Two years later: life after Hurricane Katrina

Katrina survivor adjusts to life in Houston after chaotic ordeal

by Zaneta Loh

While her friends slept through summer vacation and traveled abroad, biology and medical technology sophomore Clementina NuÒez took a personal trip in early June to New Orleans.

"It was bittersweet. New Orleans is not even a fourth of what it used to be. In some places it seems like it happened six months ago," NuÒez said.

NuÒez was born in Harvey, La., a suburb of New Orleans and lived there until she was 17 years old. Her summer visit was the first time she’d returned since 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated the area.

Before the hurricane hit, NuÒez said she didn’t hear any news until that weekend.

NuÒez and her mother, Naomi Uribe, decided to stay at home because they had nowhere else to go.

"On Sunday night the lights went out and water cut off," NuÒez said. "Monday morning at 6 a.m., I woke up because the ceiling was leaking so I went to my mother’s room.

"You could actually feel the wind hitting the apartment, and I stayed in my mom’s room because the building was moving. Ten minutes later, the ceiling on top of my bed collapsed, so thank goodness I wasn’t there."

NuÒez remained in the apartment until Monday, sleeping on the couch in the corner of the living room downstairs.

"The hurricane finished at 4 p.m. We went out and surveyed what was left," NuÒez said. "Buildings were split in half. I could see the closet of a room. Where I lived wasn’t flooded, but once you passed the street you couldn’t see a car – it was all underwater."

NuÒez, her mother and her aunt, Angela Uribe, went to a nearby junior high school, but received little help under the bad conditions.

"There were no lights, and they were only giving one bottle of water per person per day," NuÒez said. "The bathrooms were horrible, and the security guards treated the people in the shelter horrible.

"They even screamed at this elderly woman who had one leg cut off. She was asking someone to help her go to the bathroom, and the guard told her that she had to stay there, as if she was a child."

After hearing about another shelter with better conditions in Gonzales, La., they made the trip. When the family finally reached the shelter after an hour and a half of heavy traffic, they were told it was full and had to go to Louisiana State University.

"My mother was dehydrated and has diabetes. She was about to go into a coma," NuÒez said.

While her mother was treated, there was no space for the family. Instead, they found another shelter located in Denham Springs, La. and received help during their week and a half stay.

"There were volunteers, and a nice lady from a Christian church, Miss Claire, asked if I’d like to go take a bath in her house," NuÒez said. "You basically do your best to take your shower with 100 women there, so I said ‘yes.’"

NuÒez and her family then had to transfer, and Miss Claire let the family stay in her house while they searched for an apartment.

"(Miss Claire) decided maybe we should move to Houston because her daughter lived in Sugar Land, and that’s how the idea came about to come to Houston," NuÒez said.

The family rented a trailer to return and gather their belongings.

"During that time, you could only go back to our area from 8 a.m. and you had to be out before 6 p.m., so we had to pack everything," said NuÒez. "Everywhere on the streets you had army tanks. I was like, ‘Is this war?’"

NuÒez and her family found some clothes, a refrigerator and freezer from the apartment. After packing, they made their way to Houston where Cassidy, Miss Claire’s daughter, helped them find an apartment in Alief.

The move to Houston wasn’t completely smooth, NuÒez said.

"I didn’t start school until the last day of September because I had a really bad stomach virus which I think I got from the shelter," said NuÒez. "I had to catch up with what they were teaching because in Louisiana we were only a week into school and they were already a month into school."

After graduating from high school, NuÒez enrolled at UH and stayed because of the medical attention her mother required.

"I decided to stay in Houston because of my mother," she said. Adjusting to a new life has been a long process, NuÒez said.

"If you told people you were from New Orleans they looked at you like you should go back, so I told them the truth, but only if they asked," she said.

NuÒez said she still has family and friends in New Orleans.

"I still have one aunt and some cousins living there," NuÒez said. "I talk to my best friend on the phone. I haven’t seen her since I left."

Despite the difficulties her family has faced, NuÒez and her family continue to rebuild their lives. The Federal Emergency Management Agency still provides financial help to affected people.

"My mom is disabled, but my aunt is working at Wal-Mart," NuÒez said. "Even though FEMA is still paying for housing, you still have to pay for food, electric, water and any other expenses."

NuÒez said that while she considers New Orleans home, she wouldn’t return.

"I was always thinking about moving out of Lousiana," NuÒez said. "I guess it was just a little bit in a hurry."

Evacuee opens restaurant after Katrina left her without a home

by Bayan Raji

In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina approached New Orleans, Lakesha Reed packed four changes of clothes, a laptop computer and her cat to leave the city on what she thought was going to be a weekend away.

"I didn’t think the hurricane would affect me," she said.

Reed, a UH alumna, returned to Louisiana after graduating with a marketing degree in 2001 to work as a restaurant manager in the French Quarter. Reed said she decided not to evacuate because she didn’t think the storm would be that bad.

When the weather intensified, Reed and a friend gathered some belongings and left the day before Katrina struck.

Once on their way out, the westbound roads were closed, forcing them to travel 25 hours through Mississippi to reach Houston because of traffic, gas shortages and the long route.

Left with nothing but a few items and her savings, Reed said she wasn’t quite sure what she should do.

She said that she realized the impact the storm had on her life only after she had to go through the process of refurnishing her home and supplying her kitchen.

She said that she found work difficult to find.

"There was a lot of prejudice with getting a job," Reed said. It was like, when are you going back (to New Orleans)?"

Despite the help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Reed said she still faced difficulties.

"There’s a misconception that everybody got money, but not everybody did," she said.

With her background in the restaurant business as a waitress, bookkeeper and manager, Reed said she was interested in buying a restaurant when her boyfriend told her about some owners who were selling one. Reed and her friend, Salimah Muhammad, decided to buy the restaurant and go into business together.

In late December 2006, Reed and Muhammad became the new owners of Beaucoup Wings-N-Wings restaurant on Elgin Avenue.

"I tried to bring home here," Reed said. "Anything you can think of that you want to eat, we can cook."

Beaucoup offers New Orleans snowballs, gumbo, wireless Internet and live music on Saturday nights. The restaurant also displays artwork on the walls for sale. Reed said they change the art out regularly and artists are welcome to bring their works.

Reed has several diffe
rent ways to describe the restaurant’s atmosphere.

"If I had to put a label on it, it would be bohemian-eclectic artsy," Reed said.

Reed said that she is able to do marketing for the restaurant at UH sporting events thanks to UH Assistant Director of Marketing, Lee De Leon.

De Leon said that Reed’s restaurant is involved in "corporate trade partnership program." Reed is given season tickets in exchange for supplying food for journalists covering UH women’s basketball games. The name of the restaurant is also announced at all UH home sporting events as a corporate trade partner.

Reed continues to move forward with her life, but she feels that New Orleans is not coming along quickly enough.

"It’s not until you see it that you realize how bad it is," Reed said.

The owner rebuilt the house Red rented in New Orleans, but she said the neighborhood has not yet been put back together. She said that she feels more progress should have been made in two years.

Despite her struggles, Reed said she is still on a journey to the top and hopes in the years to come the restaurant will open up more branches and spread out.

"Tell everyone that they can get a free snowball if they bring the article in with them," Reed said.

Students experience pros and cons of attending UH in Katrina aftermath

by Melanese A. Philbert

After coming from the University of New Orleans in 2005, Ludence Smith and Troy Joseph said that despite frustration, grief and anxiety, neither would do things differently.

"I definitely don’t have any regrets being here, but New Orleans is home," Joseph said. "I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I went back. This is what life dealt me, and I’m going to deal with it."

The difference between Smith, 24, and Joseph, 39, is that one is going back and the other is staying.

Smith, a sports administration senior, said that he is planning to stay at UH and will graduate in May.

"I don’t regret staying," he said. "It’s been a good experience, and I am looking forward to moving on."

Joseph, an accounting and computer science junior, said that he wishes that he could have returned to New Orleans sooner.

"I wanted to go back to New Orleans but there was nowhere to go in New Orleans," Joseph said.

Once both arrived for the Fall 2005, each said that he experienced both negative and positive side effects of university displacement.

For Smith, the biggest adjustment was transferring his credits from UNO to UH.

"The process of getting into school was kind of hard at first. I had to figure out what courses equaled what in New Orleans," he said. "I didn’t have transcripts. I didn’t have my financial aid documentation, but they (UH) did a lot to help with the situation and make us feel welcome.

"The people from student affairs helped a lot also. When we got here we also had people from UNO come down so that was good."

For Joseph, paying tuition became an issue. For Fall 2005, the state allowed Katrina transfer students to pay in-state tuition rates. Once the spring semester began, those students were required to adhere to the out-of-state tuition law.

Joseph said that while he was happy he could continue his education here, he could not keep up with high costs and was forced to sit out a semester.

"Once the tuition went back to out of state, I just couldn’t afford it," he said. "I attended the spring semester and that following summer, but I had to sit out the fall because I still owed from the summer. I finished paying for that semester, and because I didn’t pay it fast enough I may not get the grades from that semester."

Smith said that although he has come to enjoy Houston, the first few weeks were difficult.

"It was rough the first week – the first month. I didn’t even watch television because I didn’t want to see it anymore," he said.

Smith said he is concerned with the state of New Orleans now and wants change.

"It was a historical situation the timeliness of response was horrible," he said. "Not much has been done. All of that was said to look good on TV. A lot of action has to be taken. People in New Orleans are still struggling."

University instrumental in success of ‘Katrina class graduate’

by Liz Martin

Natalie Ferrell sat motionless with her three friends in front of the television, listening to the hum of the newscasters telling her that the hurricane had hit home – New Orleans.

"New Orleans is a place that puts a spell on you. Even if you’ve only lived there for a few years, you take a certain ownership of it," Ferrell said.

Ferrell, a senior at Tulane at the time, had come back from studying abroad for a year four days before the hurricane hit and was ready to begin the school year.

She was unaware of any threat of a hurricane until the day she and her friends decided to leave.

Since they had to already leave for evacuation, they decided to take a road trip to Texas since none of her friends had been.

They left the television on all night in their Austin hotel room.

"I’ll admit I’ve always been guilty of getting caught up in the excitement of a horrific event when it doesn’t directly affect me," Ferrell said. "This was different. Watching the news made me sick to my stomach."

Through her television, she witnessed the turmoil unfold.

"By late Monday morning it looked like we were in the clear," Ferrell said. "Then the levees broke, and the mayhem began."

Once the news sank in, Ferrell realized that she might be starting her senior year late and graduation would be delayed.

"If you had told me I wouldn’t go back to school until February, or go retrieve my things until more than two months after that, I wouldn’t have believed you," Ferrell said. "But that was indeed the case."

Ferrell said that both administrations were willing to help her with the transition.

"They didn’t ask for our records or transcripts," Ferrell said, "because they knew we didn’t have them. They quietly took us in, gave us academic counselors and treated us like their own students."

Ferrell would often think about New Orleans, but kept busy in Houston to distract herself from the chaotic state of her home.

"It seemed at that moment that place that I loved was lost," Ferrell said, "and I was positively devastated."

She spent the semester taking classes at Rice University and UH, and tutored part-time for spare cash. She stayed with her parents, who lived in Houston, and attempted to adjust.

"The whole four months I lived at home I was just going through the motions," she said. "I had gone from living in a big city in a foreign country in an apartment with my Argentine friend to back living at my parents’ place. They felt bad for me, I think."

It wasn’t until February that Ferrell was able to return to Tulane where she finished her senior year, graduating with a degree in Latin-American studies and international development.

"Those last few months I spent in New Orleans were some of the best I’ve ever had," Ferrell said. "I was so grateful to be there, in the city I loved, with people I loved. I felt great pride to graduate in the ‘Katrina Class.’ Though Tulane took some hard hits, it survived the storm, and we were living proof."

Ferrell, 23, now works for Teach for America in New York as a bilingual middle school science teacher, but she will always keep with her the memories of her senior year.

"Looking back, I am glad that I was a part of it all," Ferrell said. "As weird as that sounds. It put a lot of things into perspective for me, and made me
all the more thankful when I was back."


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