As I related a couple of weeks ago, New Orleans CityBusiness is a sister publication of CSBJ.
As the staff CityBusiness was scattered across the country because of Hurricane Katrina, our parent company, Dolan Media, started trying to find “fits” for New Orleans’ staffers who might be able to fill openings at other papers.
Here at CSBJ we held a page designer and advertising sales position open hoping that someone with the right skill set would be interesting in coming to Colorado Springs. Our patience paid off. We now have a great new advertising sales person, Kathleen Gannon, and a new page designer, Jeremy Sanders.
Both are quite talented and experienced.
What really struck me as we spent time together before they made the decision to leave the Gulf Coast for the Rockies were their attitudes.
Jeremy lost everything. As he puts it:. “The only thing I have had to be five feet above the floor.” But there was no “poor me,” no crying and no expectation of a hand-out.
Kathleen’s story is not much different, except she got engaged in Phoenix before moving to the Springs. Kathleen and her fiancé, Justin, have many friends who are firefighters and police officers and they checked on the status of their house after the storm.
Justin asked one of his police officer friends if he should rent a truck and return to New Orleans to pick up his belongings. His friend told him all that he would need was a duffle bag.
As they told me their stories and the stories of their friends still in New Orleans, it became clear that “the story” about post-Katrina Louisiana is much more complex than you and I saw on television.
CityBusiness reported this week that New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin and Interim Police Superintendent William Riley have formed the 100-member “Looting Squad” to patrol the city and protect unoccupied properties from theft and vandalism, an escalating problem in The Big Easy.
“As soon as the city was open for the ‘look-and-leave’ visits, I started getting complaints of looting from my constituents, including from people who actually found looters on their property when they returned to reclaim possessions,” said Councilman Jay Batt. “On Friday, I wrote a letter to Mayor Nagin requesting increased patrols focused on this problem and it is impressive that the ‘looting squad’ has been formed and will begin today. If we can not protect people’s property, our residents will be too afraid to return.”
But I will let Kathleen tell her story:
When Justin and I went to bed Saturday night we were undecided as to whether or not we were going to evacuate. Justin stayed up to watch the news while I went to bed.
We had been to the store to stock up on water and other things in case we did decide to ride it out. He woke me up at 2:30 in the morning because in a matter of hours Katrina had upgraded from a Category 3 storm to a Category 5.
We decided to leave first thing in the morning.
At 10 a.m. we loaded up the car as police patroled our street and announced the mandatory evacuation of St. Bernard Parish. What normally would have been a two hour trip to Lafayette took us 12.
The car ride was very surreal. All the cars were packed with belongings and nearly everyone had a pet of some sort with them including us. We left with our two dogs.
Tons of vehicles were broken down on the interstate or out of gas because of shortages in the city. State troopers did the best they could to get them off the road so that their occupants would not be stranded when the storm hit.
For the next 10 days we were glued to the television. We called it “watching coverage” as we slowly but surely heard from all of our friends. As far as we know, everyone in our circle of friends made it out one way or another.
We watched so much CNN. We were addicted. We just hoped that we would see something familiar.
The most frustrating thing for us was the lack of coverage about our parish. St. Bernard Parish was reported to be one of the hardest hit areas but everything that we saw was focused primarily on New Orleans, mainly the Superdome and the convention center.
It was extremely disheartening to see the same footage over and over with no news of our neighborhood.
Initially most of our info came from the Internet. The local TV stations in New Orleans set up message boards organized by parish and we were able to post questions and chat back and forth with others who had family in our neighborhood that they had heard from.
We also received first-hand accounts of conditions from friends of ours, a police officer and a firefighter, who remained behind to work.
Ultimately, we were able to see the neighborhood via a Web site that offers satellite photos. It took us forever to find but we were finally able to see the flooding on our street.
Our home was flooded and looted but we did not get nearly as much water as the rest of our area, which was reported to be 12-16 feet in some places.
The entire ordeal has been so surreal, I guess because it is so catastrophic but also because we have been so far removed from New Orleans since we left.
The most frustrating thing for us was really the lack of media coverage in our area. We were desperate for accurate information but coverage was so focused on downtown New Orleans, looting and racism issues that we really were left out in the cold.
That was Kathleen’s ordeal.
Will we ever know how many really lost their lives? I don’t think so. I think that many people who were really “missing” before Katrina will never be found.
Welcome Kathleen and Justin, Jeremy and Lindsey to our Colorado Springs community. I think you will like it here.
Lon Matejczyk is publisher of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 329-5202.