MEMORIES OF KATRINA REFUGEES TEN YEARS LATER

This month is the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina – the devastating storm which struck Eastern Louisiana and Western Mississippi with such force the life style of many was forever changed.  Images of refugees at the Super Dome, of high water, desperate folks who faced the onslaught of a massive storm etched in my mind.  Images of an inept mayor who called New Orleans chocolate city added fuel to the already flaming fire of fear and frustration.  One young man grabbed a school bus and as many folks as could and headed west on I 10 for Houston and the Astrodome.  I admired his spunk and determination. Many found temporary refuge at the Astrodome or Ford Park in Beaumont.  The scenes were surreal.  Many fled west – some landed in Kountze.  The count I heard was 400 souls who found a warm bed or cot in the confines of church gyms.  Others stayed in local hotels.  The population of Kountze grew those few weeks.  The community opened their hearts and pockets to the displaced citizens of Louisiana and Mississippi.   I can recall a donation box was placed in front of the Methodist church and was soon filled with diapers, products which many could use and needed.  Daily meals were served to the refugees by the staff at the Methodist church.  A family of 40 found their temporary home to be satisfactory.  They even made friends with local citizens.  One couple got married during their stay in Kountze – as their wedding in Louisiana could not take place.  The scenes were surreal.  My feelings regarding the Katrina refugees mixed.  I saw first hand ingratitude as well as a sense of humility.  I will focus on two situations I know happened, one I witnessed first hand.  One family which consisted of a couple and an elderly dad stayed at the Super Eight Hotel.  She was a school principal and the family tooled around Kountze in a snazzy, green Jag.  A local family offered the use of their spacious, two story home to the displaced Mississippi family whose home was underwater.  The kind gesture was brushed aside as the home had electrical issues. The homeowner was incredulous as the home had recently been rewired.  Another incident will stay in my memory.  A neighbor kindly offered the use of her home to a family from New Orleans who was staying at a church.  They had no home to return to.  As they stood in the front lawn and looked at the home – I heard the family remark to the local pastor the home was not good enough for them to live in.  Excuse me but what?  You are living in a church gym, sleeping on a cot and you turn your nose up at a kind and generous offer.  This was an insult and deeply hurt the homeowner whose son had died less than a month before.  Before too many more stinging rebukes occurred Hurricane Rita sent everyone scurrying.  The refugees were gone and the folks of Hardin County had to contend with massive clean up efforts and their own sense of loss.  Thank God I fared better than most.  My home was not hit by tornadoes which danced around my property and felled many pines.  Ten years later  the memories come flooding back just as surely as I knew they would.  I never heard from the school principal and her family again.  The other family was never seen again.  The family of 40 kept in touch with their Kountze mentors and a true bond exists.  The home which the family stated was not good enough  is currently the home of a retired teacher and does a better than average job of providing a home for her and her pets.  The community slowly returned to its pre-Rita status.  A few blue roofs still exist – tattered now by 10 years of brutal Texas weather.  Three years after Rita – Hurricane Ike hit Texas and reminded us all again how much we take for granted.  Electricity is an everyday norm for us until we don’t have it.  I was without electricity for 12 days following Rita and 10 days following Ike.  Our Emergency Management Coordinator has stated Kountze will no longer be a refuge city as we are just too close to the coast.  Hopefully we will not face another hurricane anytime soon.  If we do – may we remember lessons which Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike taught us.  Hopefully New Orleans will never forget those harsh lessons either.

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Filed under care and concern, Evacuation from storms, FEMA, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Ike, ingratitude, Katrina refuges, Kountze, Red Cross, TX

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