Their own home flooded beneath 7 feet of salty water when the levees broke after Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005, and they know all too well what their countrymen to the north will face: years of debris removal, cleanup, rebuilding, haggling with insurance companies, paying mortgages on homes left unlivable. And they knew they had to help.
“When you watch things like this, you relive all the memories, all the heartache,” said Joe Robert, his voice cracking with emotion. He said the images of Sandy victims rummaging through what could be salvaged of their toppled and flood-ravaged homes were painful reminders of his own loss. “I don’t have any pictures of my daughter when she was little.”
Seven years after Katrina destroyed neighborhoods, killed more than 1,800 people and caused about $108 billion in damage, many of the people caught in its crosshairs are reaching into their wallets and
cupboards to try to bring relief to the Atlantic Coast.
Church groups, nonprofits, City Hall and individuals in New Orleans and along the Mississippi Gulf Coast have begun sending care packages, donating money and staging volunteers for the clean-up and recovery efforts.
Robert is working with the Episcopal organization that helped him rebuild his home, St. Paul’s Homecoming Center, which was established after Katrina to help residents as they returned to the city to rebuild. The center has expanded its mission to include victims of not just Hurricane Isaac, which struck Louisiana in August, but also East Coast victims of Sandy.
The group has launched an “Adopt-a-Family” program where donations can be made to families in either region to help them as the holiday season approaches. The organization is also coordinating volunteer efforts along the East Coast. They are collecting donations and helping to ferry volunteers from the Gulf Coast to devastated neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey.
“I hurt for them because they don’t know what they’re in for with recovery,” said Connie Uddo, executive director of the Homecoming Center whose New Orleans home flooded in 2005. “The event is one thing, but the recovery is another. It’s long, and it’s hard.”
In New Orleans, the recovery is far from over more than seven years later. Many homes still bear the water lines and spray-painted marks left by rescuers searching for survivors. Some residents have run out of money, given up after years of battling contractor fraud and insurance companies.
Even if the recovery goes smoother on the Atlantic Coast than it did in New Orleans, it will take years.
“First you have to get over the emotional loss,” Robert said. “If I could give any advice, it’s not to be anxious. Looking back, the mistakes we made were because we rushed some things because we were anxious and emotional and trying to get back in our home quicker.”