Katrina Story #2: Migrate to Syracuse, Nicole Morales story.

Ten years ago I documented a 17-year old student’s entire senior year in high school. I was a big part of Nicole Morales’ senior year. 

In 2005, I spent Christmas with Nicole, her mom Christine, and her friends in both New Orleans and where she relocated to  Syracuse.  Nicole’s friends would joke that she was a refugee because when Hurricane Katrina hit, her high school was destroyed. On invitation from a childhood camp friend, Nicole then later left her mother behind to live in a hotel in New Orleans and then went on to Syracuse, NY to finish her senior year. 

It started out as a three-day assignment in 2005. However, People Magazine kept sending me back to document milestone moments of Nicole’s senior year and eventually I spent the entire year with her. 
Nicole went on to graduate from George Washington University, and she now works at the State Department in Washington DC. The separation was very painful for her mother Christine and she sacrificed everything for her daughter 
Christine Morales has since passed away in 2013. Nicole and I still keep in touch these past ten years.
All photographs © 2015 Yunghi Kim/ Contact Press Images, All Rights Reserved.

Devastated New Orleans, Christmas December 2005.

xFrench Quarter, New Orleans 2005.


First Mardi Gras after Hurricane Katrina February 2006.


Home for Christmas 2005.


Nicole’s mom Christine stayed behind in New Orleans lived in a hotel for a while.


Zulu Parade New Orleans 2006.


With new friends in Syracuse.


Experiencing snow in Syracuse with host family of Lauren Levine.


Levine and Morales, two mothers hug at graduation weekend Syracuse, June 2006


Going to the prom, Syracuse June 2006.


Dancing with a friend at the prom.


With her mom Christine at the St Louis Cathedral, New Orleans 2005. Christine passed away in 2013.


Nicole’s diary from 2005-2006 written when she was 17 years old, also published in People Magazine:

Nicole Morales was eagerly anticipating her senior year at all-girls Mount Carmel Academy when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans on Aug, 29, 2005. First taking refuge in Memphis with her mother, Christine, 51 (who is divorced from Nicole’s father, David, 60), Nicole accepted an offer from the family of Lauren Levine, 18, a friend she had made four years earlier at summer camp, to come stay with them in Manlius, N.Y., outside Syracuse, until things returned to normal.

Sept. 6, 2005:  Leaving Memphis: I am a refugee. I never thought I would be experiencing anything like what I’ve been through in these weeks. It is not just a loss of a city, but a loss of an identity for me. Now I am packing up all of my belongings, trying to fit the last 17 years of my like into suitcases and boxes and preparing to move.  At the gate at the Memphis airport, the reality of the good-bye set in.  My mom realized she was losing her daughter a year early. Between bouts of tears she made an attempt to impart any wisdom she may have failed to teach me in the last 17 years.  She kept saying, “Remember to keep good posture, be respectful, do not ever let anything get in the way of your dreams.”

Sept. 7, 2005:  First Day: Wow. I don’t think I have ever felt so out of my element. I walk down the halls and do not know a single person. It’s this feeling of vulnerability. All the rules I had come to live by at my all-girls Catholic school do not exist at Fayetteville-Manlius High School. You can eat in the halls and in class or color your hair or wear crazy jewelry.  I woke up an hour early this morning to do my hair and makeup.  I realize the importance of making a good impression.

Sept. 12, 2005:  My Own Space: My living situation here is more than I could ever ask for.  I occupy the bedroom down in the renovated basement.  I have pictures of my friends all over the place.  We have dinner as a family every night, something I’ve never been a part of before. I keep reminding myself how grateful I am to even be alive and have clean food and water and power – more than I can say for many people I know.

Sept. 13, 2005:  Fitting In: I tried to step out of any sort of shell I might be in and introduce myself to everyone.  So many questions flooded my mind.  Could they detect my southern accent?  Could they ever accept me as a friend? Lauren and I went to buy school supplies, and I completely broke down. It was all too much.  Just a few weeks before, I had been buying supplies with my friends back home.  I called my mom, who is back in New Orleans.  When I finally got through, I’m not even sure she could hear what I was saying through my tears.  

Sept. 21, 2005:  Looking to the Future: Today Mrs. Levine drove my to my first Arabic lesson.  I cannot let this hurricane get in the way of my ambitions and dreams to be an ambassador in the Middle East.  I have a college interview next week and need to start working on applications. I keep playing certain New Orleans songs that remind me of home.  I am definitely in food withdrawal from my normal Cajun and Creole delicacies.  

Oct. 4, 2005:  My First Rosh Hashanah: Today I went with the Levines to the home of a family friend for a traditional Jewish meal for Rosh Hashanah.  I have never eaten a Jewish meal. It was an incredibly new experience to be the one southern Catholic girl at a table with all northern Jews to share a meal.  

Oct. 10, 2005:  College Applications: I am filling out applications, and have to say which state I am from. Louisiana? New York? Due to the hurricane, I have no record of my classes or grades the past three years.  I attempted to form a self-reported transcript, hoping colleges will allow this.  I’m writing essays about my “biggest character-builders.” I wish I could just attach a picture of my city inundated with water and underneath it write “biggest challenge.”  I have a lot of appreciation from Mrs. Levine, who helped me through this whole process.

Oct. 18, 2005:  A Chill in the Air: It’s already freezing to me.  This weather is called fall, but at home we call it winter.  When I say I have only seen snow twice, everyone sort of smirks, sort of like a warning that I have no idea what I’m in for.  

Nov. 17, 2005:  First Snow: Looking out the door and seeing snow was this incredible feeling. It’s this connection with every single Christmas movie I’ve ever watched. I was really unaware of how much layering up and wearing good shoes and gloves can make or break you.  I also thought these white flurries from the sky would be soft and welcoming, but after one or two falls in the snow you come to realize the cold icy feeling isn’t always pleasant in the morning.  I have a newfound appreciation for whoever invented gloves.

Nov. 26, 2005:  A Visit with Mom on St. Thomas: This is the first time I have seen my mom in three months, but it feels like three years.  Knowing how much I miss my friends, she suggests I move home. While I would love to be able to go back to my life, it is far from reality.  My mom is now living in the French Quarter and talks about moving to the Virgin Islands.  The city I love has changed, and the people have changed.  It’s hard to watch how much my mom misses me and wants me to be happy.  This trip has become a much-needed therapy session for the both of us. ©2006Yunghi_Kim_Morales15 Six pages spread published in People Magazine in 2006.

Dec. 1, 2005:  My Split Personality: Part of me does every possible thing to keep in touch with my friends from home. I talk to my mother every day, listen to New Orleans rap music, and count down the days until Mardi Gras.  Then there’s another part that must adapt. I’ve gotten very close to a group of three friends.  One of them, Brigid, was the first person to come say hello on my first day in math class.  It really meant a lot to me.  We’ve named ourselves the Quad.

Dec. 21, 2005:  Christmas in New Orleans: After leaving the plane, I was greeted by a group of my very best friends.  They warned me how everything had changed.  On the drive from the airport we formed a line of cars and blared music as we drove to the French Quarter.  The once heavily populated Bourbon Street was now filled with military personnel and police officers.  I was very worried that I would feel uncomfortable with my friends after now being with them for so long.  But I felt like I had never left. The first night back was hard, filled with this happiness to be home and this sadness of what home had become. My mom had decorated a Christmas tree, but not with your normal ornaments and garland.  It was a Katrina tree, decorated with caution tape as a garland and different hurricane-related objects such as water bottles and FEMA pamphlets as ornaments. Driving into the neighborhood of my school brought tears to my eyes.  Across the street, where cafes and businesses usually were filled with people and students, there were now destroyed buildings. The visit was like trying to fit an entire senior year into 10 days.  I spent every possible moment hanging out with my friends.  One night we all hung out in my friend Lindsey’s FEMA trailer.  We couldn’t help but laugh.  Never did any of us think we would be hanging out in a trailer on Lindsey’s front lawn.

Feb. 1, 2006:  New Friends: I am very grateful to Lauren and her friends for making me feel supported in my first few weeks here.  As time went on, we both realized we didn’t have to spend every moment together like conjoined twins.  With some of my other friends, I go to parties, go out to eat, or watch bands play. Sometimes when they discuss snow days or the best places to ski, I have to step back and ask for a translation. It’s almost like being a foreign exchange student in the same country.

March 18, 2006:  Mardi Gras: Being able to go home for Mardi Gras was very important.  It’s a time when everyone temporarily leaves all stress behind.  I was able to spend a day back at my school for our annual spirit day.  I walked into our old school gym, with all the students around me, and sat down among my old classmates.  There were moments where it felt like everything was fine, and I began to question why I wasn’t there.  After looking around though, I realized how much devastation was still present.  There was no working cafeteria; and as I talked to teachers and students, I realized how much stress everyone was under.  

April 9, 2006:  Big College News: I was relieved when I received the letter from George Washington University welcoming me to the Class of 2010 at the Elliot School of International Affairs.  I knew that my year in Syracuse was worth it.  To be able to attend my top choice in spite of a natural disaster and relocation across the country makes me very appreciative to everyone who helped me reach this goal.  

May 2, 2006:  The Prom in New Orleans: Last week I went to my senior prom at home.  I was able to take a really good friend as my date.  This was important to be able to share with my mom.  She’s been robbed of many of these moments parents look forward to in their teenagers’ lives.  The prom felt very normal.  One of the other all-girls schools received donated designer dresses for each student, and one of my mother’s clients found a way to provide a senior class in one of the devastated areas with prom attire as well.

June 3, 2006:  A Senior Ball Surprise in N.Y.: We began the night getting our hair and nails done, just as any group of teenagers would. I kept calling my mom to describe how I got my hair done or what my jewelry looked like.  It was killing her not to be able to be here. As I sat across from the people I had gotten to know so well, I realized leaving them wouldn’t quite be so easy.  The biggest surprise for me was the announcement of the ball king and queen.  I actually began to move towards the back as they called the names, but stopped out of curiosity to see who it would be.  In complete shock to me, I was called as the queen, giving the night such an ironic high school movie ending.

June 23, 2006:  Graduation: My mom and my aunt arrived for graduation.  As soon as Mrs. Levine and my mother saw each other, they started crying.  This was like the end of an era for them.  They knew their daughters were moving on.  My mom was realizing all she had missed this year.  She kept saying how happy and proud she was for me.  But to her it almost wasn’t a celebration; she cried at every point.  Every time I introduced her to someone, she gave them a big southern hug, told them she loved them and thanked them for being kind to me. I started this year with an attitude similar to those in a survival situation.  I thought I would just adapt and get through it.  I definitely did not forsee the friendships I would make in such a short time.  I know I couldn’t have always been easy to be around – when I was homesick or stressed – but Lauren and her parents treated me with the utmost respect and compassion. At graduation I was so happy and proud.  As I walked across the stage and looked out, I realized everyone in the audience helped me in some way.  I saw all my teachers on the stage, and I gave everyone a huge hug.  It felt good.  My mom said I had a huge smile, and she knew I was happy and it was all worth it.” We still stay in touch: 2006 high school graduation and 2014 meet up in Seoul, South Korea.

All photographs copyright 2015 Yunghi Kim/ Contact Press Images, All Rights Reserved.

Katrina Story #1. Migrate to Arkansas.

Ten years ago on August 23rd, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, destroying its levee, the city and America was unprepared. It was surreal that thousands could be stranded like this in America. After being stranded at the convention center along with thousands of others. Clarks found themselves bused out of New Orleans to an unspecified destination.  After getting rejected from couple of shelters in the middle of the night and following a 15 hour bus ride, they found themselves at Benedictine St. Scholastica Monastery, Fort Smith, Arkansas. There the Clark family settled and where, despite many familial ups and down, they remain til today. I met this rather typical displaced family when the mother, Dana Clark, fainted in front of me at the NOLA Convention Center. This is their story. All image ©2015 Yunghi Kim/ Contact Press Images. All Rights Reserved. At the Convention Center, New Orleans, Kione Clark’s mom Dana faints from heat exhaustion. As a part of citywide evacuation, Clark family was  bused to the Convention Center when the levee broke flooding much of New Orleans.  This is when I met the Clark family. Eighteen year old Kione Clark with one year old daughter Imari, comforts cousin. They got emotional as they finally saw help, the arrival of the National Guard. Where they stayed for four days at the Convention Center, New Orleans. After 15 hour bus trip and getting rejected from shelters already full, they found themselves nuns from Benedictine St. Scholastica Monastery, Fort Smith Arkansas.  Dana Smith with Sister Madeline Bariola emotional as they say good bye to a neighbors from New Orleans leaving to live with her son in Mississippi. At the Monastery. Getting ready to go to Sunday Church. Eating meals with sisters. Everyone is emotional as they say good bye to an old  family friend  Artra Marshall who was relocating to Jackson Mississippi to a relative ‘s house.  Both families were together at the Conventions Center and looked out for each other.  Artra hugs sister madeline. Patriarch James Clark. He has since passed away. First day of high school for Kione Clark at the Northside High School, Fort Smith, Arkansas. Dana Clark gets a kiss from brother Kenneth as they get ready for church. Uncle Kenneth Clark with one year old Imari. She’s now 11 years old and an honor student. Mother Dana Clark’s husband, Larry Armstrong tries to high five Imari after watching the New Orleans Saints football team’s win against Carolina Panthers.  Sister Madeline Bariola is amused. Clark family settled in Fort Smith, Arkansas where they remain til today.

Image #32. Hurricane Katrina 2005.

Image # 31. Nepal 2006.


Thinking of beautiful Nepal today.  An image I took in Kathmandu, 2006.

©2006 Yunghi Kim

Image #30. War in Kosovo 1999. Osman Geci


Another image of the Geci family. Twelve year old Osman Geci in their makeshift home in a chicken coop.

Stan Grossfeld once told me that every image has to count, and since a reader looks at an image for half of a second, it better have strong composition and balanced with content. That has always stayed with me. What’s important to me in a photograph is having an impact through intimacy and emotional connection to the subject.

Yunghi Kim ©2014, All Rights Reserved.

Photographed with Tri-x

Image #29. War in Kosovo 1999. Precious Socks.


I met Geci family on the road as they were returning home to their destroyed house in summer of 1999.  The war was ending and those who fled were coming back home to Kosovo.  The only thing left standing was a chicken co0p which they cleaned it and made it into their home.  The entire family slept on the floor in this one room chicken coop.
Caption: The family’s hardship is reflected in Osman’s socks. He’s not fazed by it as he plays with brother Naim.

Yunghi Kim ©2014. All Rights Reserved

Photographed with Tri-x

Image #28. Kisses his lieutenant’s grave 60 years later. Netherlands 2004.

Image #28. Found his lieutenant's grave 60 years later. Netherlands 2004.

On this 70th anniversary of Normandy Landing, I thought I would post this image I took on the 60th anniversary in 2004.

Corporal technician Harry Hudec of Cleveland, Ohio, kisses the grave of his Lt. Joseph Duffy, as Hudec attended the 60-year commemoration service at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, southern Netherlands, Sunday May 30, 2004. A total of 8,302 war veterans and war victims are buried at the cemetery. Hudec parachuted into Normandy, France and the Netherlands with the 82nd Airborne.

Yunghi Kim © 2014, All Rights Reserved.


Image #27. North Korean Soldier 1987.

Image #27. North Korean Soldier 1987.

In 1987, Westerners were allowed to travel to the border village of Panmunjom, South Korea, which separates North and South Korea. Before visitors were allowed entry, they had to sign a U.S. military waiver that stated their visit “will entail entry into a hostile area and possibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy actions”. The visitors were also warned gestures of any type were prohibited and that the North Korean solider would be taking pictures of every visitor. Some of the pictures taken of the visitors have shown up in North Korean newspapers with the headline, “Unhappy Americans”.

It was a time before South Korea’s friendlier Sunshine Policy towards North Korea, before family reunions, and even before the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The Korea I grew up and left in 1972 was a third world country and the average monthly salary in 1987 for an assembly line worker was $337 a month. Young Koreans from the countryside flocked to the city in hopes of securing a job in a big semiconductor assembly plant.

My grandmother took a keen interest in my pictures of the trip to the border. I remember her asking about the “Bridge of No Return” and being well versed in the history of the border. South Koreans were not allowed to travel to the border back then, but Americans could. My grandmother was from the North. She left her family there when she married my grandfather, they moved to Japan, where eventually my mother was born. When my grandparents moved back to Korea, the country had been split, and they settled in the South, where my grandfather was from. My grandmother never saw her family from the north again. Yun Sun Deok passed away in 2000.

© Yunghi Kim 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Image # 25. Rwanda 1996. Reunion.

Image # 25.  Rwanda 1996. Reunion.

I spotted Yolanda Mugeni on the road, my instincts told me to follow her home as a way to get more personally inside this massive story. After watching Rwandans drift home for days, I wanted to see where they’d end up as so many left murdered families and torched villages when they fled. I was traveling with my colleagues Paula Scully and Radhika Chalasani and good thing they came with me to follow Yolanda home. It turns out Yolanda’s journey started two weeks before when she left Kayindo camp in Zaire (Congo); her husband died in the camp, she remained with her kids and she was taking care of a neighbors’ kids who were by then orphaned.

Though Yolana spoke no English, through a broken French, Paula Scully who is fluent, was able to piece her story together. We walked with her for four hours, and I still vividly remember every step of that walk through the Rwandan countryside witnessing how beautiful Rwanda was. On arrival, Yolanda found her mother-in-law Angeline Iradukunda alive and they embraced and wept. I photographed this moment; the reunion had all of us in tears. What was two years of nightmare in Rwandan history that started in 1994 came to an end in November 1996, as told poignantly through the life of Yolanda Mugeni.

Full blog with all Rwanda series

Copyright Yunghi Kim 2014/ Contact Press Images. All Rights Reserved.

Image # 24. Rwanda 1996. Journey Home.

Image # 24. Rwanda 1996.  Journey Home.

Refugees journey home through the Rwandan mountains. Most walked like this for weeks.

Full blog here

Copyright Yunghi Kim 2014/ Contact Press Images. All Rights Reserved.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 44 other followers