As Hurricane Irene was churning toward the Eastern coastline, I sent out an email about an item on CNN’s “Political Ticker,” which had caught my attention. GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, libertarian and congressman from Texas, has declared the country doesn’t need FEMA – the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The response I got from my longtime friend Lynn was so moving, I asked her for permission to share it with you.
Lynn Lofton is a freelance writer who lives near the beach in Gulfport, Mississippi. Six years ago Hurricane Katrina’s wind, water and wrath swept through her home and assaulted her family. She writes about the effects of Katrina – and FEMA – on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and on her and her children, Tammy, Louann and Chip.
“Like any large bureaucracy, FEMA has problems and makes mistakes. However, as a recipent of FEMA funds after Hurricane Katrina, I hate to think where I would be without it. No one had a blueprint for a storm the size of Katrina. My town and others along the Mississippi Gulf Coast would not recover without FEMA.
“It's still ongoing as we're now in the midst of getting new water and sewer lines in my neighborhood. There have been some wonderful police, fire and other municipal facilities constructed with FEMA funds. Some families lost their homes, work places, schools, churches - everything. Thank goodness for FEMA and may no community ever have to go through another Katrina.”
Lynn then reflects on that disaster:
“Today is the sixth anniversary of Katrina so there are lots of reflections where I live.
“I've intently watched Hurricane Irene these past few days. It brought back so many memories. It was bad but it could have been so much worse. I'm glad it's over.
“Today is Tammy's birthday, so now it's forever marred for her as the day Katrina struck! Her home in New Orleans had water up to the roof line. She and her family were displaced for a long time. As a mother it was so unsettling not to be able to offer refuge to them, but my house was a mess, too. I had only about five feet of water, but it took two years to get it repaired.
“Chip was renting a house in Biloxi at the time. It had a small amount of water, and he was able to get back in quickly. He took in Tammy's two dogs, his boss' dog and had two of his own. He ran a kennel for a while!
“I actually was able to save some of my furniture, dishes and clothes. I took family photos and albums with me when I left. It was impossible to think of everything when evacuating. I lost baby books, high school yearbooks and things like that in addition to household items. It is accurate to say I lost most everything.
“Everything in the house had to be re-done (shored up the foundation, new plumbing, wiring, sheetrock, etc.). Because the windows and doors blew out I didn't have any mold. Consequently things dried out and some pieces of furniture were salvagable.
“I was from pillar to post but pretty much stayed with a good friend in Jackson, Miss., until I got a FEMA camper. It took six months for me to get a camper. because the paperwork kept going to the wrong place. I had five addresses within a very short time span!”
Life – so precious – goes on:
“Louann was supposed to get married in New Orleans on Sept. 17, 2005. Everything had been paid for and secured. Of course, that didn't happen in New Orleans so soon after Katrina. She was living in Arlington, Va., at that time. The wedding finally took place on Dec. 3 in Washington, D.C. When I evacuated the day before Katrina hit, my dress for her wedding was hanging in a garment bag outside my closet. For some crazy reason I grabbed it and took it with me. Anyone who's ever been the mother of the bride knows how difficult it is to find a suitable dress to wear - I guess I was taking no chances that I'd have to go through that search again!
“Anyway, she got married on a snowy December evening in D.C. and I, the mother of the bride, proudly wore the outfit I had planned to wear on a hot day in September in New Orleans.
“At that point half of Louann’s family was homeless. and we were just happy to be alive and together. Tammy and her children found an apartment in Alexandria, Va., shortly after Katrina struck. She had to get the children in school, and it was good to be there near her sister.
“I bought a laptop computer and a cell phone and kept right on writing from wherever I was. I was thankful to have work that allowed me to keep earning.”
I suppose it is easy to sit on Capitol Hill or in a comfortable armchair somewhere and criticize the work of a government agency. Lynn’s family was lucky: they all survived Katrina, and her story attests to what FEMA, which got off to a sluggish start, has done for the people of her beloved Gulf Coast.