One of Forest Park’s newest residents got some good news Saturday morning. A phone book near the front door of her home right outside New Orleans’ French Quarter appeared to be dry, her mother told her over the phone.
The news gave some much needed hope to Amy (who does not wish to have her last name printed). Though many of her neighbors’ homes were destroyed by Katrina, hers was built a bit higher than most. The circuitry beneath the house is surely ruined and her storage shed was blown apart, but there is a good chance that, as long as the mold is not too bad, some of her possessions might have survived the storm.
Fortunately, Amy was able to gather her most prized possessions and evacuate a couple days before the hurricane, though at that time she thought she’d only be gone a couple days. Along with her children, Andy, 12, and Gabriel, 6, and their two dogs and cat, she traveled to Alabama, Mississippi and Texas, staying with relatives and in hotels.
She brought along their best clothes, some household appliances and some books she got from her grandmother, a genealogist. Her family has been living in New Orleans for 10 generations, she said, and traces its roots back to the Nova Scotian Acadians.
She heard about the levy breaking on the news at a hotel, and along with most Americans began to realize the extent of the destruction her city was facing.
“It was really bizarre to see your world on CNN,” she said. “Those are my people…we don’t even know who we lost.”
As it became clear she would not be returning home anytime soon, she began looking for a place to live and send her kids to school. She settled on the Chicago area, and began looking for a place near her aunt who lived in Oak Park and her sister who had also settled in the area after fleeing New Orleans.
A cousin pointed her to an ad for a house for rent near Lathrop and Polk in Forest Park. The house was owned by Forest Park Village Clerk Vanessa Moritz, who agreed to rent it to the family.
Though Moritz said she would be willing to donate use of the house, Amy said she intends to pay rent using both money she has saved up and grants from FEMA.
She said that Moritz’s help in getting the house stocked with furniture and other necessities was invaluable.
Since moving in on Tuesday, Sept. 27, she said, she has been “getting donations faster than she can unpack them,” often coming home from the store to find groceries on her front steps.
She said she told her son Andy that the home in Forest Park was like an “instant house, just add water,” to which Andy responded “please, no water.”
Moritz said that the generosity of Forest Parkers helped fully furnish the home during the family’s first day in town. “Everybody we mentioned it to just said ‘what do they need, and what can we do to help?'” she said. “People are very giving.”
In addition to the outpouring of donations from neighbors, she said, her two children were given scholarships to local private schools.
“There’s a real sense of community and neighborhood here,” she said. “It’s been amazing.”
Still, the possessions she lost can never be replaced. “There’s no monetary value,” she said. “That’s my stuff.”
She said that at this point, she has gotten pretty much everything she needs, and recommended that those who want to help instead send their donations to Mississippi. “That’s where they really lost everything,” she said.
Amy said she hopes to return to New Orleans in June. She would like to go back as early as January, but said she does not want to make her kids switch schools midway through the year.
Looking on the bright side, she said she is glad that the incompetence and corruption that has plagued New Orleans for years is finally being exposed.
As a project manager for a real estate developer, she said, she was often told that she had to accept corruption in order to do business in New Orleans, which created ongoing ethical dilemmas in her life.
In addition, she said, poverty and racial inequality were rampant. She said that the areas of Chicago she has been told are bad neighborhoods do not begin to compare to the misery in which New Orleans’ poor people lived.
“This could help us change everything for the better in a swoop with a change of leadership,” she said, cautioning that it is important that Americans be generous but make sure to hold leadership accountable rather that “writing a blank check.”
“If we’re not very, very careful, we’re at risk of making the very same crooked politicians rich,” she said. “So much goes on under the cover of darkness…six figures at a time.”