Imagine you are struggling to get by (easy enough, most of us are). A class 5 hurricane is heading to your region and you are ushered to evacuate the city, neighborhood, and community you live. Not only are you evacuating, but so is the entire city. It is said to be the worst storm to hit in centuries. You pile your immediate posessions in what vehicle you have and start to leave your city, unsure of the next time you will be back. You are then immersed in a traffic jam that lasts for 8 hours only moving one mile. The storm begins. Thrashing your car, your family, and the life you knew.
You finally make it to a hotel outside of town for the night. Only hours in the roof of the hotel is ripped off by gale storm winds. You have no electricity, no water, and now no shelter to keep you dry. You can't go home. You can't leave. The roads are flooded. After making it through the worst night, you learn that your home is submersed in 20 feet of water. You are told to find a place to stay, still not knowing when you might be able to go "home."
You stay away from home for 5-8 months, the water doesn't drain from your neighborhood for a whole month. You stay in a bunk house that is 500 sq. ft. shared with 12 others who have been evacuated, with little privacy to call your own.
You return to a deserted neighborhood. Your windows have been broken in from wind. Your house is no longer sitting on its' foundation. Your car has washed away. What belongings and valuables left behind are either washed away by water or looted and anything of sentiment or value has been stolen. There is 6 inches of dirt blanketing the floor you once had carpeting on. There is a large X spray painted on the front of your house.
FEMA has decided the state of your home, the date determined, and whether any bodies have been found.
You contact FEMA for assistance. You are informed that it will take as long as two months to get shelter. As soon as FEMA delivers your temporary trailer you are told that you can't habitate until they "check you in." This takes as long as a month. They slap your wrists for moving what you have left into the trailer you will be calling home on your front lawn for an undetermined amount of time. In Charlene's case, this was 2.5 years with 5 other people.
You are finally given insurance money, but your jobs have all been long lost. You need to survive on the money given to you by the insurance company. If you are lucky, Habitat for Humanity or another charitable foundation helps you build a new home.
Unfortunately, only a fraction of the residents of the Ninth Ward of New Orleans and other surrounding areas have even returned to their neighborhoods. Only a fraction have been lucky enough to get the insurance money, the adequate help from FEMA, and assistance from Habitat for Humanity. I was very grateful to have heard a first hand account of one woman's story of tragedy and loss in New Orleans during the past 5 years. When you drive around the Ninth Ward, and other areas such as Saint Bernard Parish, you are struck by how the area looks like the storm only happened a month ago.