Wading Through Katrina's Aftermath

Charbonnet Mid-City Carriages' trucks were gassed and ready to evacuate horses and mules yesterday (Aug. 29) from New Orleans, La., as Hurricane Ernesto began its move toward the United States. Fortunately, the storm didn't track toward the still-recovering Gulf Coast.

Mid-City Carriages' employee Darnell Stewart and his Paint stallion Brandy made headlines last year following Hurricane Katrina. Stewart and Lucien Mitchell, who also worked at Mid-City, rescued the organization's horses and mules from fast-rising floodwaters in downtown New Orleans (http://www.thehorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=6114).

Thousands of concerned Americans saw the photograph of Stewart and Brandy riding through the floodwaters of New Orleans. The streets are now dry and clear of debris around Charbonnet Mid-City Carriages, where Stewart lives and works, but the memories of Katrina are still fresh.

"We have people here (returning to New Orleans), but it's still not the same," Stewart says, adding that he can't shake the memories of those days of chaos and uncertainty following Katrina. "I'm trying to just cope with it. I think of it every single day when I wake up because I'm sleeping in a FEMA trailer."

He says he often dreams about when he was sleeping on a bridge in the days following the storm, when he and Mitchell were taking turns watching the carriage horses and mules they had moved to safety as floodwaters rose.

Stewart is daily reminded of Katrina by hip and hamstring pain, which he believes stem from the injury he sustained on underwater debris five days after the storm when he was trying to find help. Regardless, Stewart is glad he rescued and stayed with the animals. "I'm glad I saved mine because I don't know what I would've done. I've had him since he was a 2-year-old colt."

Brandy is doing well, serving as Stewart's personal gymkhana horse most of the time and as a carriage horse in the French Quarter on special occasions. Stewart drives the carriage company horses on weekends, and he helps with the care of the animals during the week. Today (Aug. 30), Stewart said he has been preparing Brandy for a weekend show. Brandy has bred two mares this year, and Gulf Coast horse owners like Louis Pomes (http://www.thehorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=6215) plan to breed mares to Brandy to re-establish their herds after losing horses last fall.

Business is slow in New Orleans due to a drop in tourism. "It's almost at a standstill," said Stewart. "There are a lot of funerals and stuff like that with the horse-drawn hearse, but nothing big."

He explained that this time of year is historically slow for tourism because of hurricane season, but 2006 is especially quiet. It's a wait-and-see time, where employees watch the weather forecasts and hope that they will be spared from hurricanes.

Louis Charbonnet, owner of Mid-City, bought 40 acres near Gonzales, La., which is farther inland from New Orleans. The facility will be used as an evacuation location in the event of another hurricane. It also serves as a satellite base for operations when the company provides carriage rides in Baton Rouge, something it launched on Valentine's Day this year.

Stewart doesn't like to think of the possibility of another major hurricane hitting the region. "We're just going to wait and see and hopefully it won't turn out bad and we don't have to run."

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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