Homeowner not prepared for destruction
September 28, 2005
Note: The following is letter by Mary Sue Katz, a part-time Vail resident who owns a home in New Orleans with her husband, Steve. During Katrina, I was grateful that Steve, the children and I were not in New Orleans. I am positive had we been there, Steve would not have evacuated … we never have. I really didn’t question those that had stayed, and if the levee had not breached it would not have been an issue by and large.As events unfolded, my only concern was for the safety of those that had stayed behind. I was so worried. Steve’s grandmother and great aunt were stranded for days. I was glad to hear Steve’s mother and sister and nephews had been able to leave before the flooded streets were too bad. I was frantic until I heard my cousin Gaby was safe and my mother’s nursing home left after the floods also… and slowly finding my friends…. Those of you from New Orleans know first hand exactly what I was mentally going through.I was glued to the TV, and spoke to people that had experienced this horror. I kept putting my own personal results of the storm on the back burner of my mind. So, when I went to New Orleans with Steve and Sammy I thought I would be prepared for what I would see …. WRONG.
No more first floorsThe first thing was the roadblocks manned by New Orleans police, state troopers, National Guard and/or federal officers. Driving into Jefferson Parish was not an issue, but to cross the parish line was a different story. Getting through the roadblocks depended on who was guarding it at the time, and when we were not allowed we would try another entrance.My neighborhood, Lakewood South (and the Lakewood North section), looked like the results of a nuclear fallout. There was a grayish-white dead look to everything. I think we have about 400 houses in the neighborhood, and all lost the first floor. We figure on my court there was about 9 feet of water from the street, with about 6 feet in the house.We went to some of the other areas, and they had the look of a hurricane. They had damage, and in some areas the losses were equal to my neighborhood. They did not look nuclear, but hurricane ravaged, while other areas had minimal if any damage. I think mentally I thought yes, I knew I had water but that everything would still be in place. (We later went by Steve’s grandmother’s and Mother’s house and even though they had a couple of feet of water things were still in place.) It looked like someone put everything on the first floor of my house in a blender, pushed the grate button and then the blend button. Parts of things were in every room.
We wore mask, gloves, and boots. I had rubber boots initially, but after the first day noticed that the ‘muck’ was disintegrating them. So, I bought work type boots that night at the Wal-Mart in LaPlace, and those worked better. We could only go in the house for a small amount of time before having to go outside for ‘fresh’ air. Our exposed skin was burning, and any previous cut (even though not exposed) would sting.’They may bulldoze everything’Outside on our first day (Sept. 17) there were National Guards patrols in hummers in my neighborhood. The second day there we didn’t see any on our street (only our Lakewood security), and the third day we saw the guards again looking for pets. Then later on the third day when the mayor declared everything closed due to Rita, the National Guard was everywhere.I found my sterling silver place settings. I do not think they will be able to be restored. (Later we brought them to Baton Rouge where we had ‘water’ and hosed them, and ran them twice in the machine with plain hot water.) They were black, pitted, and still smelled. I found my Judaica, which belonged to my mother, sister and Steve’s grandmother. Everything was in the muck, scattered in different parts of the house.
I took out the flag that covered Daddy’s coffin and letters from my grandparents from during the Holocaust. (My parents were Holocaust survivors, and I was entrusted with their few possessions.)Steve and Sammy put some things upstairs and some in the attic, and we rented a small storage in LaPlace. I have no idea if we’ve contaminated more or not. I thought we were trying to save things that I know where beyond saving…framed pictures with water, mold and mildew. Sammy was spraying everything with a bleach/water mixture, hoping that it would stop the mold and mildew.The biggest challenge is seeing if we can save the second floor from the toxic mold and mildew. You think ‘they’ would let crews in to rip out the first floors before that happened. Rumors are many about the future of our neighborhood. They may bulldoze everything or some of the neighbors may/may not rebuild. It will years before it will return in any event. Friends are scatteredWhen I think of ‘things’ that were forever lost – yes, we have our lives and we have memories – but realistically memories fade with time and some things you just plain forget about and you don’t have something solid, with history, to pass on to future generations. Looking at pictures and remembering, I know that is something the children and my future grandchildren won’t have.
My children always teased me because when using even a spoon or bowl, or pots, I would mention that it had been my mother’s. I was sentimental over everything. Nothing was of a monetary value, but I would always say ‘this is the first piece of art’ Bubby and Grandpa bought in this country. After thinking about all of this, I do not compare it to a death of a loved one, and I have a lot of experience in that area. Also, after thinking about it, it is not about the loss of ‘material’ things, it is what some of these things represented being passed down to us and created by our own immediate family to be passed on. It is some of the life events, traditions, everyday living experiences. What we have left, if we are lucky, is the strength of our family to continue in whatever way we can to strengthen and reinforce the love and tradition of home – home is where we are together (the children can grow, marry and move … but ‘home’ is where the family unit is bound and centrally comes together).Don’t get me wrong, I still cry over ‘things.’ What took ‘lifetimes’ to build, was taken away so quickly. In addition, I hate not having my New Orleans’ friends where they are suppose to be. Usually when something tragic happens to one of us, everyone was right there. Now, we’re all scattered, trying to make some sense of what happens next. And that is the most disturbing part – what happens next? Vail, Colorado