New routines begin
Frank Arceri ’55 MA ’57 found both of his New Orleans area homes and his business heavily damaged from the storm. He remains positive despite the destruction and tells about the generosity and friendliness of the people of Arkansas, where he and his wife Janet sought refuge for two weeks after the hurricane.
He’s thankful that his family is safe. “Six of our eight children lost their homes and are now scattered, living throughout the South. My SUV was flooded and totaled. Our house in Slidell took the eye of the storm and was hit by a 30-foot tidal wave. Fortunately, it was only seven feet deep when it hit our house.”
The Arceris stayed with friends and relatives before they were able to move back home two months later. As electricity is restored and stores gradually begin to reopen, Arceri says, “Life is slowly getting back to a routine—not our normal one, but a routine.”
Arceri, owner of Arceri & Associates, insures Mardi Gras parades. The building that houses his office incurred heavy water damage. He worries, too, about how damages will impact Mardi Gras parades, and thus, his business. “My next big battle will be getting reimbursed for lost business income from my insurance carrier. We insure parades across the Gulf South, and some of the areas hit may not have parades or not as many as they had in 2005. As far as New Orleans, probably only the big parades will roll since they had a reserve cash fund.”
Life lessons learned
Hurricanes have become a relatively new concern for Shayna Lerner Warner ’94, who moved to New Orleans in 2001 after getting married. “Neither of us is originally from New Orleans. Our first tropical storm came in 2002—Isadore. I learned about hurricanes and the nature of what happens in New Orleans. We evacuated with Ivan. We came back after nothing happened. This year, we didn’t hear too much about Katrina. She came upon us very quickly. The forecast originally said the storm was supposed to turn back east toward Florida.”
The Warners made arrangements to evacuate with friends to a summer camp outside Jackson, Mississippi. “We were comfortable there, but soon saw we were in the direct path of the storm. It started blowing through at 2 a.m. on the Louisiana coast, and it came up toward us. We rode out the storm and its 80 mph winds. We lost power, water, and phones. After realizing we needed to leave, we headed north to my family in Kentucky. It wasn’t until Wednesday night when we first saw news footage that we began to see the magnitude of the storm.”
The Warners decided to stay with a friend in Houston, to be closer to Seth Warner’s work. They arrived about a week before Hurricane Rita. Deciding to evacuate again, they went to San Antonio. After a brief return to Houston, the family plans to return to New Orleans. Seth has visited their home and says it is a complete loss. Mold is growing up the wall; almost all their possessions are gone. Splash lines show a boat went up and down their street. Despite the losses, Shayna speaks for many when she says, “We’re dealing with what comes next, and we’re just fine. We have a healthy baby, a dog, and each other. You really do learn what’s important. What’s been incredible is we’ve heard from people all over and really feel supported.”
She worries about the future of New Orleans and wonders how the people who need help the most are going to be able to receive it. “The first time I really got upset was when I heard Harry Connick, Jr. and Wynton Marsalis singing, ‘Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans.’ New Orleans has a culture and character that only exists there.”
Warner continues, “We have learned to love Mardi Gras. So many things only happen in New Orleans. Nowhere else do you know you’ll be served red beans and rice on Monday and fish on Friday. It seeps into you and becomes part of your experience and culture. It’s going to be bittersweet to see what’s gone and to take what’s left and go forward.”
Blank slate emerges
Jim Durbin ’93 is thankful that he, his wife Pamela Short Durbin ’94, and their pets are safe. The couple lives about 40 miles north of New Orleans, and while their home incurred some damage due to the hurricane-force winds, they did not get any flood damage from the broken levees. He believes it’s time for the people of New Orleans to stop pointing fingers and go about the business of rebuilding the city. “A lot of people have tried to make this a political issue, and while I think a lot of people dropped the ball, I think the blame really goes back on us. For the last 30-plus years, we’ve put up with, ‘It’s going to be
OK,’ instead of making sure the politicians were putting their money in the levees and planning for evacuation. We’ve accepted answers of, ‘We’re working on it,’ and I think we finally realize our lives are more important. Now everybody will be paying for it for the next 15 years and beyond.”
One meaning of the name “Katrina” is “to cleanse,” and that, in effect, is what Durbin hopes will now happen in New Orleans. “We have a chance to start over, to get rid of the politics, the hate, the stuff that happens in a city that had been let go. We have a chance to make a better school system and get rid of some of the problems we’ve had. We have a chance to get rid of a lot of the blighted houses and neighborhoods. We have an opportunity to make New Orleans the best city in the States. We have a blank slate, and it’s horrible that we have it, but we have an opportunity to take that blank slate and turn it into a great story. I think there’s a lot of hope.”
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