Jul 19, 2012

My Experience of Hurricane Katrina & How It Changed My Life...pt. 3

After meeting up with my supervisor in Baton Rogue to receive a check for my back pay we were on our way to Dallas to stay with some friends of the family, we stopped in at a Walmart in Breax Bridge.  While waiting in line there was lots of conversation around us.  If I can say nothing else about the disaster that was hurricane Katrina I can say it bought people a lot closer together.  People who wouldn't normally say Hi or Bye were walking up to strangers, asking about their condition, just very open dialogue about everything.  Well as we're in line a tall middle aged white guy turned to me and asked how I was doing.  My answer, which was the same to everyone who inquired was, "As good as can be expected."  He then responded, " Well I tell you one thing, I didn't vote for him the last time but you can bet your last dollar I'm voting for Jindal for governor this time.  This Blanco bitch is just a disgrace.  We need to start a petition to get her ass impeached."  From behind me there were quite a few nods and comments of agreement from a vast majority of shoppers which included people from many different races, sexes and walks of life.  These were followed by quiet individual conversations about how they felt Blanco didn't serve the state appropriately and how she allegedly used the disaster to fatter hers and the pockets of her cronies.  I didn't comment.  I couldn't comment for two reasons.  Governor Blanco and her husband Ray were firstly close friends of my mothers.  They'd looked out for me closely after an incident I experienced while attending USL (Now UL of L ugh).  Ray at the time was dean of students and my mother forged a fast friendship with the couple while trying to repair my situation.  Secondly, while in Baton Rouge, we'd caught very scant news about what the governor was doing to accommodate the many who were suffering through this disaster.  The only news we saw was Mayor Ray Nagin's speech about the Federal Governments' lackadaisical response to the storm victims needs.  All other coverage was about rescuing people from various locations in which they'd been stranded for days.  I had to reserve judgement as I wasn't aware of the full extent of what local officials had and hadn't done to date.  When I got to the cashier, I was greeted by an old junior high school classmate.  It was a young lady named Teri Lieberman whom I'd sat behind in most of my classes as we were usually seated in alphabetical order.  We'd formed a nice friendship in school, even referring to each other as twins although she was white and we looked nothing alike...lol.  I of course asked her how she was and if she'd made out okay thus far.  She explained to me that she wasn't sure of the damage to their home but that she and her husband were relocated by Walmart and luckily placed in the same store (she then pointed him out to me) so that was a blessing.  She shared the stories of a few other employees there who were relocated by Walmart from the St. Bernard/New Orleans area and how grateful they were.  As I bid my farewells I couldn't help but think, how fortunate it was that Walmart took the initiative to make sure their employers didn't suffer too much of a setback during this time of crisis.  I couldn't help thinking how before this disaster the Governor was considered by many the best thing since sliced bread and Walmart was considered by many to be the evil corporate monster.  My how things had changed.

Our stay in Dallas was uneventful, however because we weren't actually living in any designated shelters it was pure hell trying to get assistance from any of the disaster agencies.  The worst were FEMA and RED CROSS.  These people are the masters of giving people the run around.  There was no widespread information on finding agencies that were providing disaster assistance.  We got most of our information by word of mouth.  While trying to locate friends and loved ones (which by the way was nearly impossible as mobile phone connectivity was sketchy at best)  they'd tell us about assistance they'd received in their cities and we'd begin the detective work to find out of those resources were available where we were.  Always, we were met with stories of resource depletion "after accommodating the shelters" and form completion for waiting lists.  The only two places we found help were through a local church which setup a huge warehouse with clothing, toiletries, non-perishable foods and the like, and Texas' one stop shopping service for SNAP benefits assistance & long distance phone call and computer stations.  We used the few resources we could get to recompense out hostesses as we would not have had it any other way.  I could only imagine being bombarded with a ton of people with their own different lifestyles and personalities, not being prepared to accommodate them and worst of all, not knowing how long they were going to be there.  Luckily our hostesses enjoyed our company, loved our cooking and according to them would have loved if we'd stayed a little while longer.  We then began the process of re-grouping as a family and deciding what we were going to do next.  By this time we'd had Internet access to find a little more information on what exactly what was happening with our city and our homes.  Was it safe to return?  Did we want to return?  Was there any reason to return?  One thing was certain, my aunt wanted to return immediately.  She'd in fact never wanted to leave and there was absolutely no way of convincing her to consider any other options.  I'd just learned about the capabilities of google earth and decided to try to see what my brand new beautiful home might look like now.  When I pulled up the image of my home, I was numb.  The image was clear, there was nothing to return to.  From the sky's satellite image I could see that there was standing water....clear up to the porch's roof line.  My mind shut down and I began to run on autopilot.  According to reports the water had been sitting at the current water line in the city for about 2 weeks.  There was nothing.  Everything of mine, everything of my mother's was gone.  I recovered a tinge of hope when I considered the fact that there were a few of my mother's things that I'd stored in my aunts basement and it was a known fact that the city incurred different flood water levels in different parts of the city.  While my neighborhood of Hollygrove was prone to flooding often, my aunts uptown neighborhood, while sustaining flooding, usually wasn't as bad as mine.  There was hope.  We packed up our belongings which now included the few we'd started out with, about 3 or 4 new Walmart or Target outfits each, toiletries and nick knacks and headed back to the New Orleans area.  We as private citizens still weren't allowed to return to the city but my aunt was a state employee and would be able to return to assess damage.  We were en route to my great aunts' house in Marrero, just across the river from New Orleans.

I'm sure many who are reading this are wondering "why didn't you guys stay with family members throughout this ordeal?"  Well I'll say this, just as there was a sense of camaraderie among those of us who were strangers, and just as there were mere acquaintances who opened up their hearts and homes to us, there were just as many family, friends and loved ones who shuttered their doors tight to us.  The reasons varied, some had no more room after accommodating other friends and family, which was understandable.  Some lived very far away and at the time we weren't sure if we wanted to go that far and risk being stranded where we were.  Some even wanted to take advantage of the situation and charge astronomical fees, not understandable, evil and just plain wrong.  As I stated before, we were unsure of what was to come next so we tried our best to conserve our money as we had no clue when we'd be able to earn any more.  Unfortunately for us, we weren't "unfortunate" enough to have to resort to living in shelters so we weren't necessarily eligible for housing accommodations and more than anything, we felt it was important to stay together.  I more than anyone because I'd had a whole other side of my family, my fathers side, who weren't so fortunate when evacuating.  My sister got separated from her children, they were in Mississippi somewhere while she was in Phoenix.  I spent many hours online trying to keep up with that whole ordeal.  We were hearing stories of friends who'd expired either by drowning, rampant crime in some of the shelters, people being raped etc. etc.  It was a very difficult time for me, as I can't stress enough, I was still mourning the loss of my best friend, my mother.  I didn't know how to feel at the time, should I be sad that she's not here so we can support each other through this together?  Or was I happy that she was at peace and didn't have to experience this nightmare?  I didn't know then, and I still don't know now...


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