Sunday, February 12, 2006

Katrina: the casualties in my world

Fortunately, no one I know personally actually died in the storm, though I know people who know people.... but, just to give you a sense of how many people were affected, a brief summing up:

1. Parents in Metairie: one floor slightly wet, wind damage to the house, 12" of water in their business, which had to be gutted, rebuilt, and machinery repaired. Imagine the smell of a walk-in freezer full of melted, moldy frozen yogurt... so glad I didn't have to be there to clean it up.

2. Best friend since 7th grade: six feet of water in rental house, no flood insurance (just finished grad school), lost everything that wasn't on a top shelf. Metairie, near Airline and Causeway. She was at Touro Infirmary and had to evacuate on Wednesday in an over-stuffed car full of humans, dogs, and cats. Her brother, a cardiologist at Touro, stayed til Saturday, when FEMA evacuated patients but left staff to fend for themselves.

3. Ex-boyfriend in New Orleans East: six feet + in one story house, everything ruined. No flood insurance. Evacuated with two days' worth of clothing and his truck, which was all he owned when he returned six weeks later. Every photo of his dead parents is lost. I'm still having bad dreams about this one, since I painted every wall in that house. Flood waters, get this, shove window-unit air conditioners into the house. Who knew? When I went to look, there was a dead rat in the bathroom. What in the hell kills a rat??

4. Aunt and uncle in Lakeview (near I-10/610 split): 8 feet of water in two-story house, but it was there for weeks, so upstairs is moldy and corroded. Insurance has given them money, but not enough to rebuild. Is it even safe to? No one knows. They're probably going to pay off their mortgage and wait-and-see if they can/should rebuild, then take out a new one if they decide to. While evacuated, his mother died. When they came back, their oldest dog died. 2005: annus horibilus.

5. Cousin in Mandeville, whose husband is from Chalmette: her parents-in-law, and sister-in-law's family of four lost everything to the flood & oil spill in St. Bernard Parish. All six stayed with the cousin (and her husband and two children) for over a month. The parents are still there, and building in Abita. Again, who knows if it's safe to return to Chalmette?

6. Friend from high school in Mid-City: no flooding, hole in her roof caused both kitchen ceilings to cave in (she's got a shotgun double). Couldn't return home for almost two months. Didn't have gas to heat her water or her house until December. Still no phone service. I think they finally have cable.

7. Grad school friend, around the corner from #6: her house flooded and is still gutted. Just try and find a contractor in NOLA right now. She's in Boston on a research fellowship while her house sits and waits for attention.

8. Painter friend in Gentilly: first floor flooded and then gutted. She evacuated, her husband holed up, was out of touch for nearly a week, and spent the week after the storm in a flatboat rescuing the living, and tying dead bodies to light poles so they wouldn't be washed away. They couldn't go back for months but are rebuilding.

9. Photographer friend in same Gentilly neighborhood: house flooded and now gutted. Daughter went to 5 schools in three months, and finished the semester in Alexandria. They are rebuilding, but he lost all his negatives and a lot of his photography equipment. His specialty photography business has become an "i'll shoot anything" photo business.

10. Everyone at the New Orleans Museum of Art: 80 people were laid off by October. Some are being rehired, slowly.

11. Artist friends in Gulfport: house ruined (had to be bulldozed), studio standing but all artwork and supplies ruined. They both lost their jobs and are now on fellowship in the midwest. I don't think they'll be back.

12. Friend's parents in Ocean Springs: storm surge swept through their house, ruining everything (photos, home movies, musical instruments), and leaving fish, oil, and muck. They are retired teachers and had no flood insurance.

13. Intern's parents in Moss Point: storm surge swept through their house, ruining everything. Last I heard they were in a FEMA trailer.

14. Former co-worker's inlaws in Montague: made it through Katrina, lost everything to Rita flooding. Now in a FEMA trailer.

This is just off the top of my head. There are thousands of stories in the storm zone like these. I get survivor's guilt when I talk to my friends in the new New Orleans, or people from the Coast. Would you rather come home to an empty slab, or a house molding and rotting from the inside out? It's hard to say, isn't it?

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