An open letter to Louisiana flood victims

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COURTESY U.S. COAST GUARD
  • COURTESY U.S. COAST GUARD

Dear Neighbors,

This time of year always evokes memories of Katrina, but this year those flashbacks are much more poignant for seeing the devastation that you are now enduring. As I look back on my Katrina experiences, I feel many emotions and recall many lessons. I’d like to share some of those lessons with you in the hope that they will help you get through the difficult times ahead.

• Recovery happens from the ground up. Government does not move quickly, though it was heartening to see FEMA doing a much better job with this flood than it did with Katrina. Thank FEMA head Craig Fugate and his team for that. Still, the best way to start the recovery is by picking yourselves up by your own bootstraps. That’s what we did — with the help of neighbors and strangers alike. You’ve already seen how that works. (Big hat tip to the Cajun Navy.)

• This tragedy is also an opportunity — to rebuild better, smarter, stronger. New Orleans did it in fits and starts, and with a lot of pain, but we did it. No doubt you will do it faster and, hopefully, even better. I say this as a way of offering hope, not in any way to minimize the human toll of this disaster.

• It’s a marathon, not a sprint. As much as you’d like to get back home now, rebuilding an entire community, or even one home, takes time. It takes even longer to do it right. It’s worth the time and the effort.

• Make new connections, because everything happens for a reason. One of the amazing things that happened to me, again and again, after Katrina was meeting people one day and realizing the next day that they were exactly the people I needed to contact for help with a particular problem — or that I could somehow help them with a problem. I still have a pocket-size notebook filled with their names and contact information. Many of them have become my lifelong friends.

• The kids are gonna be all right. We parents tend to fall apart, but for our kids (once they get past the initial shock and sense of loss) this is one grand adventure. They will grow in ways that you never foresaw. Nurture them as you always would, but don’t worry about them. They are much more resilient than we are. Let them inspire you.

• Take time to laugh, cry, celebrate and live in south Louisiana. Many people thought New Orleanians were crazy when we decided to hold Mardi Gras in 2006, but it made perfect sense to us. It’s who we are. So don’t let go of your festivals, traditions and touchstones. Go to an LSU or Southern game. Go squirrel hunting or deer hunting. Take the kids fishing, hiking, canoeing or camping. Take a pottery class — whatever makes you feel “normal” again.

Above all, know that we are here for you, because we remember that you were there for us. God bless.


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