New Orleans family happy to be in Blaine
“The worst part was not knowing where my mom was for several days,” said Blaine resident and New Orleans native Sue Cushman, who finally connected with her invalid mother on Saturday, September 3, after four days of no contact.
Cushman, office manager for the Bay Medical Clinic, has lived in Blaine for more than 20 years with her husband Jeff and children Kim, Christopher and Laura but still has a lot of family left in her hometown, New Orleans. With hurricane Katrina’s winds and subsequent flooding, most of her family dispersed to relatives around the immediate area, but she lost track of her mother who was living in a rest home and unable to walk.
“We had been told she was sent to Baton Rouge, but found her in New Iberia,” Cushman said. “When the Red Cross made the connection and called late that Saturday night. The first thing she said was ‘I was so worried about you.’”
Cushman eventually pieced together the story. After Hurricane Katrina passed through the last weekend in August, Cushman called her mom on August 28 and daily after that. “I don’t think they told the residents much,” she said, “but when I called on Wednesday I was told that she’d left at 3 a.m. on a bus, but they didn’t know where, maybe to Baton Rouge.” Cushman contacted the Red Cross on Friday, and at 10 p.m. Saturday night they called back with the name of the rest home where she ended up in New Iberia, Louisiana.
“They mis-spelled her name, so that didn’t help,” Cushman said, “but we also found out that it took a couple of days to get from New Orleans to New Iberia, and we don’t know what happened to them on that trip. She was still in her nightgown when she showed up.”
This kind of story is repeated with variations thousands of times over for everyone touched by hurricane Katrina, including many local people. Blaine high school basketball coach Dan Rucker was in the Navy and on shore leave in Florida 20 years ago when he met a pretty young girl from New Orleans named Belle Green, whom he brought back to Blaine and married in the Congregational Church. She spoke matter-of-factly about the controversies swirling around how well or poorly disaster relief had been provided. “Woulda coulda shoulda,” she said, “none of that matters. This hits everyone hard, the middle class because they don’t qualify for some things but are still left without a job, income, house and most of their stuff, and a lot of people don’t have flood insurance.”
Rucker’s aunt from Kenner, Louisiana, Ann Mitchell, came to visit August 13 and has not been able to get back. She was to have returned Labor Day weekend but now has tickets for October 2. She’s not able to contact her office and is afraid she has no job, but more than that is worried about the liveability of her house in Kenner. “They’re trying to have us throw out our refrigerator and freezers because of the health risk of rotting food,” she said.
Mitchell’s house has a tree leaning
on it and there’s
water damage, perhaps from a hole from the
tree, but no one has been to the house to inspect
it from the inside. “Luckily
our area didn’t flood,” she said, “but
we still don’t really know what’s
going on, and now there’s this new storm
the risks, Mitchell said a few weeks ago that
she would go home at the end of the week, “and
come back if I have to.”
Mitchell works at a New Orleans non-profit called the Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC). Carolyn Harvey, a co-worker, was at Charity Hospital in New Orleans having surgery to repair a baseball-sized hole eaten in her leg by a Recluse Spider when Hurricane Katrina hit and power was lost. She was marooned in the hospital, out of touch with everyone for a week when Mitchell made contact with her last week from Blaine.
“She was left at the hospital for several days, during which they were even getting shot at from outside. She eventually got picked up by her son in a fisheries department truck and was taken to the airport and then air evacuated to Houston,” Mitchell said.
Harvey’s surgical wound became infected, she thinks from the ride in the truck, but other than that “I’m OK,” she said on the phone, “things worked out.”
Cushman’s niece Vicki Genova, her husband Mike and children CC, Anthony, Nikki and Veronica all evacuated from their home in the New Orleans suburb of Metarie before the hurricane struck and arrived at Cushman’s house on B Street. Mike, a mechanical engineer with W. H. Linder, an oil company, returned to work with their car to a temporary office at his company’s headquarters in Houston.
“We were evacuated in phases, but it’s a tough decision to make. You travel at a foot an hour. It makes the hour trip to Baton Rouge intone taking at least six hours, maybe more. But you have to decide, and the homeowners don’t get much time to decide what’s best for their safety.”
Cushman said that the controversies don’t matter as much as does the fact that the people who did the best were those who could take care of themselves in some way, and that’s not necessarily those with cars or relatives to go to. “You do what you can,” she said, “and then if you must, accept whatever it is that others can do for you. It’s no use complaining when so much has been lost by everyone.”
Genova’s calm demeanor as she sat at a neighborhood garage sale at the Rucker’s, her children playing with some of the items while flowing around her like puppies, began to break down when she spoke of how people in Texas treated the hurricane refugees.
“Texas was..”she began to say, her eyes misting. “OK, what I was saying is that Texas was wonderful. They took us in like they really cared, and that meant the most of all.”
Genova said her husband planned to return to Metairie and that “the nerve wracking part is that we just don’t know what he’ll find. Jefferson parish is still open, and I think our house has electricity, but not knowing makes it all tough,” she said.