Saturday, December 10, 2005

Reflecting back on Katrina.
We've been using this site to keep friends and family more or less updated on our daily grind, but tonight, I need to pause for reflection on the storm that greatly influenced where we are now and what our daily grind has become: Huuricane Katrina. The average person on the street in an unaffected region seems to think Katrina is all over and done with now that the Gulf Coast isn't in the media anymore. Let me assure you, it's not. I was on the coast over the Thanksgiving week, and the devastation is still very real. Among the pictures you see here (taken about a month after the storm), two are from New Orleans in the Uptown area where we lived and the other three are from Ocean Springs, MS, the little town next to Biloxi where my dad lives. The stilts on the beach used to be the yacht club. The houses are pretty self-explanatory.
Over three months later, people are still trying to get their lives back in order. There are simple cases like ours. People have been displaced although their homes suffered no damage, and their lives are in limbo. The new place isn't home, but when home will be available again is unknown. The limbo is especially hard on kids, who abruptly left their school and friends in New Orleans to start over from scratch elsewhere; months later, they must transition again as parents bring them home to New Orleans once more. Their schools are there and open, but many of their friends and often some of their teachers will not be moving back. We will be moving out of the country in the next couple of months, but right now, we have two households: one very temporary-feeling on near Houston and another past-life home in New Orleans. Visiting that home over Thanksgiving felt very surreal, like stepping into a picture of where we used to live, seeing our "old" things ("old" because we don't have them now).
Our home in New Orleans was miraculously spared. Everything in our part of town is completely fine. It's amazing, especially when driving to it through areas that still look as ravaged as if WWIII had just happened there. New Orleans East was one such place. I never saw it on the news, but it still looks terrible. The place is deserted. The buildings are standing, but the windows and doors were blown out by wind and water. Trees are matchsticks. Cars at the defunct dealerships are covered in the grey film that indicates they had once been covered with water, their windows also blown out as if by a bomb. In areas like that (and all along the Misssissippi Gulf Coast), people have lost their homes and their livelihoods. Even those who were fortunate enough to have flood insurance face limited reimbursement. The maximum amount allowed is $250,000, and, as you can imagine, nice beach homes cost a lot more than that. Countless people are paying mortgages on homes that are no longer there. We heard awful stories about insurance companies denying obvious claims, the worst being a family who had only one pillar left where their home had once been and an insurance agent who said he'd have to get a structural engineer out to verify that the home couldn't be salvaged (what home?!). And then there are thousands who had no flood insurance at all and have had to start from zero, going from a home of their own to a FEMA trailer and some donated clothes. As time passes, there is a growing sense of frustration among those who just want to get on with their lives. Apparently, psychologists are defining a new type of post-traumatic stress disorder for Katrina victims, a type that sets in later and is conflicted, because one is still grateful for the positives while justifiably distressed about the negatives.
Despite all this, life goes on. One of the most pervasive sentiments that has remained in Katrina's wake is a general attitude of gratitude among the survivors. Even those who lost everything they owned are thankful not to have lost their lives. There have been too many kindnesses to number. As "displaced Americans", we have experienced generosity and genuine kindness that surpasses what one could have ever anticipated.
It's the holidays. It's the time of year when people feel more generous toward their neighbors, and we remember to be thankful for all that we have. During this time of reflection on the past year, we had to take a moment to ponder the storm that changed so many lives, including ours. She's not in the news much lately, but Katrina can still be felt on the Gulf Coast. May the new year bring peace and renewal to those affected most.

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