Sunday, March 1, 2015

KATRINA 5 YEARS LATER: Bakersfield's Generosity Still Felt by Victims


Little was left of a Biloxi, Miss., beach front after Hurricane Katrina

August marks the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the killer storm that buried New Orleans in the water that broke loose from the city’s levees and whose horrific winds ground away entire communities on the Gulf Coast.

The catastrophe touched residents in Bakersfield, Calif., who opened their wallets and hearts to help people in devastated Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Many contributed money and time through organized groups. Others went to the region, rolling up their sleeves and lending a hand.

Following on this blog are four stories of Bakersfield people and groups who responded in very personal ways. In no way do they represent a comprehensive picture of all the contributions Bakersfield people made. But they do demonstrate the generous and caring nature of our community.

Last spring I traveled to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to report on how our efforts turned out.

I found tough, resilient people still coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Profusely grateful for the help and still amazed by Bakersfield’s generosity, they conceded they had not yet fully recovered, but they were making progress. They could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Just a few days after I returned to Bakersfield, British Petroleum’s oil drilling platform Deepwater Horizon exploded, gushing out millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

As Ray Cox, the Wal-Mart manager in Waveland, Miss., told me: “The light at the end of the tunnel has gone from a bright flashlight to a penlight. But, we’ll be OK. It’s more aggravating than anything. It slows you down.”

Hurricane Katrina blew away Cox’s Wal-Mart five years ago. Like his customers, Cox also was left homeless by Katrina.

But they were persevering. The rubble had been cleared away. Cox’s Wal-Mart was rebuilt. Businesses were returning. Tourism, which depends primarily on fishing, had rekindled.

That was before the BP explosion, before the tar balls and oil-drenched animals started washing ashore, and before fishing prohibitions chased away the tourists.

Ellie Vasilopoulos in Biloxi, Miss., told me that she is so sickened by this latest disaster she and her neighbors have stopped watching television news reports. They are just too darn depressing.

And she noted there are similarities in the BP and Katrina disasters: The responses to both lacked coordination. “No one knows who’s in charge.”

“It’s a mess,” she said recently. “We are counting the days when they cap the well and clean up the oil.”

A version of this July 10, 2010 article written by Dianne Hardisty was one in a series that was printed in The Bakersfield Californian about the results of Bakersfield volunteer projects to help rebuild the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Dianne Hardisty and her husband, John Hardisty, traveled to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in April 2010 to report on progress.

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