Back Home from the Brink of Katrina
I'm from the suburbs of New Orleans, and was living right smack dab in the middle of New Orleans a little over two weeks ago. I'm finally back from my evacuation. I'm here in Slidell, Louisiana, one of the hardest-hit towns of the hurricane zone (yes, Katrina did hit places other than New Orleans and Biloxi-Gulfport, though they get scarce mention in the news). This town looks like a war zone-- there are trees and powerlines down everywhere, military and national guard figures roaming the streets, big military humvees and supply trucks driving through town, and far too few disaster relief centers scattered here and there. I've never seen anything like it, and I've lived in this hurricane-prone area all my life (25 years).
I haven't heard anything about my apartment in New Orleans, if it's still there, or if it's in decent condition. You have to drive through various checkpoints to get there, and if you aren't an "official person" or whatever, you're turned back. That's probably for the best, though. The 'not knowing' part is just hard...
You want to know what this hurricane has done to my family and me, a typical, white middle class family from the suburbs? Let me first give you our background: I had just started my first year at Tulane Law School, my father is (well, was) a naval architect in Jefferson Parish, my mother is a middle school teacher here in Slidell.
For me, now, law school has been "postponed" for another year, as Tulane simply had to cancel school. Some of my classmates, from other parts of the country, were able to get into the few schools that were accepting 1Ls. But for me, that would have meant moving to a brand new city with about $100 to my name, all with just what I brought to evacuate (2 shirts, 2 pairs of shorts, and 1 pair of flip-flops, and my medicine) and all with the notion that everything I had from my home, both my parents' home where I had spent 25 years off-and-on and my new apartment in New Orleans, could be destroyed. It just wasn't feasible. So my life-long dream of becoming a lawyer will be another year in the waiting. It'll happen, though, I'm feeling positive about it. In the meantime, I have no job now, since I was planning on being in school the next three years, and no way to pay the rent on my New Orleans apartment. But I'll survive. I can't complain.
My father is unable to even get to his office in Jefferson Parish, nor are his 30-40 coworkers. Luckily his company has their headquarters in Houston, but fairly unluckily, he and all his coworkers are having to move there for at least the next 4 months. The rumors are flying that once they get there, the company will make them stay and will not rebuild the New Orleans office, but we are hoping (and praying) that that's not true. For now, we only have to suffer through the separation, but my family is very close and strong. We'll survive that.
The school where my mother teaches at is still standing, but that is all that can be said really, after they got 9+ feet of water and muck in the buildings. It's a Catholic school, and the local archdiocese has been very unChristian in their behavior towards the victims of this hurricane. (Before the hurricane, the N.O. archbishop holed himself up in a fancy home in Baton Rouge and refused to talk to anybody, to help anybody, to give money or time for relief efforts, etc. He's lived in the gracious lap of luxury while others have starved to death and lost all their worldly possessions. I feel no shame in saying he's a thoroughly despicable man, though some of the priests have been very generous with their time and efforts.) Anyway, the archdiocese originally had no interest in fixing up the school, and was going to offer only one-months pay to my mom and everyone else, which is despicable. My mom has worked there since 1983, and she could be discarded like a rotting field mouse and the archbishop and local Catholic hierarchy couldn't give a rat's ass. The local parishioners, however, are trying desperately to come up with a solution to keep the school open (at another location) that the archdiocese will approve. Everything is now up in the air.
It is amazing how 2 weeks and one day ago I was a law school student, my dad was a naval architect in Harahan (in Jefferson Parish, for the non-locals), and my mom was a middle school teacher. In less than a few hours, all that has changed, and at least for my mom and me, our futures are uncertain.
Let me stress, however, that we are very, VERY fortunate. We are all alive, our house in Slidell came out fairly unscathed, we had somewhere to evacuate to and stay for two weeks while the city was closed, we now have at least one paycheck coming in, and we never had to miss any meals. Please don't feel sorry for me, and please don't feel I am fishing for sympathy. There are thousands, maybe even millions of people, who were hit so much worse by this storm than my family and I were, and my heart aches for them. I hope that everyone in this country who can give or do something to help them, has.
I will write later about politics (oh trust me, this has me riled up!) and other effects of the storm, but tonight is my first night with the internet, so I simply wanted to post an update. If you are reading this, please, please keep all the Katrina victims in your thoughts and your heart-- everyone here has been affected, from the absolutely minute to the absolutely devastating. None of us was spared anything in this storm, but again, I cannot complain in any way whatsoever (well, except about the federal response to this tragedy, but that'll be later). I am so fortunate-- I only wish everyone had come out as fortunate as me and my family.