My Katrina Story

My Katrina Story

Susan Stevens


August 29th started with a 5 am wake up call. The winds are picking up, they've been whipping all night. Time to get up and be prepared. Taking my shower I had the thought that it may be a while before I had another.


I was in lock down at the local hospital where I have worked for the last 21 years. My primary responsibilities lie in performance improvement activities, monitoring our compliance with Joint Commission and CMS standards, Risk Management, and Patient Safety. I am also the director of our Social Service Department and I am in lock down not only as a manager, but as a social worker.


Rounding through the hospital I note that there are 35 patients and approximately 100 employees in the building most wide awake and alert to the weather outside the windows. The gusting winds are indeed picking up and the rain is steady. Every TV in the building has been tuned in to the weather we all watch as the storm approaches us, looming bigger and bigger. There is a quiet to the busyness that is indicative of underlying anxiety. During our early morning strategic meeting we watch the forecast, review roles and responsibilities, verify resources and supplies, review the patient list and their needs and then move on to our assignments.


We've done this before; both in real life situations, and in drills. We are prepared. This is my mantra. I am safe. I am with 100 coworkers who are competent and reliable. This storm will batter us, but I am in good company. There are doctors, nurses, and facilities maintenance workers riding out this storm with me. Who better could I surround myself with? Most of us have worked together for years. We know and care for one another. We know that each of us has left our family to be where our jobs require us to be. We share each other's anxiety about the safety of our children.


My twenty-one year old son, Eric, and his dog Ben, have evacuated 90 miles north to Hattiesburg; a college town where he will stay with friends. Laura, sixteen, has evacuated 90 miles east with her father's parents to Daphne, Alabama, to stay with her father's sister and family. (Her father, my husband, died eight years ago from a brain aneurysm). My parent's have evacuated to Marietta, Georgia, to stay with my brother. I am confident that my family is safe.


I visit patients, talking lightly about post storm plans. The news is on in every room; which is unnecessary looking out the window is evidence enough that the storm steadily approaches and appears to be gunning straight for us. We watch trees bending, roof tiles flying, rain pelting, driven sideways with the gusts. Then we watch in total surprise as water begins to approach the building. Water? Flood water? Steadily rising, now to the curb, now to the building quickly we begin to move patients to the second floor; beginning with our Intensive Care patients no time to be slow, everyone must be moved. We struggle to minimize the pain for our post operative patients; we smile and assure them we are just being cautious. The water has entered the building, nipping at our ankles as we put a 400 plus pound patient in the elevator. Just as we unload him on the second floor our generator goes under water and we lose power. We move quickly to continue the first floor evacuation wheeling patients through knee deep water to the stairwell where they are carried up to the second floor. No one complains. No one panics. We just work until the last patient has been moved. While some teams scour the hospital's first floor making sure no one has been left behind, others have formed a bucket brigade hauling up food, water, supplies, linens, equipment. The water is now waist deep and we are forced to all take cover on the second floor. Even there, rain water is driving through the windows; patients are moved to the interior halls. It is crowded, cluttered, apparently disorganized, but we are together feeling confidence in numbers. We watch in utter disbelief as our cars in the parking lot below us are completely submerged and begin to bob around. Where is the water coming from? In horror we watch a family of three swimming toward our building; struggling in the swirling water. It is difficult to open a door to allow them shelter, but finally that is achieved and over time many others will find their way from their roof tops to our safety. Children, and their dogs, huddle quietly too afraid to make noise, to speak, to question. Parents are relieved, they have found shelter from the storm shell shock begins to set in. We watch the water and wait for the eye of the storm to pass, for the waters to recede. We have lost power, our phones (even our cell phones) have been cut off, and there is no communication with the world outside of us. No more news, no radio, no TV, no internet access. We know only what we witness.


Four hours later, the winds have changed direction, the water has been pushed back to wherever it came from, receding enough to explore the damage to our first floor. The waters rose about three feet inside the building swirling furniture and equipment around from room to room, upending trash and depositing muddy silt in its wake. We slosh from unit to unit finally arriving in our Emergency Room. It is trashed. Muddy waters are still ankle deep and we watch in amazement as two men approach us from the outside. From the Emergency Operations Command Center (EOC); they have come to advise us that patients will be arriving shortly. We stare at them. Are they blind? Do they not see the condition of our building? All the equipment, the computers, the supplies everything has been ruined. Our only resources are those that are supporting the second floor patients. Except for our pharmacy located on the third floor it remained intact. But our oxygen, our inventory, our food and water everything that had been stored on the first floor, is destroyed. The men acknowledge our dilemma but point out that we are the only hospital, there is no access to surrounding counties, the roads are blocked by fallen trees and roof tops; the bridge from our coast line across the Bay has been destroyed. There is no communication outside of our immediate county. Even the satellite system is not working. We may be crippled, but we are none-the-less the medical experts and the patients are coming. Immediately we locate mops, brooms, anything to sweep the mud from the ER and adjoining waiting room. One of our doctors has served in the Army and directs us in setting up a MASH unit, outside of the hospital; only the sickest and most injured will be moved inside. Like bees in a hive we work diligently preparing and then responding to the droves of people who have begun to arrive. Many are not injured, but have ridden out the storm on their roofs, or clinging to trees. They arrive on foot, exhausted, dehydrated, shell shocked, stunned. Their stories of mass destruction begin to set the tone for what we cannot see from the hospital. Whole neighborhoods wiped out. Buildings washed away. Rescues of neighbors trapped in attics, on roof tops. Then the injured arrive. Carried in on table tops or broken down doors; loaded in the beds of the few surviving trucks, hobbling in on their own abilities arriving in throngs. Cuts, gashes, broken bones, asthma attacks, diabetic spells, chest pain, and hypertension. It begins to get dark and we work by flashlight. An urgent plea has been issued to the EOC for backup generators, water, and supplies. A working bus has been located and begins to transport stable patients from our makeshift triage area to a shelter they have opened nearby. No one was prepared for the hundreds of residents that did not evacuate and have been left with nothing. No homes, no clothing, no food, no supplies any preparations they made prior to the storm has been washed away. No medications. No oxygen. No insulin. All washed away. They cling to their children who desperately cling back. In droves they arrive, we are the beacon in the night. They come for care, for shelter, they come looking for loved ones- fearing what they may find. We see so many patients there is no time to document our work. We move from wound to wound, cleaning and stapling in the crudest environment and everyone is grateful. A critical few are moved inside where there is little more that we can do but provide aggressive pain management. Teams have been escorted by local law enforcement to confiscate narcotics and prescription medications from surrounding pharmacies; trying to reach them before the looters. Through the night and in to the next day we treat hundreds of patients; feed hundreds of residents dry peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We raid the coke machines for drinks. Still no communication with the outside world. Still no communication with our families. We watch the crowds for a neighbor someone who can tell us of our own homes. We listen, waiting for a familiar voice. Suddenly in the distance we hear our salvation the clatter of a helicopter. We have been found. We are rescued. We are naive in fact the chopper is bringing us more patients. Wait, we cry! We need to evacuate the existing patients please help us!!!! And so the process begins. It is two full days before all our patients have been moved to hospitals as far north at Jackson, as far east as Mobile; two days of improvising care and making the best of our circumstances. Not one patient dies for lack of resources.


The storm hit Sunday. Monday evening I looked up to see my daughter's beaming smile as she walked to where I stood. My sister-in-law Lisa and brother-in-law Jeff had driven her over as soon as the roads had been cleared. With no telephone communications, and no news coverage about our area, they literally had to drive over from the Mobile area to see for themselves that I had survived. We drove, as best we could, through the debris and downed trees, to see my house. Still standing; I was encouraged. Wasn't I clever to remember to place sandbags in front of the garage door to prevent it from being blown open? Shingle damage, but no trees on the house. Then I pushed open the front door and learned the deception of an undamaged structure. Water had risen five feet, pushing out my patio doors and swirling throughout the house. The clutter and muddy mess is hard to describe. Furniture jumbled on top of each other. My refrigerator on its side blocking a hallway from the kitchen to my bedroom. Rooms impassable for the debris. Outside my patio and pool covered with limbs and mud; at least 40 trees downed in my back yard, miraculously missing the house. One tree landed on the shed, causing minimal damage. Strewn throughout the yard was furniture and household items some was mine, but not all. Every house in my neighborhood suffered the same flood damage. And we were the lucky ones. Just one mile south, on the other side of the railroad tracks that provided a levee for us, every house, for miles across the coast, every structure, destroyed if not demolished. In my circle of twenty-one close girlfriends only two had habitable homes after the storm. Only two.


We scattered in different directions, finding shelter miles away from the damage. Over the next few weeks we trudged back and forth enduring the seemingly endless process of cleaning out our homes. Sifting through the muck to find treasures; gingerly washing the mud away, wrapping them in ruined linens, bringing them to storage. Separating wet papers, drying them, page by page in the sun finding that first sweet Happy Mother's Day card; tax receipts; wondering how they came to be together to begin with. Each page evoking memories that are physically lost forever. No more photos; all are lost, wet, ruined.


Once the treasures were salvaged and stored we began the process of literally gutting out the house. Tearing out sheetrock, pulling up flooring, removing cabinets everything under the water line had to be removed. Mold and mildew already present another disgusting challenge to overcome.


I pause to remind you that I am a girl. I have no life experience dealing with issues like these. There are no specific instructions just general information like you need to gut your house, remove all your appliances, drag everything to the street, but I'm just a girl. Laura, Eric, and I with the help of Jeff and Lisa, had retrieved treasures; but now the work of pulling everything else out of the house seemed a bit overwhelming. The night before we were to begin, my two sister's husbands arrived, with one of my nephews, to lend a hand, but, they also had to salvage my parent's home; not just help me. Pathetically I cried on a friend's shoulder that I was quite capable of tending to my home if only someone would take charge and tell me where to begin. Later that same evening, as a group of us shared a bottle of wine on the front porch of Richard's home (sanctuary to 19 homeless friends) a humvee pulled up and delivered my hero. GI Ed. Young. Blustering. Humbled by the ravages of the storm. Ed had been stationed in our community to photograph the military presence; and to tell our story. He spotted our dim light and asked for an interview. One story led to another, led to dinner, and dessert. As the evening settled down I told Ed my plans to begin the clean-up of my home. With great sincerity he asked to help. Oh gee. Hum. Okay!!!!!! As soon as he arrived in the morning he cautiously suggested a plan of action. Manna from Heaven. Not only did he take charge and politely tell us what to do; he used his hummer to pull out the heavy, water filled appliances. I have promised not to repeat the story of pulling out our refrigerator; now three weeks ripe I have promised. Ed spent three days helping us before moving on to help my friend, and her parents too. This service must have been covered under that job description: and other duties as assigned. Throughout, Ed photographed; documenting our trials for posterity. Finding his own story of struggle and survival.


Back and forth, from Daphne to Waveland, we traveled. Realizing the duration of the recovery I set out to find my own home to rent, rather than wearing out our welcome at Lisa and Jeff's. Found the perfect home; fully furnished; fully stocked; all we needed to move in was our clothes. When settling on the rent with the owner's daughter I was informed, graciously, to cover the utilities, but that otherwise there would be no rent due. Oh my. I cried, she cried, Eric rolled his eyes (but I think he cried too). We found shelter from the storm. A home where we could be a family with no problems. A kitchen to prepare a real meal. Beds. Showers with hot water. Washer and dryer. All those things taken totally for granted prior to the storm.


Katrina the Great Equalizer


I have never been destitute. I am not destitute now. But the storm reduced every one of us to humbled creatures, destitute to some degree, in need of help that we had never before required. Doctors, lawyers, housewives, laborers we were all suddenly equal in need. As I drove through the distribution center line for the first time I was embarrassed. I am a social worker. I have always been the one to provide the assistance; not take it. I could see clients I had helped before the storm and I was embarrassed. I was humbled. I needed the help. And the volunteers that came, and the donations of food, water, clothing, ice, household supplies, bleach, endless quantities of stuff that we needed to clean up and survive all humbling. As I cried my way through the first time of taking the volunteers smiled, hugged, and offered encouragement. It would be one of many times I would find myself swallowing my pride, fighting back the tears, to just say "thank you". I felt impoverished. I felt wiped out. I was afraid. The hospital had been severely damaged would I have a job to return too? Would the insurance cover the cost of rebuilding my home? Could the home even be rebuilt, or would I need to bulldoze it and start again? When would the bank reopen so I could get some cash? Gas became scarce. Could I make it from Daphne to my home and back? Stories of looters abounded. Stories of hazardous waste and dysentery, violence, people guarding their property with shot guns, desperate people with nothing else to lose. For the first four days I still had not heard from Eric. Cell phones and all other lines of communication were down. I forced myself to trust that he was safe and sound. I would have the rest of my life to grieve if I was wrong. I refused to grieve prematurely. I was able to communicate with family and friends outside of the Gulf Coast area; if I called from Daphne. So my family knew I was okay. Finally, four days later, Eric made his way to my brother's house and never has news been so welcomed. And he had survived with his Jeep intact, good thing, as both Laura's and mine had been flooded and disabled.


Our community was destroyed. It would be weeks before the first businesses could limp their way to reopening. A few managed to open up store fronts like my friend Richard Hubbard who opened his hardware store serving clients at the front door; trying to find a way to serve the public and clean out the debris of his own store and home. Richard's home only took in 18 inches of water with that little damage (remember, it is all relative now, most homes took in five feet or more of water, if they were not demolished altogether), Richard's home became a shelter for as many as five families. Operating on generator power and well water we were able to stove top cook (the oven was water damaged) and clean (soaking the dishes in bleach water afterwards) and shower. Sounds simple, but actually quite a production. Our hands had to constantly be wiped with antimicrobial cleaners to prevent us from contaminating ourselves. We had to brush our teeth with bottled water. New habits had to be formed.

While I continued to commute from Alabama there were many nights I took respite at Richard's, too tired to make the two hour trip back to my bed in Daphne. Often there were as many as 19 of us, from ages 12 to 50something, sharing Richard's hospitality. In the daylight we would scatter to our own homes to salvage and gut; then as dusk settled in we would trudge back to Richard's, wait our turn for a shower, then hope that someone had enough energy left to cook dinner. Cooking dinner meant foraging through the distribution center boxes to find ingredients that could be blended with whatever Richard had left in his freezer and creating a dinner that would satisfy everyone's palate. As it happened, nobody had a palate we were too tired to care what we ate, or what it tasted like. Slowly, as we unwound from the day, stories would begin and as the night unfolded so did our stress, our fear, and our hopelessness. We were the best of friends and we had survived along side one another. Over the next six to eight weeks, one by one, our FEMA trailers arrived and we were able to return to our own properties. The hospital did rebound; I was called back to work, and moved from the home in Daphne first to Richard's, then to my own trailer.


Trailer is too generous a term, actually. It is a camper. A travel camper. Perhaps thirty by fifteen feet. And I am one of the lucky ones. Mine has a slide out and a canopy extension. Mine has lots of windows. Mine is in my backyard, facing the pool, and beside the shed which has been renovated so that it can be used for storage. Eric also lives in the shed, choosing privacy over location. It is a nice shed, fortunately; fully insulated and warm. My best friend, Mary Kay, has her trailer placed next to mine. Her home has been reduced to a roof top sitting atop the rubble of what was once quite lovely. She cannot place her trailer on her property until the Corps of Engineers has bulldozed her entire neighborhood and utilities have been restored. It may be a year or longer.


I am one of the lucky ones. My insurance has been settled, and although it will not be sufficient to cover the cost of all that I have lost, it is something to start with, and I am young enough to keep working long enough to pay back whatever I borrow. Regularly I meet retired citizens, elderly citizens, who have lost everything and who cannot afford to start again. 67% of our county residents did not have flood insurance and their homeowner's insurance covered only their rooftops, if anything at all. Many of my friends still have not reached settlements with either their insurance or FEMA or the Small Business Association Disaster Loan program. Three months later, many do not yet know where the funds to rebuild will come from.


I was able to hire a contractor, although the laborers and supplies are in short supply. It will be at least a year, if not longer, before I will be back in my home. When you consider that the entire Gulf Coast of Mississippi, in fact, from New Orleans to Mobile, suffered massive destruction; there are only so many pieces of sheetrock, so many construction workers, so many plumbers and electricians, all are in high demand. I will wait my turn, patiently there is no point in being pushy. My needs are no greater than anyone else's.


My children and I have learned to live in very close proximity. I vacillate between imagining that I am traveling on a cruise ship (the trailer rocks with anyone's movement); to feeling like a flight attendant preparing meals in a galley. We have acclimated.


The Community


Waveland has always been a delightful secret. We have the Gulf Coast shoreline, with a beautiful, calm, beach that extends for miles. There are several rivers that are great for skiing, fishing, camping. A handful of great restaurants provide the best seafood anywhere. A safe place to raise a family.


Nestled between Biloxi and New Orleans, there is enough city life and casino life within 60 miles to keep us entertained; without having to struggle with traffic, crime, or vast poverty.


For all the traveling I have done, to beautiful places like Hawaii, Italy, Costa Rica, I never minded coming home to Waveland. It is a different beauty, but lovely none-the-less. Today I would be hard pressed to prove it. Miles of debris mar the coastline. The landscape is devastated, brown, and lifeless. Now, with the winter rain, the mud is abundant. Thick, silty, slick mud. The grass that had covered it is gone. While it is only early December it looks as though winter has made its mark.


The infrastructure has been slow to recover. 100 days after the storm, between Bay St. Louis and Waveland (neighboring communities where many of us live and work) there are still only two gas stations open. Our Super Wal-Mart reopened first in a tent in the parking lot, and just last week moved indoors to their partially renovated building. Fortunately they carry groceries because none of the three grocery stores have reopened and rumor has it only one plans to reopen, eventually. Shopping has become an adventure. There is no point in creating a list because the selection is limited. I find it easier to buy the available groceries, and then decide it is what I needed after all. One must keep a sense of humor. Patience, once an occasionally required attribute, now must be one's primary virtue. There are lines for everything. There are limitations to what everyone is able to do. The bank can cash your check, but cannot give you your balance you must call a one-eight-hundred number for that information. Three pharmacies have reopened in trailers. It is amazing what you can fit in a trailer. Just yesterday a Laundromat opened (in a trailer). I have been able to do our laundry at Richards I can't imagine how others have been managing. Just before Thanksgiving most of the free distribution centers closed. While many citizens are still destitute, the local businesses cannot compete with free groceries and supplies; and the centers had been set up in shopping center parking lots, preventing those businesses from being able to effectively rebuild. Just after the storm free medical clinics opened, supplied by volunteer doctors and nurses from literally all over the world. My son was a patient at one clinic that had imaging capabilities as well as a surgery suite (in trailers). Diagnosed with pneumonia the clinic provided Eric with a new nebulizer machine and supplies as well as all his medications. No insurance information was exchanged, no bills, no cash on delivery. Excellent care delivered with a smile, a hug, and words of encouragement. These clinics too have been able to close and move out as the hospital and the local doctors recover their practices. The schools reopened in early November, combining campuses and using trailers. Laura's all girl Catholic school now shares a campus with the neighboring all boy Catholic school - woo hoo, co-ed! 80% of her school peers have returned; while the city schools only had 30% return thus far. Much of the city population has moved away, unable to return to the destruction. I have found, however, that those of us who have stayed and been a part of the recovery seem to be healthier, emotionally, than those who just walked away. I'd be hard pressed to prove it though. There are days I considered not coming home.


Why would any of us rebuild? Why did so many not have flood insurance? As I read MSNBC's Rise from Ruins letters from other readers these questions are asked again and again. It is true, we choose to live in a Hurricane Corridor and we risk losing everything again. At least we can forecast the imminent arrival of a storm. Beats an earthquake or tornado that takes you by surprise. In my thirty-two years living on the Coast we have had countless storms, but none as devastating as this. Wind, rain, yes. but never floods such as this. Hurricane Camille was before my time here but every storm preparation was predicated on what happened during Camille. If a house did not take in water during Camille everyone felt it was safe. Houses were bought and sold based on their survival of Camille. We have a new benchmark now. Many of my friends never dreamed they needed flood insurance. They did not live in flood zones, nor had their properties ever flooded before. Flood insurance was neither recommended nor required. Some, who chose to live on the shoreline of the river, built their houses raised up, high enough to prevent flooding in the home itself. Who would ever anticipate a 35 foot storm surge? We return and rebuild because this is our home. We have friends here that have known us all our lives. Our families are here. Our memories are here. We have spirit and commitment and this is our home. What we lost was "stuff". What we have gained cannot be measured by words. There are no pity parties hard to be pitiful when everyone else has lost as much, if not more, than you. There is an abundance of hugs, laughter, and encouragement. And when one of us is having a bad day, or a "moment", we give each other space, a precious commodity these days. We need our "moments" too. Grieving is an appropriate, inevitable process that we are all engaged in.


The kindness of strangers; the volunteers that have arrived to provide support; the attention from the world at times overwhelming and humbling; prove that we are loved and cared for in ways that we could never before have anticipated. We have been the recipients of incredible unconditional love from the family and friends who have provided physical and financial assistance; not only helping us salvage what we could from our home; but then helping gut it out too a task that was not in the least bit fun; to the help from strangers like Mary Lou and Bob Roszkowski who gave us a home to live while we waited to return to Waveland. Members of Christ Episcopal Church in Wenham, MA have adopted us and have committed to helping us restore our lives, starting with warm clothing and shoes. Their leader in this cause, Nancy Patti, is in regular contact checking our needs, providing encouragement and support. Other new Episcopalian friends from Port Charlotte, Florida (John Skinner, Joyce Wyman, Bob Ducasse, and Aston Dixon) who spent 10 days here, clearing the fallen trees in my yard and hauling them to the road for pick-up, bringing supplies to share with me and the rest of our congregation. Joyce spent an entire day wallowing in my flower beds, helping to clean out what the storm had ravaged and replacing it with lovely pansies now a constant reminder of brighter days to come. Larry Gaston, an angel of God, travels every weekend from Alabama with a kitchen on wheels and cooks up enough food to feed hundreds in our community, helped our Women of the Church serve our annual Harvest Dinner, keeping alive a tradition that has spanned 57 years. We fed over 300 people a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, under the tent top that is now our church.

Kim King has led the campaign for help to our Church and church members through the web site she created for us ( and probably ended up with a much bigger job than she anticipated. Acts of kindness from strangers in public who have slipped cash in our pockets or discounted their prices or written off co-pays or provided a service for free to demonstrate their support, remain a constant surprise. Unexpected acts - like the woman in the airport who gave me a beautiful necklace just because it matched the earrings I was wearing; or the friend who have helped restore my music collection and sent flowers just to brighten my day. Designer clothes from the Worth Collection donated by a friend of a friend of a friend. Amazing kindness! And these are just the acts that have been directed to our family personally. On a broader scale our hospital was able to open our own distribution center with all the donated items we received from sleeping bags and pillows to clothing and cleaning supplies, and cold hard cash. Amazing abundance. I am grateful also for my FEMA trailer and funds, the American Red Cross, and the Small Business Association Disaster Loan program. For the Buddhists who gave us a $200.00 dollar credit card with the request that we not use it for liquor or cigarettes - fair enough. The Salvation Army gave me a voucher to purchase a new refrigerator. I knew of these programs but never dreamed that one day I would be the recipient. I have a personal respect for their existence. I am reminded that God's love is shared through people, not the Church, but people. We are all neighbors now, Christian or not.


As soon as I have finished this I know that I will remember others who have helped that I have not named please forgive me and accept that as I was writing I may have experienced a "Katrina Moment" (also known as a senior moment, or a blond moment).


This is my story. I wrote it to answer the many questions I have been asked; but must admit that once I started writing it was very cathartic. I don't contend that this is factually accurate, or complete. It is my perception of my experience. This event has provided us all with a wealth of stories; I could continue writing for days. There comes a time though, when we have said enough.





Note: The following was written by Susan Stevens exactly one year after her Katrina experience.

Surviving Katrina

Susan Stevens

One day, soon after Katrina, there was a moment; I was driving along the highway in a borrowed car; I had been on the coast, was returning to my "shelter" in Daphne, and I was profoundly aware that I had lost my identity. Literally, I left the storm with only my purse and the scrubs I had pilfered from the hospital. My cell phone with all my preloaded phone numbers had drowned; my address books had drowned; my wardrobe, my home, my gardens, my computer with all my stored knowledge all drowned. My life's work, gone in the surge of the storm. My greatest fear was that without the tangible evidence of this life's work how could I possibly carry on? The notion of recreating the path I had traveled was overwhelming. I was lost. My work defined me and it was gone. My relationships defined me, but my friends were equally devastated by the storm paralyzed in the same loss as I. My husband's death nine years earlier had left me bereft and sorrowed but not lost. It seemed all that was left was my sporadic memory, and family who loved me.

Twelve months later, the lessons I have learned could not have been bought in the best schools or churches. Looking back there was not a single moment in time when my needs were not met. Not a single moment when I was unable to feed or shelter my children. Not one. With all that I lost I never, not for one moment, did not have what I needed often at the hands of strangers.

My home has been restored better than it had been pre-Katrina. I continue to work in a profession that I love, with friends that are dear to me. And I have made new friends with some of the strangers who reached out to help me, even though they didn't know me, or know my life's work. I never proved myself worthy to them but they helped anyway. In my shallow former life I would have never expected this. I had no idea what was meant by "unconditional love".

Today, I have "turned the corner". I am on the upside of recovery. And I have discovered new things about myself and the world. The times that have laid me the lowest weren't related to my career or life's work; likewise, it wasn't my work that saved me. Family, friends, and the kindness of strangers - every time - have provided for my needs.

Sunday's sermon preached about worthiness was I saved because I was worthy? Is it coincidence that most strangers were linked to me through the Episcopal Church and other faith based organizations?

I believe we have made too much of the mystery of God and perhaps it really is simple:

Love God. Love one another. Do good. Just because.

Thank you to everyone who participated in our recovery. One year later, I'm living in our "new normal", and loving every minute of it. Thanks to you.


A Personal View Hurricane Katrina Damage

Christ Episcopal Church

For comments or questions please contact Susan Stevens at:

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