August 29th, 2005 is a day we're all well aware of now. Hurricane Katrina pummeled the city of New Orleans and left wide devastation. In the days and hours proceeding the storm, little aid was given, however, since then, aid is apparently coming from many government agencies and other sources. If you listen to the media, that is the impression you get. The reality is quite different.
I am a cab driver by trade. I worked right up until the 6 pm curfew the evening before Katrina hit. New Orleans is always subject to many close calls. Many of us thought this would be exactly that: a close call. If you had money, you left. If you didn't have money, you stayed and rode it out.
However, this was the "big one" we always feared. Katrina slammed into us and devastated the area. The next day, the levees broke and flooded the city. No one left was prepared for anything but a close call. Here we were in a disaster that no one really believed deep down would ever happen.
I had a bit more than one day's food and water stored. I figured, like many, it would be a close call, one of the near misses that New Orleans is famous for. In my 10 years of living in the city, we have evacuated no less than 10 times. However, not one of those times was a big deal. The hurricane missed us and New Orleans dodged the bullet.
The nightmare became all too real the day after Katrina hit. I walked down the street and was dumbfounded by what I saw. Buildings made out of concrete had been knocked down. Whole houses had been ripped apart. My own next door neighbor's house was only half there. At this point, we were shocked, but not panicking. Everyone had at least one day's food put back. We expected some power outages and such.
The next day was Tuesday. That is when the flooding became severe. It is also when people's food supplies started disappearing. People began looting out of desperation with only a few extreme lowlives stealing electronics and clothing. New Orleans took on the look of a warzone.
Tuesday came and went with no aid coming into the city. I didn't have enough gas to leave the city and it became apparent that the entire parish was without electricity. I began trying to get what little food I could.
Wednesday, we saw the first Red Cross truck pull through the neighborhood. Quite a few had been going without food and water at this point with their stores depleted. They ran into the streets screaming for the Red Cross truck to stop. It didn't. The day went by with no aid whatsoever. Twice I became dizzy, stopped sweating and my skin turned beet red. I almost succumbed to heat exhaustion but a neighbor gave me a 20 oz bottle of water, helping me pull through.
In desperation, I syphoned gas out of a parked car. The police had told me I could get gas in the next town over which is named La Place. I was able to retrieve four gallons of gas for the journey and sat out for La Place. However, when I got there, they were in the same situation. The police had lied. No gas or electricity was to be found in La Place.
I ended up having to travel all the way to Baton Rouge, barely making it on the four gallons I had syphoned out of the parked car. I gassed up there and began making the trip back home to pack up and evacuate. I had been sure I'd die before I got aid and this was the first ray of hope I had since the hurricane hit. However, hope soon disappeared.
Something else the police did not tell me became apparent. Even though I left the city to get gas, I now could not reenter in order to pack my things and leave. I was forced to spend 13 hours in my car with no food and water before I finally found a cop that took pity on me and allowed me to go back to my house and pack.
I packed what would fit into my car and left the city. I have family in Birmingham and headed to stay with them. I could not afford to do so, but I had no choice. It was a life or death situation. We had no aid coming into the city and no supplies. The one shelter we had in our suburb was much too far for people to walk to and there was no public transportation running. By the time I got gas, they had already evacuated the sheltered homeless elsewhere.
I keep seeing announcements on the news about how FEMA is giving us money. That is far from the truth. Out of myself and all of my friends I have been able to keep in contact with, none of us have been able to secure aid from FEMA. We were all denied. Most of us had damages to our houses and all of us were under mandatory evacuation.
I have also heard the governor of Louisiana state that many self-employed people were eligible for unemployment. She specifically said cab drivers would be able to receive disaster unemployment. I am a cab driver. I applied for unemployment. I was denied.
I have contacted the Salvation Army as well as attending a big disaster relief effort they had at the Boutwell auditorium in Birmingham. To date, I have not received a single cent of aid from anyone. I have worked for the past 18 years of my life and am now homeless due to Katrina. I had to use rent money that was two months past due in order to evacuate. Now, I cannot even pay that past due rent, much less the rent for August.
I see so many people donating to the relief effort. However, you should know that if the people were not lucky enough to get to the shelters, they are receiving no aid whatsoever. There are thousands like myself that will not receive a dime of aid and will remain homeless because of Katrina.
Even if I were to go back to New Orleans, which I may because I've heard FEMA is asking for cab drivers to come back and I have no choice but to try and make SOME money, I will be going back to an apartment without electricity or running water. They were both cut off right before the storm and I was forced to use the money I would have paid on them for gas. Then, when my landlord is able to arrive back in town, I will be evicted.
It makes me sick that I've worked 10-12 hour days driving a cab and I'm now in a situation where I'm homeless. Every time I see a commercial or an advertisement talking about Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, it turns my stomach. I am a victim of Hurricane Katrina first. I am a victim of the United States government second.
They call me a hurricane survivor. I say that I have survived nothing. It would have been better if I had died in the storm itself.
On a suggestion, I added my paypal info: firstname.lastname@example.org If there is a problem with that, let me know.