November 17, 2005 \r\nI\'m a St. Bernard Parish evacuee. I never imagined I would be referring to myself and my family as evacuees for this length of time - it\'s been 11 weeks. The TV channel is set to the news, as always. I can\'t seem to get enough. Still confused as to where to go from here. One of my pet cats that I was able to rescue rests on my inflatable mattress with me, cleaning himself. Petting his clean, soft coat is one of life\'s little pleasures at this point. Then my mind goes to last weekend while cleaning up at home in Arabi, when I turned over my box spring - there was my daughter\'s, Erin, six-month old kitten we had been looking for since the water rushed into our house. He was stuck in the springs of the bed, appeared to have drowned. He joins our longtime cat that Erin found while on her hands and knees, looking under our house and trying to coax his brother from under the house. She looked down to crawl another foot in space when she saw his fur and bones stuck to the ground. She came out screaming. Just then, a jeep of four National Guardsmen pulled up at my house to make sure was all OK. I told them she just found one of her pets, dead, in the alley. They were very sympathetic.\r\n\r\nI spent two hours on the interstate today after leaving work in downtown New Orleans, only to drive 33 miles to my temporary home in LaPlace. After 70 minutes, I started crying uncontrollably in traffic. I called my adult son, Chase, told him I would not be cooking tonight, he wanted to know what was wrong - I told him I\'m tired and I want to go home - home to Arabi. I never stopped crying until I got to my temp home (I refuse to call it home, because it\'s not MY home) and cried myself to sleep. This evening, I never got to spend any time with Erin. It seems all I do these days is spend hours in traffic, go to work, and sleep. That\'s not a life. \r\n\r\nI don\'t blame God for my position, but I beg Him for mercy on a daily basis. I beg him to make this misery stop and to let us please, please go back to our real home and our real lives, because this can\'t be real. We knew eventually \"the big one\" would come and wipe us out. Not because of flood from rain, but flood through the levees because we\'ve been warned for decades that they would not withstand our worst nightmare - a Cat 4 or 5 storm. \r\n\r\nI watched the news endlessly Aug. 25 through Aug. 28. I made reservations that Friday to evacuate to Bogalusa. Still watching the news endlessly, I decided at 4:30am Sunday morning that it was time for us to pack and leave. I told Chase and Erin pack enough for three days. That\'s all the room we had in the trunk of our small Saturn sedan. We left everything else behind, including our pets. As we pulled out of the driveway at the crack of dawn (6:30am), I stopped in the driveway and prayed to the Jesus crucifix on my front porch. I looked over my house - my dream come true, my first house that I signed a mortgage on five years ago, the only real home - our home - that I\'ve been able to provide my kids with as a single, working mom -- knowing I would never see any of it the same again. \r\n\r\nChase and Erin could not feel my worry and how scared I was. I was really good at hiding it. I made sure everyone\'s spirits were up and convinced them that the pets would do fine. I tried to make our first ever evacuation an adventure. We evacuated with my dad and stepmom. It made Chase and Erin feel good that we would be going someplace where we knew someone. We quickly became friends with everyone there, because we each had our lives and stories to tell. In Bogalusa, we experienced the western eye wall of the storm as a Cat 3. It was pretty scary, listening to the freight trains all around us. Trees were snapping like matchsticks and the rain was coming down in circles. We lost electricity for the entire next day. I couldn\'t stand the heat anymore, so I packed us up and headed out to try to leave Bogalusa. Somehow, we winded down back roads, ended up behind the National Guard, who were clearing a path of the downed trees. There was lots of wind damage. We thought if this is all there was back home, we\'re OK. \r\n\r\nWe drove to Ville Platte where my stepmom\'s family lives. Exhausted when we got there, all their rooms were taken. We had to sleep on the living room floor in sleeping bags for the next week. We watched CNN news in shock - our home now looked worse than the happenings of 9/11. It was surreal to watch as my dad\'s home town, New Orleans, drowned and burned. This can\'t be happening. What happened? Last we knew, New Orleans was spared the worst. We heard nothing about St. Bernard Parish - our home - for two weeks. We saw pictures on-line of the flooding in our Parish and read it was completely destroyed, not one home was spared. Our Parish officials had no way of communication and no help was on the way. They were desperate and left behind.\r\n\r\nNow we all sat around - my mother, stepmother, father, sisters, all our kids - wondering where we were going from here. Things got heated in that house with so many people in such tight quarters. I had to get away. I was getting claustrophobic. I told Chase and Erin to pack it up again, we\'re leaving. Now on our way to a third destination, we ended up at my stepmom\'s cousin in Lake Charles. Conditions there weren\'t any better. It was three weeks post-Katrina and my stepmother\'s aunt was telling us, \"IT\'S BEEN THREE WEEKS. GET OVER IT AND MOVE ON.\" This was the night we got back from the first time of being allowed to see our home in St. Bernard Parish - or what was left of it. \r\n\r\nThe smell was horrid. The visions were indescribable. It looked worse than a war zone (I\'m a Navy veteran of the early 80\'s.) My entire childhood home town was gone. Our grocery stores, gas stations, favorite diners, parks - everything was destroyed. We rode past my mother\'s house where I lived as a youngster, and where my mother lived for 35 years. It was unrecognizable. We rode past my sister\'s house - same thing. I said to Chase and Erin, \"Are y\'all sure that\'s Aunt Gretchen\'s house?\" I didn\'t recognize it. I was scared to go to my own home. \r\n\r\nWhen we pulled up at home, the outside didn\'t look so bad. There was hope. Erin and I were getting our gear on to get out of the car, when Erin spotted Clover on the porch - her beloved 3 yr old Siberian husky, she has raised from 5 weeks old, was alive. Clover waited faithfully for Erin on our front porch. Erin started screaming and crying. She wanted to leap out of the car with no gear on. I started screaming at her to get her gear on. I was shaking, trying to help her. The reunion was heartwarming, to say the least. My little girl worried about her dog for three long weeks, days and nights, begging God to save her pets. \r\n\r\nOnce we got out and was talking to Clover, we heard a cat meowing. It was my baby - Fat Tuesday - my gray point Siamese. Erin and I cried together, telling each other God really does answer prayers. (Tuesday talked for the next five days, making it clear I\'d better never leave him again!!) And then, we heard another meow. It was our exotic black/white longhaired cat, Gracie. She was jumping from roof top to roof top to tree tops, as she does. She made it! Our petit little girl made it. The reunions were wonderful. We actually recovered something from home. Something that was alive, breathing and appeared to be well. We gave them all food and water, while we looked around. \r\n\r\nI went to the street and found our snowshoe Siamese, Layla, who had not been dead very long as her body was still soft. Had we been allowed to go in sooner, we could have saved her. This day would be a roller coaster of sorts. \r\n\r\nLooking at the outside of the house, I felt OK. Then I looked into the hole the military had created in my front door, and everything was turned upside down and on top of each other. Everything I worked for, since I graduated high school in 1979 in St. Bernard Parish and then some after I served a tour of duty in the U.S. Navy, was gone. All my memories, clothes, furniture, books, mementos from the Navy, photos, my first home - it was all destroyed from a flood due to insufficient levee protection. To think we could have made it if not for that one deviation. The storm itself hadn\'t done major damage. It was the water busting through the levees of the Industrial Canal in the Lower 9. I\'m only four blocks from the Lower 9, on the other side of Jackson Barracks, home to the Louisiana National Guard. \r\n\r\nMy original Werlein piano I had moved around with me since I\'m 12 yrs old was now on its back in ruin. I literally had to climb on furniture - on my entertainment center, on my videotape bookcase, on my piano, to get to my bedroom. My cedar robe, which contained all my work clothes, was turned on its back, my coffee table was half on top of my bed. My bed was on top of my mahogany Windsor dresser. My dresser was on top of my laptop computer, Oreck air purifier and boom box. My bedroom bookcase shelves collapsed, except for the shelf holding my book \"Passion of the Christ.\" My jewelry was strewn near the window. There were muddy cat paw prints all over my bed and dresser. I don\'t know how the cats that survived the storm, were able to survive the rush of the water. Outside under the bathroom window you could see where the dogs were scratching on the house trying to get inside the window.\r\n\r\nIn the kitchen, my brand new refrigerator I purchased four months earlier was on its back where there were more cat paw prints. All of my appliances - dishwasher, stove, microwave and small appliances were covered with mud and muck. There was rust stains everywhere. My kitchen cabinets were collapsing. It would be a long, long time before I would ever prepare a home cooked meal for my children in our kitchen, in our home. \r\n\r\nChase\'s and Erin\'s room were destroyed. Especially Chase. His room is in the front of the house. He tried to pick up his cherry wood chest of drawers and it collapsed in his hands. His antique loveseat was broken. Massive stereo speakers had floated all over the place, his bed and quilt were covered with mud, his great-grandmothers dresser was turned on its back. All his clothes were in them and ruined. All his stereo and electronic equipment was ruined. He came into his room, tried to recover a couple of things, and got very, very angry. He stormed out of his room in disbelief. He could not believe all this was because someone wasn\'t doing their jobs to protect our homes with an adequate levee system. He was angry because he\'s old enough to remember the news and fights to close the MRGO. We can\'t miss that one - the life-sized sign sat on the corner of our street and cross section highway. \r\n\r\nErin, on the other hand, doesn\'t quite understand how this happened. She sees the news and hears what the adults are talking about. Her question is always, \"Well, then, why didn\'t they do something about it before this? If they knew it would happen, why did they let it happen?\" Such simple questions, with no answers. \r\n\r\nErin went to her room and cried. There was nothing recoverable. She collected horse figurines since she\'s a tiny little girl, and she can\'t even get to them. This honor student\'s school books are on her desk in ruin, and she asks, \"Mom, how are we going to pay the school for these books?\" Simplemindedness, again. Her air hockey table, shelves, bookcases, and chest of drawers are all turned over. We can\'t get to anything inside her drawers. Her collectibles, her scrapbook, her art work - all ruined. The one thing she begged that we find was her great-grandmother\'s jewelry box and her scrapbook with evidence of her academic successes. The jewelry box would not be recovered for weeks. And when it is, the jewelry inside is rusted and the box not salvageable. We never found the scrapbook.\r\n\r\nThe backyard was trashed. There were items I didn\'t recognize, which I guess floated over from neighbor\'s houses. My garage was ruined. My pecan tree had fallen on it and collapsed the roof of the garage. Our bikes, barbeque pits, washer/drier and brand new water heater were all out there, ruined. The yard and plants I worked on for five years were brown and dead. \r\n\r\nWe collected what we could at home and drove back to Lake Charles. Circumstances were that we couldn\'t stay there anymore, because Hurricane Rita was now coming at us. We moved on to a Christian family that took us in, in the town of Kaplan, allowing us to stay in their camper. We stayed there for three weeks with five cats and two dogs rescued over a five week period. After those three weeks, a house finally became available in LaPlace, LA, closer to home to get some cleanup done and hopefully work on renovating our home, but not without the help of our government and community. \r\n\r\nI continue to try to have a positive attitude for Chase and Erin, but as each week passes that we\'re no closer to getting that trailer to work on our house, it gets harder and harder to show up for work everyday. Spending four hours a day in traffic almost isn\'t worth it. I don\'t have that kind of time. In St. Bernard I lived 5 miles from work, which took all of 20 minutes to get to work. I value my time with my children and made sure we lived someplace close enough to work that I wouldn\'t spend all my time on the road. \r\n\r\nThanksgiving and Christmas seem very, very far away, yet they are already here. With no way to get my children presents, Christmas will be bleak this year. Erin insists we will not celebrate the holidays in our temp home, because it\'s not our home. We await our FEMA trailer, but we don\'t hold our breaths waiting. Erin wants to celebrate the holidays in that trailer on our own property next to our own house, but it doesn\'t look like that will happen soon enough. I\'ve always been able to give my kids what they want. This request of Erin is simple, but completely out of my control. \r\n\r\nI\'m tired of living this way. I want to go home. I want to go back to St. Bernard, where I was raised, where I raised my children. I want to know this won\'t happen again when another Cat 4 or 5 hurricane barrels down on us, because our government didn\'t think we were worth the effort to build better levees and to close the MRGO. Our lives, our memories, our homes, our children - none of us is worth it to them. \r\n\r\nThank you for taking the time to read my story. It\'s only the beginning.\r\n\r\nS. Schott\r\nFriscoville\r\nArabi,LA\r\n



“[Untitled],” Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, accessed April 13, 2024,