When Kevin Farrell got the call to evacuate New Orleans in August 2005, he didn’t think much of it. “Everyone was saying this could be the big one but I’d gone through a couple of years of hurricanes and it was always OK. So I went to Burning Man [a festival 2,000 miles away in Nevada] and just forgot about it. There’s no radio or news in the middle of the desert, no cellphones — so I didn’t really know what had happened until I left several days later.”
What had happened was a catastrophe. Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29, its trail eventually killing more than 1,000 people, causing $135bn of damage and unleashing floods that left a million residents, including Farrell, homeless.
With his possessions soaking in 8ft of water, and no family to shelter him, Farrell — a student at the city’s Loyola University at the time — abandoned all hope of returning home. Instead, he made straight for Seattle, armed with little more than a pair of broken glasses, a train ticket from the Red Cross and the name of a couple who friends said would take him in.