Online Story Contribution, Hurricane Digital Memory Bank

Collection

Courtney Giarrusso

My name is Courtney Giarrusso and I am a 25 year old senior at the University of New Orleans. I lost my home to Katrina. I lived four houses from the 17 Street Canal. The flooding destroyed the first story of my home and everything in it. I spent the fall of 2005 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana living in a small rental house with my parents. I was able to take two courses online through the University of New Orleans (UNO). Living in Baton Rouge was miserable. I felt isolated from my friends and everything I loved in New Orleans. All I could think about was moving back to New Orleans. I was so excited when my mom found a house for us on the westbank of New Orleans in an area called Algiers. \r\n\r\nWe moved back to New Orleans in December of 2005. My trip to my new house from Baton Rouge was the first time I had been back to New Orleans since Katrina. I couldn?t believe what I saw. There were blue roofs everywhere. Everywhere you looked there was trash including furniture and refrigerators. I couldn?t believe the number of trees and fences that were down. Once we got into New Orleans, most of the traffic lights weren?t working. The city that I knew and loved looked so different.\r\n\r\nTwo days after we got home, my beloved grandfather Joe Giarrusso died at the age of 82. It was almost as though he waited for us to come home. He had been ill for some time, but the storm hastened his demise. That seems to be a common theme. Older people seem to be dying at a higher rate since Katrina. I miss my grandfather very much. He is one of the many things that I have lost to Katrina.\r\n\r\nMy life has significantly changed since Katrina. It is important to mention that I have spina bifida and use an electric wheelchair. Because I am a quadriplegic, I am completely dependent on others for assistance with activities of daily living. Before Katrina, I had a wonderful personal care attendant (PCA) named Theresa. She helped me with virtually everything including attending school with me, helping me with bathing and grooming, and just being a good friend. Theresa evacuated with her family to a suburb outside of Houston. She has decided not to return. Like many New Orleanians, she found the school system in her new town much better than the one in New Orleans. She was also easily able to find employment. I was heartbroken when I learned that she wasn?t coming back. Again, I had another loss due to Katrina. \r\n\r\nMy mom signed up with an agency in an attempt to find a new PCA for me. Even though we have been back for more than five months, I still don?t have someone permanently to take care of me. We have been through a series of people who have been disasters. My mom just interviewed someone today for the job. I am very hopeful that it will work out. It is very stressful on me not to have the same person everyday. \r\n\r\nGoing to UNO has been very difficult. We used to live fairly close to the university. Now we live about a half an hour to forty five minutes away. My routine before Katrina was that my mom took me to school before she went to work in her specially equipped handicapped lift van. The Regional Transit Authority (RTA) paratransit service would pick me up in one of their lift buses. Now due to the great distance to UNO and the lack of RTA services, I can only take classes at night when my mom can drive both ways or take classes online. Obviously, not everything I want to take is offered at night or online. I miss the social interaction of being on campus. During the spring, I took one class in the evening. Driving to and from school was very depressing. No matter which way we went to school or came home, all we saw was devastation. Driving down Elysian Fields, one of the major streets to UNO, my mom would point out places she frequented when she and my dad first got married. When she saw the Ferrara?s Grocery Store on the corner of Elysian Fields and Robert E. Lee for the first time, she started to cry. She had done her grocery shopping there when my older brother was born. There was a real contradiction about going to UNO. \r\nAs excited as I was about getting out of the house and going to class, I was also depressed every time I saw the devastation. There were blocks after blocks of destroyed homes and businesses. \r\n\r\nThere has been some joy in being back to New Orleans. I had an awesome time at Mardi Gras. It has been wonderful to re-connect with my friends who have returned. Most of my family has come back to New Orleans. It looks like I will graduate within the next year from UNO. I still feel apprehensive as we are starting hurricane season 2006. But I love my city and am committed to living here.

Citation

“Online Story Contribution, Hurricane Digital Memory Bank,” Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, accessed April 21, 2021, http://hurricanearchive.org/items/show/2287.

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