As told to Paul Little.
2005 was a year of two halves: before and after Hurricane Katrina. For everyone who lived in New Orleans, as I did then, this is how life breaks down, just as lives in Christchurch are defined as before and after the earthquakes.
We'd recently moved to Louisiana when I got a temporary job at Tulane University. In March I interviewed for a permanent job. If I hadn't got it, we would have had to leave New Orleans after the storm closed the university, because they got rid of everyone who wasn't permanent.
Before the storm I went to Shanghai for the first time to do research for my second novel, Hibiscus Coast, published that October. And it was the year of my parents' last visit to me in the US. We went on incredible road trips to San Antonio and to places in the Florida panhandle, later destroyed by wind and water. I had no idea that we were entering the last decade of my parents' lives, that we had less than 10 years left together.
Before the storm hit in August, we evacuated to central Louisiana. Shelters were overflowing. Nothing was organised. People opened homes, factories, churches and carparks to evacuees. It was a surreal and difficult time.
The levees broke and 80 per cent of the city flooded, so we couldn't move back until December. I came home to Auckland around the launch of Hibiscus Coast. We slept on the floor of my sister's dining room for a month.
That whole experience of evacuation was traumatic for everyone on the Gulf Coast. I keep returning to it in my work. In False River there's an extended essay called "City to Be Abandoned" after a newspaper headline. I wrote pieces of it, blog posts and interviews, during the evacuation. It took 10 years to be able to face the material again.
We were able to return briefly in September to start cleaning up. We threw away our fridge and hauled everything out from the ground floor, where we'd had almost 2m of water. When electricity was restored in December, we could move home, but the gas was intermittent, and we didn't get the phone again until the following April. There were stray dogs and rats everywhere but no birds. The National Guard rumbled past in tanks, and the Salvation Army came by to see if we wanted food.
Returning to the ruined city where everything was a mess sowed the seeds for my first young adult novel, called Ruined. I didn't finish it for a couple of years but it's set in New Orleans just after the storm. That's been by far my most successful book to date — it's sold over 300,000 copies in the US.
It's 13 years ago but still incredibly vivid to me. I can't stand to see films or television footage of the storm. And it's given me tremendous sympathy for people in Canterbury. The rest of the world moves on and thinks you should be okay but you're living with the debris and trauma for decades.
To start the year in Shanghai and end it in apocalyptic New Orleans was imaginatively fertile, but also over-stimulating. It's hard not to think that if I hadn't got that job we couldn't have stayed and life would have been so different.
Paula Morris discusses her work in "False River: Paula Morris", today, 2.30pm, as part of the Auckland Writers Festival.