Opelika man shares memories of Hurricane Katrina experience

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Robert Noles/Opelika Observer

By Morgan Bryce
Staff Reporter

Two days before Hurricane Katrina was supposed to make landfall, Opelika resident and New Orleans native Blair Irvin remembers peering into the Roosevelt Boulevard canal in Kenner, La., and seeing an unusual sight.
“I had to work that Saturday before Katrina, and as I waiting to take my delivery truck out, I remember walking across the street and looking into that canal, and there was a snake and an alligator swimming together. They’re archenemies,” Irvin said.
That spectacle, paired with an unusual dream the night before, prompted Irvin to get him and his family as far away from the city as possible.
Instead of driving to Texas like many New Orleans residents, Irvin said he decided to take another route.
At Exit 59 in Mobile, Irvin remembers police officers conducting traffic to the left or right, and said he was directed to take I-65 toward Montgomery and Atlanta.
“I was just out there on the interstate, planning on going to Atlanta, but got tired out there and wound up at the Motel 6 here in Opelika (off I-85),” Irvin said.
A few days later, Irvin and his family were moved to a shelter that First Baptist Opelika had set up for Katrina refugees. It was during that week in the shelter that Irvin said he knew that God had intentionally brought him to Opelika.
“Mike Melnick from the high school came to the shelter and asked if anybody coached or could do anything at the school, and me, being a football coach, I was like ‘yeah,’” Irvin said. “I started to realize pretty quick that this was where God wanted me to be.”
Irvin started working with special needs children in Opelika City Schools in fall 2005, as well as coaching Opelika Middle School’s football and baseball teams.
Twelve years later, Irvin said he still enjoys working and living in his adopted hometown of Opelika. Now a special needs aide at OHS, assistant junior varsity and varsity baseball coach, and offensive line coach for OMS’s eighth-grade football team, he said he feels he has found his life’s purpose.
“Leaving New Orleans wasn’t hard, because I felt like I wasn’t fulfilling my purpose yet. The little middle school I was at before I left, it was one coach on offense and one on defense, and I delivered seafood,” Irvin said. “When I got here to Opelika, I learned how to coach … and I found my purpose. For most people, work is work, but for me, it’s something I enjoy and look forward to every day.”
Irvin said the recent devastation in Houston because of Hurricane Harvey has been weighing heavily on his mind.
“My television has been on Weather Channel the past few days, because I kind of know what they’re going through, when you don’t know where you’re going to live. You see people walking in the water and you wonder, ‘where are they going?” Irvin said. “My advice to them would be to depend on God and not get caught up in what they’re going through. Because if God wants to move you, then He’ll do whatever He has to do to move you and go by what He puts in your spirit to do.”
Irvin lives with his son Brandon and grandson Dajon, and is a member of Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church.

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