Monday, November 28, 2005

The everyday effects of Katrina

For thousands of homeless people in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and beyond, every moment of every day is a reminder of the force of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the obscenity of a government that did nothing while people and animals died, economies were wrecked, careers ended, and family members were separated.

For the rest of us in the hurricane zone, it isn't that bad, though thousands more of us are still waiting for insurance checks, waiting for the contractor, waiting for the stump grinder, waiting to find out what new damage has been discovered. Every time I look at the stack of logs in my driveway or see the pile of cable left next to our wrecked mailbox, I am reminded of Katrina. I see the big blank spaces in my back yard and I think of Katrina. I look at the plants that died, the crack in the brick wall, and hole in the fence, and Katrina is with me.

As relatively insignificant as these things are, there are many more things that have caused our lives to be changed--not in terrible ways, just in ways that make us realize the consequences of a natural disaster. For example, it took me weeks to get a plumber to come to our house and replace a toilet that was no longer functioning. The plumbers we used to use would not return our dozen or so calls. Almost all of the plumbers in the parish are working on new construction and can't be bothered to replace our toilet. The rest are patching the hundreds of leaks that occurred when people turned off their pumps, causing corroded pipes to get washed out to the point of total destruction.

It is hard to get to places because of the traffic. Though the re-opening of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway helped a lot, there are now so many people living here temporarily that our highways are jammed with vehicles.

We can no longer be certain about the closing times of restaurants and other facilities. They change from night to night, depending on how many employees can be located on a given day.

We cannot get the things we used to get easily. I took some posters to my frame shop to have them framed. For some, there was an option of using mats and putting them in standard size frames, only there were hardly any standard size frames available because the supply houses were flooded during Katrina. Same with custom work--not enough employees to do the jobs, and a lack of framing materials. Using other supply houses is not much of a solution because delivery services like UPS are still not delivering in a timely manner because of the backups. An employee told me that the usual reaction from customers was anger, as if it had not occurred to them that their holiday plans would be obstructed by a Category 5 storm.

Last week, I referred a client to a doctor, and then found out he had moved to Houston after Katrina. When I went to the suite of offices in which he used to work, I discovered that everyone there had moved away. I no longer know who is in my community, who has gone away, and who is making plans to leave. Just about all anyone talks about is fallen trees, insurance issues, and FEMA.

Things are going to be different for a long, long time.

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