Local residents listen to speeches by officials and church leaders at the dedication ceremony for a granite monument remembering the victims and survivors of hurricanes Katrina and Rita Aug. 27 in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images
(FinalCall.com) - One year after hurricanes Katrina and Rita introduced themselves to the Gulf Coast with death and destruction, many victim’s lives are still not much better.
This is what the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation’s (NCBCP) Black Women’s Roundtable (BWR) program found on their seven-day Listening Sessions Tour August 23-29, entitled “Hear Me Now! Reflections One Year After Katrina-Rita,”commemorating the one-year anniversary of the disaster.
“Women, the Black community’s traditional caregivers, experienced untold devastation and family disruption following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Women are traditionally the last to ask for help for themselves, as they tend to their families and communities. A year later, their cries for help, for the most part, have gone unanswered,” explained Melanie Campbell, executive director and CEO of the coalition of 80 organizations.
“The common thread we saw in each city we visited was that they need a coordinated rebuilding effort. That’s not there,” she told The Final Call. “Affordable housing is now missing. A two-bedroom apartment in Gulfport, Miss., has gone from $400 to $1,200. The people can’t afford it.”
She continued, “Rent and the cost of buying a home has gone way up, but these people’s income has not. The stress involved in dealing with this situation is killing them. The feelings of isolation and abandonment continue.”
The two-to three-hour listening sessions and whistle stop tours of rural and urban areas affected by Katrina-Rita visited Mobile, Ala.; Gulfport, Moss Point, Pass Christian, Bay Saint Louis and Jackson, Miss.; and New Orleans, Lafayette and Baton Rouge, La.
For Bishop Diana Taara Williams, of the African American Catholic Congregation Imani Temple No. 49 in Lafayette, Miss., the pain and misery continue after they lost their church in New Orleans.
“Here in Lafayette, we went from a city of 70,000 to 140,000 in less than 48 hours. Our church immediately became a restoration center because nothing else was open,” she recalled. “We are our brother’s keeper. We couldn’t wait for someone else to do for us what we needed to do for ourselves.”
From the first days of the crisis, Imani Temple No. 49 became a food and clothing center for countless victims of the crisis. They posted white flags off Interstate 10 so people walking or riding would know where to come.
“Many are still in the same condition they were two days after the hurricanes. Ten thousand people didn’t get registered with FEMA or the Red Cross,” Bishop Williams added. “They were the third generation living in the same home. Many backed away from getting help because the people who came to help didn’t look like them. They didn’t speak to them with dignity and respect. So the church became their first resource.”
She stressed the church’s need for financial resources because it has continued to serve 100 people each week.
The problems women are facing include the lack of employment similar to the jobs they held in New Orleans. Many were employed in the service industry and have moved to more industrial areas.
At each listening session, 20-30 Katrina survivors were present. NCBCP had on hand local service providers, health and wellness professionals, financial advisers, emergency preparedness experts, along with representatives from the its state and local affiliates to serve as resources.
The NCBCP will also assist the women to become civically engaged in the communities where they have been displaced or help them reconnect to their home communities through voter registration information and how to protect their right to vote in the 2006 mid-term election cycle.
“Thousands of displaced Gulf South residents were denied their right to vote after the hurricanes. While we cannot control the weather and prevent natural disasters, we can ensure that every citizen has the right to vote and have a voice in rebuilding their communities,” Ms. Campbell stated.
Stella Keasley is a good example of the women affected by Katrina. She is a senior citizen trying to rebuild her life due to lack of flood insurance. “I lost everything. My children are scattered around the county. I have two in Texas, one in Georgia, one in Baton Rouge and one that returned to New Orleans,” she lamented. “I owned my home and now I have to pay rent.”
Her husband is retired and her income has not increased.
“I’ve never been on welfare or food stamps,” she shares, “but now I’m in line with the rest of them.”
She informs that she is writing a book about her experiences, to be entitled, “A New Beginning.”
“One year later, my life has not improved. Things are no better for me. I still haven’t been able to find my house. My community in New Orleans still has no lights, gas, water or telephone service. I found one shoe and a broken chandelier,” she said. “They’re not trying to help us. I’m used to not asking people for anything.”
Ms. Campbell summed up the feeling of the women. “This is a catastrophe. We have to come back and help them. They still need so much. Seniors are dying of broken hearts. The anniversary is an awakening of the hurt and pain they’ve experienced. Many are still disconnected from their family,” she observed.
“We are in a crisis situation. People live in small trailers and are isolated from even getting a job. We have to get involved. We have to rebuild hope now,” she stressed. “We also have to urge the government to do its job. The money isn’t trickling down.”
(For more information on how to get involved with Rebuild Hope Now, call (202) 659-4929 or visit their website at www.ncbcp.org.)
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