Posts Tagged ‘make it right’

4th Anniversary of Katrina Update

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Dear friends, every year I write a Katrina Anniversary letter.  It’s been 4 years since she hit and New Orleans had federal levee failures which flooded our city.  There has been lots of healing over these years, but there is still much healing to be done.  I guess the same could be said of our rebuilding as well.

I watched a Weather Channel special two nights ago with Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News and his Katrina experience. As I watched it took me back to those horrible weeks that followed August 29th, 2005.  It was a tenuous time for New Orleanians.  Those of us lucky enough to have evacuated watched helplessly from afar as our city and her people struggled to live.  And, I mean that quite literally!  It was the most helpless feeling I have had in my entire life.

I evacuated to stay with my older sister in Tulsa, OK.  She was the only one in my family to leave New Orleans.  I was very sad to see her leave many years ago, but now her home in Tulsa was my only saving grace.  I was so relieved on that day in early September when I got her phone call at the hotel.  I was exhausted from watching hours on end of my city being destroyed.  On the verge of an all out breakdown, the phone rang.  It was my sister saying, “Pack your things and come live with me in Tulsa.”

I got to Tulsa along with my two dogs and boyfriend.  (my mother in father were elsewhere. long story!) I remember being in her backyard with my dogs.  Relieved to be out of a hotel, but emotionally distraught about what my future would be. Her neighbor peered over the fence and started to talk with me.  He worked for an electrical company in Tulsa.  He proceeded to tell me, “Yeah. I just talked to a friend and he told me that the main electrical grid for New Orleans is destroyed. It may be 6 months or longer before it is repaired.”  I couldn’t tell you what that man said after that.  I just stood there dumbfounded and sickened to my stomach.  It’s a feeling I hope to never have again in my life.  All I could think about was HOME.  New Orleans.

I ended up being evacuated for 3 1/2 months in Tulsa. I was home just in time for Thanksgiving.  That was a very special Thanksgiving for our family in 2005.  I remember on the ride home from Tulsa we came to point where the Cypress trees grow in the swamp.  Yes, many of our beautiful ancient Cypress trees were cracked in half by Katrina’s wind, but they were still standing.  Just as they had been for hundreds of years.

One of my dogs died while I was evacuated in Tulsa. She came evacuated with us, but an unfortunate accident occurred and I had to put her to sleep.  It has taken me 4 years to get another dog.  Louis (named after Louis Armstrong and Louis XIV) will not ever replace my Boo, but he is an integral part of my healing process.  Dealing with the aftermath of Katrina and then to lose one of my dogs was almost more than my soul could bear.  I suppose I got through it all by grace of God.

I go back to Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News.  After we got back home to NOLA, he would come quite often to give the country updates about Katrina recovery.  One evening, we found out he was here and where he was reporting from! We drove like mad in the car to get to him. We got there just in time to see him finish his news report.  He was reporting from the London Avenue Canal breech in Gentilly.  And, I remember Harry Lee sitting in a chair nearby.  This neighborhood was besieged with over 8 feet of water.  When Brian Williams was done, I went over to thank him for his commitment to NOLA.  I couldn’t get 4 words out before I was overwhelmed with grief.  Mr. Williams gave me hug and held me for a moment. He said, “Everything is going to be o.k.”  I will not forget his words.

We still have much rebuilding to do. As I have said in past Katrina letters, our rebuild is marathon not a sprint.  Every few months a grocery store, library or post office opens.  New Orleanians rejoice at these events b/c we know what it is like for them to be gone.

It has taken me 4 years to deal with the emotional trauma of Katrina.  Only months ago did I begin to write down my memories of the storm.  I still haven’t finished doing it. I have to stop sometimes b/c it is just too hard to remember those things.  But, it is helpful.  If any of you reading this are trying to come to grips with your Katrina baggage, I highly recommend writing it down.  It’s been a great release for me. Also, it is very important for all of us to document history for future generations.

I will close with a few words.  Any of my fellow New Orleanians who are back at home and struggle with our recovery remember the words Brian Williams said to me, “Everything will be o.k.”

8/28/2009 Development: CNN Headline News called me today about my Ireport that I had posted on their network.  They asked if they could do an interview today.  Of course, I was thrilled to talk about New Orleans. Click here for the video of the interview I did with Chuck Roberts and click here to read their blog about my 4th Anniversary letter which you are reading now.  Thank you for not forgetting New Orleans, CNN!

And, for those interested in my handcrafted NOLA photograph jewelry and accessories for the home, please click here.

Much New Orleans Love to All,

Heather Elizabeth

3rd Anniversary of Katrina a.k.a. “the thing”

Monday, August 25th, 2008
Dear friends of New Orleans, it is the 3rd Katrinaversary as we call it in New Orleans.  Writing my annual Katrina letter is like giving birth. It is very painful, but it is worthit in the end. I think this may be my longest Katrina letter in three years. I have a lot on my mind so please bear with me…New Orleans is doing better than she was last year, but she still has a very long way to go.  Many parts of the city remain devastated.  Hurricane Katrina destroyed far more residential property than had any other recent hurricane, completely decimating an estimated 300,000 homes.  So, you can imagine that it will take us many more years to get the REBUILD completed or I will use a phrase I learned while evacuated to Tulsa for 3 1/2 months, “to get R dun.”  This REBUILD is a marathon not a sprint.

Without the help of volunteers from all over the country and the world much of the REBUILD could not have been completed.  I would like to take this time to thank all of the volunteers who have come down here in the last three years to help us gut homes, build homes and loan a shoulder to cry on.   I also would like to acknowledge the vast number of volunteers who have decided to make New Orleans their permanent home.  Thanks to all of you for believing in our city and for wanting to be a part of this monumental task at hand.  It is the largest REBUILD in American history.  There are no books to tell us how this was done before.  Not unless we look to how Europe was rebuilt after WWII.   All of this being said,  It is truly an exciting time to call New Orleans home.

Now, let me move onto some nagging issues.  I cringe when I hear people say, “New Orleans will never be the same again.”   Most often when this is said it is in a negative way.  As if to say, New Orleans can’t be the wonderful city it was before.  They are WRONG.  New Orleans is striving everyday to be BETTER than she was before the storm.  We don’t want the same ole’ New Orleans that was only known for booze and a good time.  The citizens of this city desire much more.  We are working to build a city with a cutting edge Bio-Med industry, Hollywood South and Technology sector.

Our young people were leaving the state of Louisianalong before Katrina hit.  We were experiencing the “brain drain” many towns in America have been dealing with.  Now, young people are moving back to be a part of our exciting rebirth.  We have teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers just to name a few coming to NOLA to help breathe life into it once again.  As I said before, it is an exciting time to call New Orleans home.

Post-Katrina NOLA has the opportunity to re-invent itself and be better than before.  Our public schools are being overhauled.  New Orleans Public Schools were recently featured in the New York Times for being a model for the rest of the country.  Click here to read article WOW! Who would have ever thought our schools would be a role model for the whole United States?  It is a true testament to the rebirth of New Orleans.  There may be some nay-sayers out there. But, I know most locals are excited about this opportunity to finally make New Orleans Public Schools work for the children who need it so desperately.

Katrina ripped the veil off our eyes.  She exposed gaping wounds in our city for all the world to see.  These same wounds exist in every urban city in America.  Unfortunately, NOLA had to be the city to show the United States what is happening in every city to its own poor and elderly.  It’s bigger than New Orleans. The issues of poverty, crime and corruption are in your own backyard if you care to look hard enough.  Most people don’t want to dig deeper and uncover these painful truths.  Honestly, I think it is human nature to be non confrontational when it comes to serious problems.  It is easier to just walk away than try to fix things.  Thank God many have chosen NOT to walk away from their beloved New Orleans.  It is because of the dedicated citizenry of New Orleans, that she is being REBUILT now.

When the veil was lifted 3 years ago, the citizens were awakened.  We are vigilant about uncovering corruption.  The storm has energized NOLA citizenry.  We are angry and we are vocal. People are blogging, going to meetings and educating ourselves about potential political candidates.  Yes, it’s a new day in New Orleans. Click here to read one of the citizen blogs

I also want to acknowledge the rebuilding of Lakeview and 9th ward.  These two neighborhoods are very different from one another, but each one has determined citizens rebuilding it.  First, I will address Lakeview.  I participate in the Harrison Avenue Marketplace which is the monthly art market in Lakeview.  I was stunned by the overwhelming support by Lakeview for the artists.  The people in Lakeview have lost every tangible item in their lives and yet they give back so generously to the artists every month by making purchases.  It is a characteristic that makes the people of New Orleans very special.  It is one of the many reasons I love the people of New Orleans so much and will not ever leave.

The Ninth Ward is much slower to be rebuilt.  I drive through the neighborhood every few months to see what is happening down there.  For the first two years, I would leave there nearly in tears.  It is only upon my last visit in early August 2008 that I had a smile on my face.  There are some new homes being built both by owners and by charitable organizations.  Brad Pitt’s Make It Right organization is building some homes on one of the main streets that sits parallel to the former federal levee breach.  The homes are cutting edge green friendly.  I know the owners of these new homes will be so proud to live in them.  Please visit the Make It Right website to make a donation here.  Thank you Brad Pitt for not forgetting about us!!!  You are a blessing to us all.

The pictures shown below reflect the chaotic and frenetic sense of our rebuilding.  Some people are home and some are not.  You often will see a newly built home and then a blighted home right beside or across the street from it.  This is the story of our rebuild at this time.  300,000 homes are going to take many years to be rebuilt.   And, don’t forget about the hospitals, police stations and fire stations that still have to be built!

If you live ANYWHERE near a body of water please visit areweatrisk.org to learn if your levees are safe.  Also, please take a moment to sign the petition to ask that there be an 8/29 investigation into the Federal Levee failure that drowned New Orleans at levees.org.  The Army Corps of Engineers investigated ITSELF after the federal levee failures.  That is just not acceptable.  America deserves more from its government.  Here is a video entitled Why do we need an 8/29 Investigation? to learn more about the 8/29 Investigation.

Please continue to come visit us if you live out of town. The French Quarter is pretty as ever and the food is some of the best in the world.  We need each of you to keep visiting New Orleans in order for her to stay healthy and vibrant. New Orleans businesses still your support and will for many years to come.

Most of the nation has moved on with the natural ebb and flow of life.  New Orleanians can’t move on until we can put the REBUILD and the levee failures behind us.  As the years progress, please remember that New Orleans is not finished rebuilding and still needs your help.

* this was written 4 days before Gustav was forecasted to move into the Gulf of Mexico and possibly hit South East Louisiana

Much New Orleans Love to All,
Heather Elizabeth