Tuesday, June 17, 2008

New Orleans: Meeting Homeowners

I'd like you to meet a sweet lady named Miss Cynthia. In the background you'll see part of the crew who was assigned to help Miss Cynthia work on her home that was damaged by Katrina flood waters.

The thing I find most interesting about New Orleans is that everyone has a Katrina story and they are all so different.

Miss Cynthia was born and raised in NOLA. She had never evacuated through during any other hurricane in her lifetime; it was just a routine part of living near the coast (I equate it to Oklahoma and tornadoes; we just live with them and take it for granted that one day our homes could be totally destroyed). However, one day, Miss Cynthia noticed the guys at work huddling around a computer as they watched the hurricane coverage. She told them that she was leaving and she went home to grab a few things before heading to Houston to stay with her children.

Little did she know that she wouldn't return to her home for two years.

In this photo, Miss Cynthia is holding a picture of her mother. Her mother had suffered a stroke and was unable to communicate. The family was unable to meet her medical needs on their own, so she was placed in a nearby nursing home which they visited almost every day. There was no way that she could take her mother along for what ended up being a long 16-hour drive to Houston. The family was reassured by the nursing home that they had an evacuation plan but were staying put because they were on high ground (in fact, after the storm, the nursing home was made into a National Guard outpost because it was dry and was one of the only areas with power). Cynthia's brother-in-law was able to keep in touch with the nursing home via text messaging until the storm made landfall and broke all lines of communication.
For the next two months, they had no idea where their mother was.

In the end, it was learned that they left the nursing home after the mayor declared mandatory evacuations. Their mother ended up in the Super Dome where a nurse stayed by her side. She was moved around at least ten times that they know of after the storm. Once, she was taken to a hospital for "sorting" (identifying medical needs and moving them to the appropriate locations) and the family thinks that she may have been stationed in the morgue for some time because it was the only cool place in an building with no air conditioning in the August heat. Miss Cynthia thinks that this had a profound impact on her mother. Though she could not communicate, she would have been aware of her circumstances. When the family was later reunited, one of her first and only words was, "I don't want to die alone."
Who knows how long it would have taken Miss Cynthia's family to reunite had it not been for CNN coverage. Miss Cynthia's brother-in-law appeared on CNN several times and once was asked what was most important to him, personally, at that time. He mentioned that they were trying to locate his mother-in-law and CNN posted a photo (albeit an old one). A social worker saw the photo and somehow recognized their mother. She had been wearing the wrong ID bracelet the whole time.

Our crew helped Miss Cynthia paint baseboards that were water damaged. A small task considering that her beautiful pine wood floors were once covered with silt from flooding. Surprisingly, after cleaning up the mess and mopping with bleach water, her floors look like a million bucks! And if we ever thought that our task was insignificant, we just listened to Miss Cynthia who raved about our help and about "how depressing" it was to look at the water damage day-in and day-out.

The "strapping young man" of our crew helped Miss Cynthia dig new flower beds and garden spots, all of which washed away during the floods. "I used to have a beautiful garden," said Miss Cynthia. She was so grateful for our little bit of help that she fixed us a genuine New Orleans lunch of butter peas and rice with andouelle sausage and salad "all doctored up." She even served it at "the family table, because we're family" using her best "everyday china." And, before we left, we were given hugs and kisses, as if we truly were family.

I'm sure many people wonder why, after three years, New Orleans is not completely recovered. One reason is that many people have just recently returned. Miss Cynthia came back a year ago. She had planned to sell her home and move away, but her employers begged her to stay. But, from what I've seen, the biggest reason everything is not back to normal is because the task was monumental.

"Everyone says, 'It's been three years. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps already!' But it's not that easy," said Miss Cynthia.

1 comment:

Bethany said...

What an amazing story. My prayers are with Miss Cynthia.