Lives rebuilt in Aspen after Hurricane Katrina |

Lives rebuilt in Aspen after Hurricane Katrina

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times
Robin Weeks moved to Aspen from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

Ten years ago Saturday, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and devastated the Gulf Coast.

Though it’s been a decade since Katrina, some victims still experience the hurricane’s impact every day.

“I don’t even know how to word it, and it’s my situation,” financial planner Robin Weeks said. “I plan for the worst for catastrophes as part of my job. But you could not plan for this type of devastation. No one could.”

Weeks was living in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit, and said she wound up in Aspen following the hurricane’s mental, physical and emotional damage.

At the time, Weeks owned her own financial consulting firm in New Orleans, which she said collapsed in the aftermath of the hurricane.

“The last thing people needed to do was save for their retirement,” Weeks said.

When the hurricane hit, Weeks fled the city with $800 in her pocket and her dog in her two-seater. She drove to Alabama, where she said she slept in her car and eventually traveled to the “middle of nowhere” in Georgia, where she stayed with an elderly couple.

“I couldn’t go to my home for over a month. … There was so much that was up in the air. I had post-traumatic stress syndrome, and I didn’t even know it,” Weeks said.

“Katrina wasn’t just a week event. It was a process, and a lifestyle afterwards — even for months after, going to Home Depot meant passing military with machetes,” she said. “There weren’t any street lights in the city. It was very scary and very, very depressing.

“I decided to come to Aspen because I desperately needed tranquility in my life, and the simplicity of the lifestyle here appealed to me,” she said.

Royal Street Fine Art gallery owner Michael Paliga, who was living in New Orleans at the time of the hurricane, also relocated to Aspen post-Katrina.

“I did not realize exactly how scary staying for the hurricane would be,” Paliga said, adding that New Orleans had been evacuated many times in the past without anything having happened.

But this time was different, Paliga said.

The storm was so loud and windy that Paliga said he thought the trees surrounding his house were going to crush it. He watched a large oak tree across the street demolish his neighbor’s house, and said that his neighborhood “looked liked a forest,” with fallen limbs and trees everywhere.

“At one point, I asked a friend to promise me we were not going to die that night,” Paliga said. “We were prepared to go swimming but were very fortunate the water stopped a few blocks away.”

Police officers told Paliga that the looting and crime in the city was so out of hand that the military was coming to take over, and that even police were leaving town.

“The police told us to get the heck out,” Paliga said. “We took their advice. … We were even more fortunate we had a dry route to get out of the city.”

In the aftermath of the storm, Paliga said it was inevitable that business would be slow and tourism would be down.

So he called his business partner Peter Calamari and the two decided to move to Colorado, where Paliga had lived prior to the eight years he spent in New Orleans.

“I loved to ski, and so it made sense to come back and open a gallery here,” Paliga said. “It turned out to be a wonderful move, and although we get back to New Orleans often, Aspen is home.”

Located at 205 S. Mill St., Royal Street Fine Art gallery is named after the street in uptown New Orleans where Paliga was living at the time of Hurricane Katrina.