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New Orleans Family Faces Challenges and Rebuilds after Katrina

March 15, 2006

Kyra Griffith and her two-year old daughter Danielle were able to see their Gentilly home on Dreux Street for the first time after Katrina when areas of New Orleans were opened to returning residents on October 1, 2005. They stopped at a Red Cross distribution site at the Laurel Elementary School in the Garden District to pick up cleaning supplies, food and water to help them on the long, hard road to recovery. Their story was the subject of an article posted on Red (See Red Cross Helps Residents Returning to New Orleans ). In February the Red Cross revisited Griffith and her family to see how they were faring six months after Katrina.

Griffith has lived in New Orleans all her life and has an extended family here. She, her husband Dion, and daughter Danielle stayed through Katrina despite warnings to evacuate. They wanted to be close to help her grandmother and her great-grandfather who all live nearby, and they had lived through hurricanes before and were confident that they could survive the storm. Their neighborhood was protected by levees and had never flooded.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans

Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans early Monday morning on August 29. The Griffith’s lost their power about 4:00 a.m., and the day dawned to very high winds. Katrina passed through doing little damage to their home and they breathed a sigh of relief that the worst had passed. Then about 9:30 a.m. water started pouring into their neighborhood from a levee that had broken on the London Avenue Canal.

“The water came in so fast, we didn’t have time to get in the car and drive to safety,” Dion Griffith said. “The streets were flooded, and the water was over our knees in the house in just minutes. In no time at all it was up to our waists and still rising fast.”

They put Danielle in a small plastic boat and fled to their roof. A neighbor in a boat evacuated them to higher ground at a railroad embankment a few blocks west of their home. The Griffiths and five of their neighbors slept outside that night on the embankment until the eight were rescued by Louisiana Game Wardens on Tuesday morning.

The Griffiths evacuated to Baton Rouge where they stayed with a cousin. Her grandmother evacuated to Alexandria, her great grandfather to Baton Rouge, and other family members evacuated as far away as California. The Red Cross was there to help them all along the way, and they are grateful. The supplies, the support, and the financial assistance all made a big difference when they had lost everything.

The family returns and rebuilds

Dion came back to his job with the New Orleans Sewage and Water Board within days after Hurricane Rita passed, but his wife and baby didn’t return until the city reopened in October.

“Our house was flooded in eleven feet of water when the levee failed. The whole neighborhood is a mess,” said Griffith when she first saw their home in October. “We love our home and our neighbors and we wanted to come back as soon as we can, but all our furniture and carpet and clothes in the house were ruined and there was black mold everywhere. We had to tear everything out and rebuild from scratch.”

They were able to rent a “shotgun” apartment on Chippewa Street to live in while they worked on their home in Gentilly. They have started to replace all the furniture and clothes lost in Katrina. The company she worked for was flooded and has not come back, so she lost her job. As they work to get back to their home, they are carrying the double burden of paying rent on their apartment as well as mortgage payments on their house. The Griffith’s had homeowners insurance and flood insurance, as well as auto insurance on their two cars, but dealing with the insurance adjusters has been a slow and frustrating process. After a long wait they have finally received a FEMA trailer, now set up in their front yard, but it is still not connected to the electric power lines.

The Griffiths are doing all the work on their home themselves and have gutted it to the studs. They are optimistic about their neighborhood returning.

“When one begins cleaning then others follow. The neighborhood just needs someone to start, and we and a few neighbors have started,” Kyra said.

Before they can take the next steps to have their house rewired and replumbed, the Griffiths are awaiting a structural inspection. When he pulled up the carpet Dion found a crack in the foundation. If the inspection finds serious structural problems they would have to demolish the house. They are not sure that they could afford to tear it down and completely rebuild from the ground up. Without better job security they are reluctant to do so.

“I am a diesel mechanic with the city and have a good job,” Dion said. “But there are rumors every week about city layoffs, and I don’t know how long my job is going to last. We’ve lived in other parts of the country and I could get a job anywhere, but Kyra’s family is all here and we want to stay in New Orleans if we can.”

“Also, we are expecting a new baby in August, and need a little stability in our lives right now,” said Dion. He added “It is like waiting for the other shoe to drop, but we’ve been waiting for six months now and it is getting old.”

Hurricane advice

Kyra and Dion offer this advice about hurricanes: “The next time we are advised to evacuate we will listen. We’ll take our important papers and photos with us and leave for higher ground as soon as we can. People should believe the warnings, and not try to tough it out. Your family is more important.”