Hurricanes, life courses unpredictable

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 29, 2008

A map charting the paths of hurricanes looks a little like a mound of spaghetti sitting on a map of the Gulf of Mexico.

North, south, east and west — there is no predicting where these power storms go. They meander in all directions.

For weather aficionados these charts of tangled lines are intriguing.

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Yet, a more fascinating diagram might be one that tracks the lives of those affected by such storms.

Some survivors take little time to recover and reclaim their lives. Others never fully recover.

For most the trajectory of their lives begin to resemble that of a hurricane — some times moving straight ahead, other times circling back and forth.

One such survivor is Natchez native Noelle Nolan.

It has taken three years for Nolan to get back to where she was on September 28, 2005 — literally back to the Gulf Coast.

From floral designer at the Beau Rivage Casino to industrial welder for Northrop Grumman in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina sent Nolan’s life down a path that she hadn’t planned.

Recalling those nervous days before the storm, Nolan said she never expected the extent of the devastation from Katrina, despite warning signs.

“There was an air of panic among casino managers that I had never seen before,” Nolan said. “But I expected us to be back to work in two to three days.”

Soon television images and a return trip five days later made Nolan realize that her life path would be forever changed.

With a house severely damaged and the Beau Rivage casino closed indefinitely, Nolan returned home to Natchez to begin charting a new path.

Having worked in the casino’s shop and taken a sculptural welding class, Nolan decided to pursue welding as her new career option.

She signed up for welding classes at an area community college.

At the same time, Nolan put to use the lessons she learned from Katrina.

She filled her time less with work and more with community and personal artistic pursuits.

“Hurricane Katrina made me grateful for my community,” Nolan recently said. “It has made me value time and how I spend it.”

“It made me a lot more sentimental,” Nolan said recalling many of the personal items she lost in the storm.

While attending school, Nolan also fostered her love for pottery at Natchez Clay.

As a studio intern, she creates fantastical pottery full of energy and imagination.

Now after three determined years, Nolan has started to see her new life bear fruit. Just last week she accepted a welding job in New Orleans.

The past few days have been spent finding a new home and preparing to move back to the area she left exactly three years ago.

Now comes Gustav.

The new storm churning in the Caribbean looks like it will temporarily put Nolan’s plans on hold to move Labor Day weekend.

“Three years to the date and I can’t move,” Nolan said with a laugh. “I find it a little ironic to work back to this point and now this.”

But Nolan expects that Gustav will eventually pass and she will be able to get on with her new life in New Orleans.

And if by chance Gustav ends up being another Katrina, Nolan is confident that she has charted the right course.

Ben Hillyer is the web editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at