While canvassing the neighborhoods of the lower 9th ward, our student nurses were privileged to listen to stories of people who lived through hurricanes Betsy and Katrina, people whose lives continue to be challenged and changed each day. This is one person’s story . . .
During our week of canvassing the Lower 9th Ward, speaking with
residents, assessing their health and referring them to
the newly established Lower 9th Ward Community Health Clinic, one of
our groups ran across a man, sitting on his porch,
by the initials of L.D. In the course of our health assessment, we
discovered L.D. was very severely visually impaired.
Several days earlier, people had broken into his house and stolen his
glasses and all his contacts, along with many other
personal items and information.
We sat with L.D. for a short time and he told us his story.
L.D. has lived in that old brick house ever since he was a child, and
thus far, the structure has survived the flooding
of both Hurricane Betsy and Hurricane Katrina. When Hurricane Betsy
struck, L.D. was only a senior in high school. L.D.
and his family had stayed to ride out the storm, but were forced to
evacuate their home in search of higher ground when
the water rose to the top of L.D.’s chest. He and his family waded
through the water for nearly a half mile before they
found refuge on the third floor of a middle school.
Years later, L.D. became an elementary school teacher and worked at
that same school where he had sheltered back in 1968.
By pure coincidence, his assigned homeroom was the very room where his
family had stayed during the storm!Just prior to Hurricane Katrina, L.D. transferred to Louis Armstrong
Middle School, and again, was assigned a homeroom of
the exact room number of the room he stayed in during Hurricane Betsy!
However, he was in charge of a class for only
five days before the residents of New Orleans were ordered to evacuate.
This time, L.D. evacuated, albeit late. If he had not, L.D. might not
be here today. Caddy corner on the next block, his
neighbor drowned in his own home. Down the road, L.D.’s cousin drowned
in the street.
Across the street, two men survived
the initial flood by taking shelter on their respective roofs. One man
was rescued by a boat three days later. The other
man had been missed. Seven days later, desperate from dehydration,
that man drank some of the flood water. He was dead
within three days from massive septic infection. Four little girls and their mother, all of whom L.D. had taught,
drowned during the storm two blocks over. His school was
unable to be salvaged and it was demolished. Among the survivors,
stories were told of dead bodies, many of them former
neighbors, floating in the streets. It was said the alligators, which
began to inhabit the neighboorhood, were even seen
eating on the newly drowned corpses. Residents battled with bayou
snakes and rats.
L.D. now lives in the gutted out shell of his childhood home. He now
has nothing and lives off of the food stamps he
receives on a regular basis.
Though we will refer him on to people to help him get his life back
together, L.D. told us how tired he was of the
current state of affairs. He plans to move on from his current
location, frustrated by the slow progress of rebuilding his
neighborhood due to red tape, governmental bureaucracy, and unfair
One day, things will get better here. Neighborhoods will rebuild and
communities will grow. For now, the people take it
day by day. For us, it is about reaching out and helping one person at
a time, showing the residents they aren’t forgotten,
listening, and doing what we can to build up this devastated community.
— Erik Thronson for The Eastern Brown Pelicans