Rebuilding – the long road to recovery

Jessica Alvey, a 2009 PLAN!T NOW Hurricane Relief Scholarship recipient, details the first stages of recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Her family was displaced from Slidell, La., in the months following Katrina’s destruction of many Gulf Coast communities.

Eight feet of water destroyed everything my family had in our one-level home when Hurricane Katrina swept through Louisiana. We watched from my grandmother’s home in Birmingham, Ala. as the hurricane hit shore in the early morning hours. Reality hit hard as we realized that all we had left in the world was the three sets of clothes each that we had evacuated with. Not only that, but along with all of our worldly possessions, both of my parents’ jobs were washed away in the storm. The task of rebuilding a life that had taken my parents over 15 years to build, without the means to do the rebuilding, was beyond overwhelming. As the images of the damage flooded the media both the gravity of our situation and how lucky we were to have a place to sleep sunk in.

My father registered for FEMA relief using the online system the next morning. We went to the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex, where the city of Birmingham had set up a relief center with FEMA. Cots were everywhere. People were forced to sleep en masse on small cots throughout the center. We received a few more sets of clothing and a small amount of help with other essentials.

What really made the difference in the process of our recovering our lives was the charity of several organizations and individuals. Having lived in Birmingham before our move to Slidell, my parents had several friends who were eager to help. People donated all the clothes they could spare along with used appliances. Local churches and individuals throughout Birmingham were exceptionally giving toward those of us unfortunate enough to have been devastated by the storm. We found a townhouse near my grandmother’s home that the landlord was willing to rent to us for several hundred dollars below its worth.

All the while, my parents went to work looking for new jobs as soon as they possibly could. My mother managed to find employment at the law firm she had left to relocate to Louisiana, but my father had to drive nearly an hour one way to reach the job he was able to find. I got my first job waiting tables to help out wherever I was able. The school system provided supplies and counseling to all of the refugees along with waiving records requirements, in response to the lack of records in most cases. Our FEMA relief came through and along with the kindness of many people and local organizations and a great deal of individual work, we were able to rebuild our lives and slowly regain some sense of normalcy.

While I do miss our home in Louisiana and rebuilding was an overwhelming obstacle, I learned the strength that my family possesses and about the kindness that disaster can inspire. The experience was incredibly challenging but in the end the self discovery and sense of community I discovered was worth it.

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