ALLEN PARK, Mich. – The television has given reminders Cornelius Lucas never wanted. The pictures bring back memories he’ll never forget – as much as he might want to. The devastation in Houston with Hurricane Harvey ... he has lived it before.
Twelve years ago, that was him. That was New Orleans. That was Hurricane Katrina, the last late-summer hurricane to flood a city and change lives forever.
“You empathize with them. You empathize with the people living there because that’s not something that you just get over easily,” Lucas said. “That’s going to traumatize people for the rest of their lives. Especially, that was, they might have gotten more water than we did. The pictures that I’ve been seeing, how high the water is, like how it’s coming underneath bridges and stuff like that, I don’t feel like our water got that high.
“At certain points, probably at the highest point, but that water was just outrageous.”
Lucas still makes his offseason home in New Orleans when he’s not in Detroit as a reserve offensive lineman for the Lions. So he’s often gone for the brunt of hurricane season in his hometown. Eventually, though, he probably will move back there permanently after his career ends. He will never, though, ride out a hurricane in his home if he can avoid it.
If he hears one is coming close to wherever he is living and he has the means, he’ll evacuate. That, he said, is part of the issue. It bothers him when he hears people openly question why Houstonians – and New Orleans residents before – didn’t evacuate. Why they stayed.
Some of them didn’t have a choice.
“I hate when people be like, ‘You should have evacuated. You should have done this,’ “ Lucas said. “With what means? A lot of people don’t have spare money just to throw on gas and food and pack their family up and spend a week in a hotel. I remember we had a hurricane after Katrina and me and my family had to pick up and go to Atlanta for a week.
“That set us back for a while because we had to spend money on gas and a hotel and driving up there. Money that you just don’t have on an everyday basis. It’s a tough ordeal, man. It’s really tough. I really sympathize with those people.”
Lucas had been in Georgia during Katrina – moving there weeks before the hurricane – but his sister, Letress, lived in the city and stayed during Katrina. So did his grandparents and other family members. Most of Lucas’ family’s belongings were in New Orleans when the storm hit. They were almost all washed away.
Lucas still is bothered by the baby pictures and other family heirlooms lost in Katrina – things that can never be replaced. When he’s home, he sees parts of the city that never really returned after Katrina – blocks of homes still unrestored. Friends and family who left and never came back, permanently relocating after Katrina destroyed almost all their possessions.
Many of those family and friends relocated to the Houston area, where they are living a similar event all over again. Lucas said the friends and family he has spoken with in Houston are OK and on higher ground.
But watching what is happening in Houston “brings back bad memories.” He’s also seeing teammates go through the similar constant phone calls he and his family endured 12 years ago. Lions safety Glover Quin and special teams coach Joe Marciano are among the Lions who have family in Houston.
Soon after Katrina, Lucas moved back to New Orleans. He saw the rebuilding. He knows it’s going to take a long time in Texas.
“Just have to wait for the water to subside,” Lucas said. “And then pick up the pieces after that. It’s a tough ordeal.”