Seven years, four months, and eighteen days: this is the exact amount of time Joe Rillieux has been stranded on his rooftop in New Orleans since the devastating superstorm that was Hurricane Katrina.
The storm cell formed on Aug. 23, 2005, giving residents of the Gulf Coast just six days to prepare before the storm made land fall on the 29th. Residents either chose to board up their houses and wait it out, or take to higher ground and evacuate their coastal communities. A majority of residents chose not to heed National Weather Service warnings, choosing to stay instead, “in the hopes to either survive or go down with the ship,” said Rillieux.
Rillieux is one of the residents who chose to stay and do what he described as “yelling at the sky, like that crippled, hippie Lieutenant Dan did, on that boat in that good ol’ boy movie Forrest Gump.” He later confided, “I do regret that decision. I wish I’d gone over to my sister’s in Baton Rouge. It probably would have worked out better.”
When asked why he remained on his roof rather than accepting any aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), or from his neighbors who “now desperately want him to get down,” his response was very insightful. He said, “It’s like this: I started out being stubborn and not knowing it, but then I found out I was being stubborn, but at that point I couldn’t stop being stubborn because then I’d just look like an idiot.” Rillieux did not see the irony in this statement.
Not only has Rillieux stayed on his roof for close to seven and a half years, but he has also cut a hole in it and brought up all of his furniture. He even has running water and a television. He spends most of his time learning to paint with Bob Ross, and the only thing that really upsets him is when he is asked about Hurricane Sandy.
“Those Hurricane Sandy victims– they don’t know nothing about life,” Rillieux said.
Rillieux plans to stay on his roof until he receives a personal apology from former President George W. Bush. While that prospect remains unlikely, Rillieux continues to hold on to hope, and hope alone.