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LYNN LOFTON — 10 years of the ‘new normal,’ but we’re still here

LYNN LOFTON

LYNN LOFTON

The ringing phone awakened me early on Sunday morning, Aug. 28, 2005. “Get up! We’ve got to leave. There’s a monster storm coming and we can’t stay here,” my neighbor and friend, Clare, said with urgency. Just the night before we sat on her sun porch laughing and talking, sipping wine, confident we wouldn’t evacuate.

How quickly things change.

Like a zombie, I went through the motions of packing to flee the approaching storm.

What to take?

Along with some clothes, family photos and important documents, I took notes for the assignments I was working on for the MBJ. I thought I’d be away a couple of days and return to normal life.

Little did I know we were poised to enter the “new normal.”

For 10 years now, people date their lives in pre- and post-Katrina terms. Rarely does a day go by that someone doesn’t say “before the storm” or “after the storm.”

There are so many poignant memories that still bring tears to my eyes.

Those painful moments began accumulating after I was evacuated to Fort Walton Beach, Fla., and they included not being able to reach my son for a day and a half (he stayed in Gulfport with friends north of the beach).

Finally, I talked to him as he described standing on the corner of Kelly Avenue and Beach Boulevard in front of our house.

I asked him to tell me what was gone.

After a long pause, he told me everything was gone, “Mom, nothing’s standing in either direction.”

I couldn’t believe it.

Like a good son, he rode his four-wheeler in to rescue a few things for me. Other than walking, that was the only way to get on our street. I would later laugh at the clothes he retrieved — turtle neck sweaters, long pants and my mink coat. It was hot as blazes, especially with the trees stripped bare of their leaves, but these winter clothes were in good shape as they had been stored out of the water’s reach.

A few days later when I saw neighbors being interviewed on CNN, I knew it was time to go home and face the music. Nothing — not television and newspaper reports or phone calls — prepared me for what I saw; the utter chaos and destruction. I was more fortunate than many. At least I had a home, though badly damaged, that was still standing. Doors and windows were blown out, which turned out to be a good thing in that the air helped keep down mold. Everything was in a shambles and covered with mud and leaves and who knows what else. A consequence of mucking out my house (I think) was that I had strep throat and pink eye at the same time, which was a first for me.

There were huge piles of everything imaginable all around outside; in some places as high as the roof. These were items that meant something to people; had been part of their lives. For months it was common to see people walking around poking in piles of debris trying to find something that belonged to them. It was also common to see photos sitting by the sidewalk. Someone found these photos and put them where hopefully the rightful owners would find them.

Other sad memories include the stricken, dazed looks on faces. It was all just so hard to grasp. The landscape was greatly altered. Try giving directions when there are no street signs, no working stop lights and few standing landmarks.

Waiting in line was a big part of life in the weeks and months following Katrina. There were lines for everything — to get food and water, cleaning supplies, tetanus shots, interviews with aid and government officials, and you name it. I was told we could go to the post office on U.S. 49 in Orange Grove to pick up weeks of mail that couldn’t be delivered. After inching my way for an hour and making it to a window, I was told I should have gone to the post office downtown. That was mail I never retrieved.

Two years of paying a mortgage on a house I couldn’t live in; then moving in accompanied by sky rocketing insurance rates and a neighborhood that will never be the same; unscrupulous contractors; utter frustration with insurance companies and  bureaucrats; losing things that can not be replaced; I could go on and on with tales of tribulation, but I won’t. I’d like to end on a positive note. The thousands of people who came from all over the U.S. were such a blessing and still are. They are truly the heroes and the silver lining of this story. I can never thank them enough.

» Lynn Lofton is a continuing writer for the Mississippi Business Journal.

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