Katrina Aftermath

This blog talks about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It explores the effects it had on the Golf Coast area and the victims of the storm. It profiles different people and their attempts at rebuilding their lives.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

This is just a small post to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and to thank you for your interest in my blog. On this day I hope that everyone is thankful for the things that they have in their lives. Please take the time to think of those less fortunate, especially the victims of Katrina. I found it so heart warming to read about all of these people who lost everything in the storm, such as their house, clothes, loved ones and even a bit of their health; and they are still thankful for whatever they were able to hold on to or get back. People in the Gulf Coast area are trying their best to pull it together and bring whatever traditions they can to the table today. I have provided a story where a few victims speak about their thankfulness amid the ruins.

Another story, sparks a feeling of gratefulness for my family. Although we are going through some hard times right now, I am happy I am able to hug them and tell them how much I love them. Please take the time today to tell the people who are important to you how much you appreciate and love them because you don't know when another chance to do that will come.

Don't forget that it is never too late to help the victims of Katrina. I have provided several links so that you can make a contribution. Help make someone's holiday season a little brighter.

Update: In my post "The Truth Comes Out" I provided a link to a FEMA bio of Michael Brown. When I recently clicked on it, it brought me to a FEMA error page. I thought that this was very strange, so I searched FEMA for anything on Micheal Brown and all I could find were press releases and stories that reference him. I also used other search engines and got the same results. I think that this is so weird ! I am going to look into it more and let you know what I find.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Season Greetings from New Orleans

Since Thanksgiving is only days away, most people are already concentrating on Christmas. I have already wrote about what the people of New Orleans are going through as they prepare for Turkey Day, which makes me wonder what they are doing to prepare for Christmas. Christmas is usually a time of giving, but it is obviously a time of recieving, too. People are used to getting gifts that they don't always need, but ones that they want. In this case, people are in need of the simple everyday things we take for granted, so what will be under the Christmas trees this year in New Orleans? Here is a story about different families and what they are doing for the holidays in New Orleans.

As Glenn Poche looked for sales in the hardware department and his wife combed through racks of clothing, luxuries like grand turkey dinners and festive holiday shopping were far from their minds. For the Poches, the date on the calendar is the only indication the holiday season has arrived. There’s not enough space in their federally issued trailer to have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner — even the oven is too small for a turkey — and there’s certainly not enough room under a Christmas tree to replace what they have lost.

Since Hurricane Katrina hit Aug. 29 and their home was flooded by Hurricane Rita just weeks later, the Poches have been focused on rebuilding. But even if they and thousands of other New Orleans-area residents try to celebrate a traditional holiday season, they’ll have a hard time — damaged stores have found it hard to reopen, there’s a shortage of workers and inventory is limited. Long waits in lines are common, whether it’s a shopping trip for household items
popular gifts like iPods.

Still, merchants are doing their best to bring holiday cheer. Christmas trees, holiday wreaths and decorative garlands have gone up in malls and shopping centers. Royal Street store owners have offered to expand their traditional decorating into other parts of the city’s French Quarter.
But even the fanciest lights and ornaments cannot conceal the destruction. A giant wreath strewn with red ribbon hangs in the shadow of stories-tall scaffolding loaded with workers resurfacing a mall’s exterior. At some stores, shoppers walk around caution tape where floors are stripped bare and lower walls are ripped out. The Sears just across the Mississippi River from New Orleans is the only store in Oakwood Mall open since the shopping center was gutted by fire and looting. Large portions of the store remain closed off by blue drapes because of damage or lack of merchandise.

Sections that are open are packed with rows of chain saws, refrigerators, freezers, washers, dryers, as well as sheets, towels and clothing. Missing are the singing and dancing Elmo dolls, Finding Nemo toys and Hello Kitty purses. “I don’t know if I can get into Christmas, to tell you the truth,” Poche said, lugging a large sabre saw, one of the replacement tools on his list since his shed was wiped out by floodwater. He said he plans to shop for his grandchildren, eventually, but won’t be able to spend as much as he usually does.

Residents trying to restock their homes have different priorities this holiday season. Karen Wheat, manager at a Sears in suburban Metairie, said the store has been selling in one day the number of refrigerators it used to sell in a week. There are more men in the stores now, she said. With many schools still closed and homes too badly damaged to be lived in, “wives and children are still away,” she said. “Women who are here are stocking up on clothes and shoes.”
Simply getting into the holiday spirit has been hard as many residents remain separated from family members and are living in temporary housing. Even those lucky enough to return to their homes are finding daily life so far from normal that a holiday season just doesn’t seem right.

Elenora and Joseph Clinton were shopping for their seven grandchildren at Target while talking about how they’re going to have Thanksgiving dinner on the bare concrete floors of their home, which has been stripped because of water damage. They said it can’t be fixed until January.

For Nancy Lopresto, this will likely be the last holiday season she spends in the New Orleans area. Katrina so badly damaged her father’s house that he moved to Denham Springs and isn’t sure he’s coming back. Lopresto, with her husband and two young sons, is moving to Austin, Texas, in January. Even Lopresto’s mother has decided to retire from her job at a hospital here and move to Austin.“It doesn’t feel the same. New Orleans doesn’t feel the same,” Lopresto said. “Every time I look around and see decorations, I can’t believe it’s the holidays.”
Lopresto and her husband aren’t swapping gifts, she said. “Our present to each other is the move, a new start,” she said. “The boys know we’re moving. They know it’s going to be a small Christmas.”

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Preparing for the Holidays!!!

This time of year has always been my favorite because it is just one holiday after another. With Halloween's passing everyone looks forward to Thanksgiving and for Christians, Christmas seems to be right around the corner. For most people it is a time a tradition and thanks, but what about the victims of Katrina? I couldn't imagine being in any position to give thanks if I were in their shoes. It is kind of hard to carry out traditions when your house has been destroyed and family members are separated or missing; but the disaster isn't stopping many New Orleans families and restaurant owners. They are determined to help New Orleans keep their Thanksgiving spirits up and celebrations alive!

Not that Greg (pictured below) and Mary Sonnier ever served a Thanksgiving dinner at their New Orleans restaurant Gabrielle: For nearly two decades, it's been the same routine: Mornings were spent eating with Greg's parents, and afternoons visiting one of Mary's sisters.

As it did to hundreds of thousands of families, Hurricane Katrina reshuffled the Sonniers' lives — including their holiday plans. Greg's parents are still patching up their New Orleans house after a pecan tree fell on it. Five feet of water flooded the house of Mary's sister Jean; her sister Ann's home is underwater. The couple are playing host this year to an expected crowd of 20 friends, relatives and neighbors. "We've never had a Thanksgiving at our own home before," says Mary Sonnier, "so this is the start of a new tradition for our family."

Few American cities have come to embrace a culture of food so wholeheartedly as New Orleans, and no holiday is as tied to food as Thanksgiving. For the city's chefs, this year's celebration has also become a time to reflect on life after Katrina — possessions lost, loved ones saved, traditions that need to live on. Some are set to return, like the annual Turkey Day Race held in City Park. One that won't be revived this year is opening day for thoroughbred races, held each Thanksgiving at the New Orleans Fair Grounds, home to the city's racetrack and to the world-famous Jazz Fest.

So much has changed since last Thanksgiving. In the French Quarter, where locals like Bill and Betty Norris would host open feasts for 40 or 50 people, few workers and even fewer visitors are around to liven up the mood. Elsewhere, some neighborhoods have come back to life as newly returned residents and visitors shop and eat. Certain landmark restaurants, like French Quarter icon Galatoire's, will be shuttered for months. (Meantime, Galatoire's is opening a bistro outpost in Baton Rouge, to the shock of many regulars.) But others, like oyster haven Casamento’s, are back in business. Many will be setting a communal table come Thanksgiving.

"It'll be the 16th Thanksgiving in a row for us since weve opened," says chef Susan Spicer(pictured below), who's planning a traditional meal for 100 at her French Quarter restaurant Bayona. "I think we will probably know everyone in the dining room. ... It's a gesture of saying thank you for what's left." Spicer, 52, has been commuting from Jackson, Miss., where her husband and stepchildren are still residing after the family's home in the Lakeview neighborhood was totally flooded. They'll join her after the service for "a quiet night somewhere."

Bayona, which will reopen Nov. 18, lost power for three weeks but otherwise was largely unscathed. But most of the 8,000 bottles in its wine "attic" didn't survive the weeks of heat and humidity after the power went out and Spicer's chef de cuisine relocated to Portland, Ore.
Even for home cooks, the basics will be difficult. Stores are scrambling to line up supplies, worsening a logistical crunch most retailers already face in stocking once-a-year items like turkeys and cranberries. "Every store has a line halfway down the aisle, so I can only guess what its going to be like for Thanksgiving," says Greg Sonnier. "The cooking part will be the easy part."

The Sonniers, who returned to their Uptown home after sitting out the storm in Memphis, Tenn., are banking on the local Saturday farmer's market, and they solved part of the shopping dilemma with frequent trips west on I-10 to the towns around Lafayette, where their 16-year-old daughter Gabrielle is temporarily attending school. Greg knows the territory well. His father grew up nearby in Scott, and Greg's childhood Thanksgivings in Cajun country would draw 70 relatives and friends. "You're talking the longest table I've ever seen," he says.

Spicer's seafood vendors have again started bringing her top-notch crab and oysters. "The production is still limited but definitely available sooner than we expected, happily," she says. "The influx of salt water seems to have flushed everything out."

Traditions mean a lot in the Crescent City. For one of her two turkeys, Mary Sonnier will invoke her mother's tried-and-true method of covering the bird with a brown paper bag drenched in olive oil, then slow-roasting it at 200 degrees. She'll smoke the other. Greg will roast his brother's sweet potato recipe. "The culinary community feels a real sense of obligation to reestablish the culture that's made the city what it is for so many years," says Bayona chef Susan Spicer.

Though tempted to bag one of the wild turkeys she sees along the Natchez Trace, Spicer will opt for her traditional menu of suckling pig and brined turkey with an herbed bread stuffing made with shrimp, andouille and cornbread, and satsuma gravy. Green gumbo and the Bayona house special, cream of garlic soup, will be on offer. "If we're real lucky, we'll get nice enough weather to sit out in the courtyard, too," Spicer says. Nothing, she insists could beat "eating your turkey and stuffing under the banana trees."

I have provided some links to help you spice up this year's Thanksgiving. Here are some cheifs favorite Thanksgiving recipes along with 9 tips for a great Thanksgiving. I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Flames Following the Floods

There is still no information reguarding the individuls that I profiled in my "Rebuilding Lives" segment. This is probably because they have not recieved any retribution for their damages. Andre, Gisele and Roger were not fully insured and appearantly neither were thousands of others. Even those who had insurance may not have specifically had flood insurance so now some victims are taking matters into their own hands. Some of the New Orleans homes drowned by the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina have been damaged by a second calamity — fire.

Both Louisiana investigators and insurance companies are starting to look into the blazes amid reports that some may have been set by desperate people who had no flood insurance but want to collect on their policies.

“I can tell you we are aware of those kind of allegations and we have seen claims where we view the fire as suspicious,” said Allstate spokesman Bill Mellander. "There has been an increase, or spike, in the number of claims in fire losses compared to what we would normally see,” said State Farm Insurance spokesman Morris Anderson.

The standard home owner’s policy pays only for wind and rain damage, meaning that people without added flooded insurance weren’t covered for damage caused by the water that submerged 80 percent of the city for weeks after Katrina.

“The rash of fires is concerning because we have a lot of homes that did not have insurance or had the wrong insurance,” said Lt. Allen Carpenter, director of the fraud investigation unit for the Louisiana State Police. One arrest has been made in suburban Jefferson Parish, a 26-year-old man was charged with setting fire to his parent’s damaged house. Now every fire is investigated and if something looks suspicious, if the fire has several points of origin, if there appears to be a propellent, it’s going to get extra attention.

The main type of homeowners’ fraud that usually turns up after a hurricane is “claim padding,” said Frank Scafidi, Director of Public Affairs at the National Insurance Crime Bureau. This is when the policy owner has some damage, but during the period following the storm before adjusters get there they enhance it. They do things like knock the rest of the fence down, pull off the rest of their shingles, ect.

Two types of automobile fraud are turning up — people passing off flood-damaged vehicles as undamaged and people claiming losses they did not have. The first couple of claims that were looked at were people who evacuated but claimed their vehicles were stolen or flooded. They eventually turned up hidden in malls in the cities the people had evacuated to. It’s kind of unusual that the thief took them to the same city.

Tips about people filing fraudulent claims have been pouring in from the public.
Pay now, investigate later companies are paying claims now but may investigate them later. The idea is to settle, get people the money they need as quickly as possible, but just because they’re paid doesn’t mean the companies won’t investigate. People caught filing fraudulent claims could face jail time. An attorney general’s fraud task force set up after Katrina will investigate fraud involving as little as $2,000 as a federal offense.

The number of fraudulent claims is expected to rise as more people return to the area. This loss has been devastating in so many ways — lost homes, lost jobs, no money and not properly insured. People will try to recoup those losses somewhere.

Peraonally, I understand the situation and the economic burden, but I have no sympathy for those who try fraud to improve it. By doing this, it makes it harder for the people with the real damage to get their money.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Attempting to Reunite

I have often thought about the children that were affected by Katrina, which is why I decided to look into what was being done to search for those who were separated from their familes or missing after the storm. I wanted to share this story about the efforts of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and how they are helping the victims of Katrina.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children still has a list of 2,329 missing from the Gulf Coast area. That’s down from the more than 4,500 reported missing just after the storm, but still a shockingly high number. The center’s president, Ernie Allen, is confident most of these children will be found alive. Some may have already been reunited with loved ones who haven’t yet informed the center of their reunions. Allen’s nonprofit organization typically works on criminal cases and serves as a national clearinghouse for information about missing and exploited young people, but after the chaotic mass migration forced by Katrina, the U.S. Justice Department asked the center to help reunite families and locate displaced kids.

When asked how he was going to find the more than 2,000 children still missing, Allen replied: "What we’ve tried to do is mobilize the media as an ally. The networks have been unbelievable in the support of this effort. CNN basically took the left-hand third of their television screen and ran photos, descriptions, etc., for 24 hours a day for five or six days. There have been features and vignettes on these cases all over. It really demonstrates the power of the media. But I’ve had some of the media say that most of these kids are [probably] with a family member, that it’s not really a big deal. My response is that I hear the same story over and over when I speak around the country. I hear about the mom who’s separated from her child for 10 minutes and it’s something they never forget. My point is there are parents who have been separated from their children for a month. Not 10 minutes. Not 20 minutes. "

There were many difficulties of reuniting these families. Many of these people had to leave immediately. Many of them lost everything they owned, so few of them had photos of their children and the kind of descriptive information that are used when looking for missing children. Normally, most cases are criminal in nature and the center works very closely with law enforcement. What Allen historically tells people is that they find America’s missing children through use of images and information. In this case, there were [often] no images, so people were sent into the shelters to take images of these children and it was a really daunting challenge. Secondly, the quality of information wasn’t very good. The center is just trying to reunite them one child at a time.

When asked if quicker government intervention would have made a difference, Allen replied: "So many people did not get out of New Orleans. So many people were not evacuated or were caught when the water rose. We don’t have any precedent or history before this happened. We’ve learned a lot from this. This is something I think you need to be prepared for. You need plans in place. I don’t want to second-guess or criticize anybody, but the better prepared you are, some of this could’ve been mitigated."

The center took specific actions for Katrina. They set up a separate hotline with a separate phone number and had retired law enforcement volunteers from all over the country manning them. The former director of the child abduction and serial killer unit at the FBI was also answering the phones. Retired sheriffs, police chiefs, Secret Service agents and customs agents where on the ground working. Some of these situations are needle-in-the-haystack cases.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Truth Comes Out

As of right now there is no news about the hurricane victums I have written about. This is a little upsetting because my heart really goes out to them, especially Andre and Gisele. It has been a while since I started the "Rebuilding Lives" segment of my blog so hopefully the popular saying "No news is good news" applies to them.

I came across some news reguarding FEMA and Hurricane Katrina that I would like to share with everyone. After two months of the government acency's attempt to cover up, the truth comes out......

In the midst of the chaos that followed Hurricane Katrina, a Federal Emergency Management Agency official in New Orleans sent a dire e-mail to Director Michael Brown saying victims had no food and were dying. Brown did not reply. Instead, less than three hours later, an aide to Michael Brown sent an e-mail saying her boss wanted to go on a television program that night and needed at least an hour to eat dinner at a Baton Rouge, La., restaurant.

Marty Bahamonde (pictured above), who sent the e-mail to Brown two days after the storm struck, said the correspondence illustrates the government’s failure to grasp what was happening. The 19 pages of internal FEMA e-mails show Bahamonde gave regular updates to people in contact with Brown as early as Aug. 28, the day before Katrina made landfall. They appear to contradict Brown, who has said he was not fully aware of the conditions until days after the storm hit. Brown quit after being recalled from New Orleans amid criticism of his work.

As Katrina’s outer bands began drenching the city Aug. 28, Bahamonde also sent an e-mail to Deborah Wing, a FEMA response specialist. He wrote: “Everyone is soaked. This is going to get ugly real fast.” Subsequent e-mails told of an increasingly desperate situation at the New Orleans Superdome, where tens of thousands of evacuees were staying including Marty Bahamonde, who spent two nights there with the evacuees. On Aug. 31, Bahamonde e-mailed Brown to tell him that thousands of evacuees were gathering in the streets with no food or water and that “estimates are many will die within hours.” A short time later, Brown’s press secretary, Sharon Worthy, wrote colleagues to complain that the FEMA director needed more time to eat dinner at a Baton Rouge restaurant that evening.

Marty Bahamonde testified last Thursday during a hearing of the Homeland Security Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, but there is no news as to what would be done about the situation.

This story really upsets me, but for some reason it doesn't surprise me. After learning about this I thought, "what if Brown responded instead of failing to do his job and letting the nation down." What do you think about this?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Rebuilding Bohemia

Below New Orleans, on the East Bank of the Mississippi River, lies Bohemia, La. — what little remains of it since Hurricane Katrina stormed through. Wiped from the face of the earth, if this town is to rebuild, it will have to start from scratch.
Before the hurricane, about 200 residents lived here, all African American. Now their 25 homes, many trailers and a few houses, are gone. In a few places, concrete stairs still stand, leading nowhere. Otherwise, there is little to distinguish the spot from a landfill; appliances, building materials and toys are mashed together in heaps and coated with mud. Scraps of clothing hang from trees. Even the Bethlehem Judea African Baptist Church, a large brick structure that dated to the Civil War period, is gone. All that remains is its sign.
Welcome back to "Rebuilding Lives." Allow me to introduce you to Robert Landry, a resident and deputy sheriff who remained in devastated Plaquemines Parish in Katrina’s wake. Bohemia used to be green and peaceful, a little rural paradise. "We didn’t have any schools, but we had that one big Baptist church,” Landry says.
For schools and stores, residents needed to go at least as far as Pointe a La Hache, the parish seat a couple miles up the road. Many families have roots dating to the early 1800s on the East Bank, and locals can often guess where another parish resident lives just by their surname. But the neighboring towns also are devastated, including Pointe a la Hache, with its churches, government building and jail. Unfortunately this is not the first time the area encountered a natural disaster. Just one year ago Hurricane Ivan ripped through the Pointe a La Hace area.
Katrina pushed a wall of water over levies intended to protect Bohemia and its neighboring towns from the Gulf Coast marsh on the east, and the Mississippi river on the west. By the look of it, the town was subjected to a monumental flushing motion. Afterward, water trapped between the levies left the towns underwater for days before gradually receding.
For residents who came back to see if there was anything to salvage, the damage was breathtakingly complete. “They were in awe,” says Landry. “They just couldn’t believe it. It’s like something you’d see in Iraq right now. ... Like somebody dropped a bomb on it.”
What makes the dislocation worse is that the community was so family-oriented and people weren't exposed "fast culture," says John L. Barthelemy Jr., the parish councilman for the area. He says people on the east bank, home to about 3,200 people altogether, are used to a lot of community support. "If someone was sick or lost home to fire, or had an accident, people would get together and get benefits for those people. They would immediately rally to support them," says Barthelemy. "So no one would have to fight for themselves." Now the people are scattered throughout the state and the country, many of them in shelters. "I’m hoping all of them come back because we need each other," says Barthelemy.
Can the tightknit little community return to normal? In large part, it depends on what FEMA provides in compensation. Landry says many people in Bohemia had some insurance, but not flood insurance.
And while some residents will be able to return to their jobs at local refineries, about half made their living harvesting oysters and crawfish. Those jobs will be on hold until the marsh recovers from the inundation of saltwater, silt and industrial contaminants. People who raised fruit in the area now have fields of brown trees that also were swamped by saltwater, and it is unclear how long it will take the soil to recover.
Landry says some of the older residents are likely to stay where they have evacuated, with family and friends in cities like Baton Rouge. But he expects the younger people to return. As for himself, he says: “I’m not going anywhere. I'm coming back."