Friday, March 27, 2009

Hurricane season in New Orleans

Last night we had tremendous storms in the New Orleans and southeast Louisiana area. Thunder so loud it woke me up, had me sitting up in bed making sure it wasn't the train sound of a tornado I've heard so much about. It wasn't, but with hurricane season right around the corner again, and with the forecasters predicting another bad one, I started thinking about the last big hurricane around here, Katrina.

I haven't thought about Katrina too much. When I do, I think of the businesses here that didn't return, friends who have moved away, the neighborhoods that have still not recovered.

This time I started thinking about Katrina changed us. Not just my family, but pretty much everyone I know. I recall being stuck in a hotel, a very nice one in Houston, 24 steps away from the Galleria, and fretting each day because we didn't know if they were going to continue to extend our stay. The hotel was booked, and we stayed for two weeks. I think about how for several days we had no idea if our house was okay, if the strays that lived in our yard survived, if our fish were okay.

We were lucky. Our house had minor roof damage, the animals survived, the cars were okay. For days, though, my husband couldn't work. He was a contractor, so work would abound eventually, but for a while, there were no supplies to be had, nothing was open, no way to start the recovery.

Without his income, we were in a pickle. I still got my pay, but we are a two income family for a reason. We applied for FEMA money, the $2000 everyone got, and were declined. No reasonable explanation, except maybe I applied too early and they weren't giving the money out yet. I applied for Red Cross money, which we did receive. I also applied for and received Food Stamps. I guess it should have been humiliating using the Louisiana debit card they give you from the state to purchase food, but at the time we needed it.

I had never thought in this life I would need food stamps. I work, I'm a lawyer, I have always paid my own way. But there were people who made more money than me, professional people, people who also worked and always paid their own way, who needed the boost from the state to make ends meet until the recovery began.

I had a boss once who said most people are one paycheck away from living on the street. I never thought about it too much until Katrina hit. But she was right. I can only imagine what happened to those people who didn't have at least one income to rely on while they were evacuated.

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