Saturday, January 11, 2014

Hurricane Katrina - Our Story - Part 6

So the adjusters show up. It is a nice sunny day. It is a husband and wife team from Pennsylvania. She examines the inside of the house. He the roof. They seem cordial and all. The apologize for our loss and leave. I feel uneasy. Not sure why.

So now, all we could do was wait . . .

We returned back to Dallas. We still were unsure what our next step was. Do we get an apartment or not? Where is his company going to send us? One day we are going back to New Orleans the next day we are not. In the meantime, things are getting tense at the in-laws.

At one point my mother-in-law had a little bit of a heated discussion that sent me over the edge. She left the house and in the 30 minutes she was gone I packed up every single item we owned that was at their house and moved us out. Remember my husband rented a UHaul to go back to check on the house, well, he brought a lot of stuff back with him.

I had enough room in my Yukon for my daughter to sit in her carseat and me to sit in the driver's seat and I couldn't see out the rearview mirror!

I drove south into Dallas because I knew my husband was working in Dallas. I called him on my cell and asked for directions. I think he was in shock that I made such a drastic move so suddenly but he handled it well and was supportive of my decision despite how rude I was being to his parents. He told me how to get to him and made reservations for us to stay at the hotel directly next door to his temporary office.

We moved in and I settled down. I spent time shopping with my daughter, watching movies, going to Chuck E Cheese and hanging out with my old college roommate Liz. She let me use her washer and dryer and we had dinner over there a few times.

Then, we were told we were to go back to New Orleans. Despite the condition of our home. Hubby's job was returning to the city the following week.

I was on the phone A LOT making preparations for our return home, etc. My best friend Jen offered up her camper still parked in Ohio (she had moved to Florida the year before). That way we didn't have to wait on FEMA to get us one. I called my parents and asked them if they would tow it down for me. Jen went to work trying to get a current license & registration on it as it had expired since the trailer was in storage. It was a lot of back and forth and coordination between her and I and my parents and her parents. Jen was awesome and patient despite the quick turnaround time needed.

One random day in that week at the hotel, I got a phone call. I was in a mom's club back home that happened to be an international club. The woman calling me was from the headquarters. She got word from our chapter president of the damage to our house. She said they have a fund to help out their members in times of need such as this. She informed me that they were mailing me a $5000 check and needed to know where to send it! I was in my car and luckily I was parked because I just started crying. I had two feelings: guilt and humbleness. I felt guilty for being in need and humble for their generosity. I couldn't thank her enough. What do you say to someone who you don't know that is going to make getting those trees off your roof a reality?

We eventually made it home and met my parents with the trailer to live in. Before we could move back in, we had to clean up the house from the flea treatments and get the rooms with mold secured with plastic so it didn't spread. We also had to gut the walls and treat the studs to remove mold.
My parents stayed with us for a while helping us get things handled. Kate at 2.5 locked herself in the camper while we were all outside. It is a fun story to tell today but a little worrisome at the time. Roof has a blue tarp all across the front. Found a guy to remove the trees from our yard with his industrial size chain saw and front loader. Dad and his normal chain saw was not able to handle 50-60 year old 70-100 feet tall pine trees. The entire frontage of our almost 1 acre property was piled up 10-12 feet with tree debris. I used to have a picture of it using my mailbox as a reference for height!
Several moms from the Mom's Club I was a member of brought us meals during that time. It was so nice to get home cooked meals instead of eating out! My parents brought down tons of gifts from family and friendsfor Kate. It was like Christmas for her. We did have to throw out a lot of her stuff because the toy room was one of the rooms that got damaged badly.
A check from the insurance company arrived. $20,000. Really? Did they see my house?

So my parents eventually went back home. We were able to live in the house. Scott was working. I was trying to lead a normal life with Kate and find a contractor to fix our house. It just seemed to be one thing after another.  We needed to buy a new fridge but it was hard to find appliances after the storm for obvious reasons. They were sold out EVERYWHERE. So we ordered it online from the same place in Chicago we ordered the first one. Because the mail, let alone shipping was a total mess in New Orleans the 2 week shipping turned into months and we didn't get that new fridge until 2 weeks before Christmas! The first fridge got lost and then was later found sitting on a dock somewhere. The second fridge got sent back to Chicago after arriving in New Orleans. It was a mess. To get by I was using the camper fridge for veggies and fruit and a 1950s beer fridge that was plugged in outside the back door of the house in the carport.
What I didn't tell Jen about one of my dogs was that she only had 6 months to live. She had lymphoma for the second time. We treated her at age 3 for it and spent $5000. It bought us 5 more years with her. This time we passed on the treatment as $5000+ was not feasible anymore. She called me one day and said that Dakota seemed sick. I counted the months backward. It was about month 5ish. Crap. So I decided to drive there and get the dogs. Well, lo and behold, Hurricana Wilma was headed straight for her in Florida so I had to delay my trip! I didn't make it there in time. My best friend had to put my Dakota to sleep for me. I remember having to make that decision at an iHop. Jen called me two days before I was leaving to go to her house to say Dakota was in bad shape and what did I want her to do. I was having breakfast at iHop and was standing outside the restaurant on my cell phone crying telling her not to wait for me.
Two days later I left for Florida. I decided since I was by myself and not in a hurry I would drive through Waveland, Bay St. Louise, Gulport areas. I got off at Waveland, MS and took the route I new to get to a beach house owned by Scott's boss. As I drove south towards the water through the neighborhood there were boats in the roads, houses off their foundation in the road. There were dirt paths around everything. This was early November. The only people I really saw were the utility companies in their trucks working Then, out of nowhere it was like the whole environment got eery. It was devastating. There was nothing. All of sudden like that. Nothing. There was a definitive line where the surge clearly took everything away. It was ground just covered in mud. As I drove through the streets, you would see an occasional lawn chair or something that didn't wash out to sea. Someone found a picture of a couple with their child and set it up against a tree.
I came to the ocean. I could go right or left. I knew the house I was looking for was two houses to my right. I could see from the corner the lot. There were no houses either direction. I turned left and headed toward Bay St. Louis. I saw a U-Haul truck on the beach covered in sand almost to the roof. The only way I knew it was a U-Haul was because of the coloring and partial lettering sticking out.
I saw a woman outside by two tents. There weren't many people so I stopped to talk to her. I asked her a lot of questions and asked her if I could bring her anything on my way back from Florida. She said Second Harvest was setup in town and feeding everyone. Walmart was open again. She had everything she needed. I asked about a FEMA trailer. Now, this is where everyone needs to listen up and forget what Oprah and the news told you about no one getting FEMA trailers . . . What I didn't realize and learned that day from her is that you could not get a FEMA trailer until you had approved electrical and sewage hookups for safety and obvious reasons for the sewage. She had an electrical pole erected and was waiting on the utility company to make it's way down to her with electricity so she could hook up to it. There were utility trucks everywhere and from all states. She was just waiting her turn. She was generally pretty happy and content. She had quite a spread. Two big tents, Water jugs everywhere. A tent for sleeping. A tent for food/living, etc. Now, that is a survivor. (Side note: FEMA called me two weeks after getting home and offered me a trailer. I denied it as I had one and didn't need it.)
What everyone needs to understand is that the infrastructure of the gulf coast was destroyed. I don't know the specifics, but their sewage and water lines could have been destroyed as well. That takes time to fix people. When Oprah rolled in 6 months later reporting on the lack of progress I almost punched the TV. I was seeing it first hand how bad it was. There is no bouncing back FROM NOTHING overnight. They weren't even cleaning up a lot of stuff or worrying about the houses in the middle of the roads. They just worked around all that. I saw them working on getting the necessities back in order - like electricity.  I returned in February and saw a lot more progress and cleanup. My parents were with me and they just couldn't believe it. The one thing my dad and mom commented on was the amount of FEMA trailer parks. Yes, that was the easiset way to get them setup with proper electrical and sewage instead of on individual lots. I also took them through Lakeview  (New Orleans neighborhood that rarely is covered because it's not the ninth ward) where there were FEMA trailers on almost every lot as their utility infrastructure was intact but their houses were completed flooded.
I spent a week at Jen's to relax a bit and I needed that. I also found out I was pregnant with Jack while there. It was a funny story. I was complaing how about a week or so ago I felt like I had the flu and how it only lasted one day. She reminded me that happened when I got pregnant with Kate. She asked me how long it was since I had a period. Lord, I had no idea. I was so distraught I wasn't keeping track. She stopped off at a Walgreens to get me a pregnancy test. It only took 1 second and that thing was screaming PREGNANT! lol! She got to enjoy me calling Scott and my parents to tell them. What a crazy ride.
I took my 1 dog home and continued to look for contractors and wrangle with the insurance company for more money - which was a documenting nightmare and full time job. We had to have a second adjuster come out. The insurance did not want to replace our entire roof, just the front! Are you serious? Contractors were telling us the whole roof needed to be replaced because every single tile was unglued from the winds and many were broken. So the morning of the adjustor coming, Scott gets a ladder out to have a look at the roof himself. I am inside with my back to the patio doors folding laundry when I hear a loud crash and him screaming. I turn around and there he is laying on the driveway under the ladder. The neighbor behind us was drinking coffee in his breakfast nook and came running. He heard him and could see him laying there. (First time we met the neighbor because there were no privacy fences anymore.) The ambulance came and he ended up with a very sprained ankle and broken arm. The good news is the second adjuster agreed we needed an entire new roof. Thank god.

One day at the end of November I walked out of my front door and smelled gas really bad. A few months earlier a runner told us he smelled gas everytime he ran by in the morning. We had the fire department come out and check. Nothing. Well, I finally smelled it. We believe because it was now winter and the winds had changed pushing the gas toward my house and it was getting caught up in the alcove by the front door. I called the gas company. They found it right by the connection to my house. The guy unhooked my gas meter out front, put it in his truck and said "Call a plumber." I had no gas to my house that fast! As my luck would have it the first two weeks of December were frigid cold for Louisana. I was wearing my old wool sweaters and ski parkas from my up north days IN THE HOUSE! We had to go by 4 space heaters and all sleep in one room at night.

I called the plumber. He told me the gas line to my house was most likely cracked when the trees fell during Katrina. He said it is only 6 inches underground. He proceeded to tell me it would be about $2400 and whatever it cost to break up my driveway as it ran under my drive. I said, "You are going to have to break up my driveway?" He said, "Yes ma'am." With that I did an about face and walked into my house and slammed the door in his face. I didn't care about the money. I didn't want one more thing broken. After I regained my composure. I called the plumbing company and told the lady who answered to apologize to him for me. She said, "Honey, please don't worry. We will help you." The owner called me back and said he found someone who could tunnel under my driveway but it would cost more money. I told him I didn't care and to get it done ASAP. Unfortunately, I had to go two weeks without gas, heat or hot showers.
Christmas arrived about two weeks after my new fridge and my gas was fixed. It was the first time we didn't spend it with my family. It was quiet but nice. Kate got so many gifts it took us all day to open them. Scott cooked and we sat around finally in peace because we had secured more money from the insurance company and a contractor who was going to start the 3rd week in January.

Rebuilding the entire front of our house.

To wrap it up. The last and final thing to be fixed was our ornamental pond under the palm tree you see in the pic above. It was detroyed by the trees falling on it. It was the end of June before that got done. Scott came home from work on July 13 and told me he lost his job. On July 14th I gave birth to Jack.

Related: 31-17 . . . and then we danced.

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