Hurricanes changed where some evacuees will live|[11/30/05]
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 30, 2005
A native of South Louisiana, Del Sanchez was never intimidated by hurricanes before. He had seen decades of the seasonal storms come and go, without much effect on his daily routine, from his homes near the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana and Fort Walton, Fla.
But after this year’s hurricane season, which officially ends today, he said he may never live near the ocean again.
“Unfortunately, the way the weather pattern is scares me,” he said. “They’re accurate with predicting them, but I kind of want to be away from the coast.”
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Sanchez, who now lives in Vicksburg, said he plans to stay here and not return to LaPlace, La., about 30 miles northwest of New Orleans.
“I’m afraid to go back because it’s too close to the coast,” said Sanchez, who lost his home and most of his possessions when Hurricane Katrina pulled the roof off his home.
Former New Orleans resident Nyoki Harrison also lost everything in the storm, but she said she is still unsure if she will return.
“We haven’t made a decision because we’ve been to New Orleans several times and housing is limited,” said Harrison, who also lives in Vicksburg.
The decision to stay where they have found stability or venture back home to a world of uncertainty is one with which many evacuees are struggling. Harrison said she knows many people who do not plan to return.
“I think (this hurricane season) changed a lot of people’s minds,” she said. “I don’t think a lot of people are going back. A lot of people I worked with are not coming back.”
Sanchez said talks with others lead him to believe only half of the New Orleans area residents will return.
Harrison said she thinks the city will be rebuilt, but the demographics will be changed forever.
“I believe it is going to be rebuilt, but it’s going to be different,” she said. “It’s going to be more middle and upper class. The way they increased the rental property out there is amazing. They’re making it impossible for people who are low-income and below middle-class to come back.”
It was not just Hurricane Katrina that changed people’s minds about returning, Sanchez said. He said it was the number of storms this season – 26 named storms and 13 hurricanes – that showed him the threat is continuous, not just once in a lifetime. He credits Tropical Storm Cindy, which hit the southern part of Louisiana in July, for changing his mind even before Katrina. He said because of the damage he saw with the tropical storm, he was not going to take a chance when Katrina came around.
“We had never left before,” Sanchez said. “I had never evacuated. We stayed home for Cindy. When Cindy passed it rocked and rolled us. I got shook pretty bad by a tropical storm. With Katrina I had a feeling it was going to be a killer.”
He said the decision to stay in Vicksburg had to do with the two children in his care.
“The first consideration was school,” Sanchez said. “We put them in school here. They’re both doing fine. That was the main consideration. For me, if it wasn’t for the kids I would have gone back because Louisiana is home.”
Sanchez said his family likes living in Vicksburg and the children do not wish to go home.
“By the time they made their first trip home a lot of things were back up and running, but with the devastation they saw they didn’t want to go back,” he said.
Harrison has three young children.
“The oldest one she really wants to go back to New Orleans,” Harrison said.
She said that although she no longer has any property tying her to New Orleans, having her family still there keeps her wanting to return home.
“My sister was also out here in Vicksburg with me,” Harrison said. “She’s going to be returning (to New Orleans) on Dec. 13. Her house had water, but it wasn’t totally destroyed. She was able to have the repairs done.”
Sanchez said that no matter how the Coast rebuilds from the destruction of this hurricane season, the experience will not be forgotten.
“It made me aware that you really need to get out and if you’re going to stay you have to be prepared,” he said. “I know FEMA’s taking a little bit of heat, but when you know it’s coming you have to be prepared. You’ve got to be prepared.”