Coast in Moss Point, Mississippi.

"I actually went back for the first time that December. So you're thinking after a few months it should be okay,” Johnson said. “When I got there, it actually looked like it would've hit the day before. Still had people who hadn't found family members. On the Gulf Coast, there were towns that were almost non-existent anymore. It was a blessing to know that the people you did know, actually survived it."

Katrina took away plenty from the Gulf Coast – property, possessions, lives -- losses that are remembered in the New Orleans area to this day.

"The city has come a long way, but I don't think it will ever be the same,” Mauti said. “Things have started to rebound, but that's an event that definitely changes a city."

But Katrina could not destroy the culture and communities that follow these players wherever they go.

"Every time I step on that field, it's for my city,” Wallace said. “I have it tattooed on my neck. I will represent New Orleans until the day I die. No matter where I go, no matter where I live, I’ll always be New Orleans."
 


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