Three years ago, Hurricane Katrina dismantled lives all across New Orleans. Millions were forced to evacuate and most people still haven’t recovered from the deadliest storm in United States History.
Andrew Lemmon, a St. Charles Parish attorney, is one of the lucky few to be able to return to his Lakeview area home almost three years later. But Lemmon knows that there are still people dealing with the devastation. That’s why he joined two friends, both attorneys, in creating Reach Out America.
“The organization originally helped people move to other places once they got home and realized there wasn’t anything left for them,” he said. “For instance, we paid for gas cards and bus tickets for people to get to places they wanted to go.”
Lemmon says the organization has also given out furniture vouchers, repaired restrooms in one New Orleans school and bought tools to help residents gut houses. The remaining funds are being put to use right now.
“We are donating the last of the money we’ve raised to an organization called the Beacon of Hope in New Orleans,” he said. “We are paying plumbers and electricians for the organization as they construct houses in the community so people can return home.”
And while Lemmon is reaching out to help others affected by the natural disaster, he still remembers how horrifying the experience was for his family. With only three days worth of supplies and his son in tow, Lemmon was forced to evacuate to Lafayette to stay with friends.
“I had about 10 feet of water in my house as a result of the levee breach,” he said. “Only about half of my neighbors are back in their homes. At least that’s better than what it was.”
Lemmon says Katrina’s scars aren’t easily removed.
“When I think about Katrina this Friday, I’ll remember my son most of all and how resilient he is,” Lemmon said. “At the time he was 5-years-old and he used to have nightmares about the storm. I remember my son, Stuart, looking at a toy once saying, ‘I had one just like that before Katrina.’”
Lemmon says the media played a big part in the images cast all across the country and how people thought about the flood’s impact.
“Some people thought that only the poor were impacted,” he said. “But that’s not true – we all were.”
Lemmon credits his family and friends for their support through those difficult times.
“I got home and from the outside, I thought to myself ‘oh it doesn’t look so bad,’” Lemmon said. “Then I opened the door and knew my life would never be the same.”
Lemmon says the furniture in the home was completely destroyed, and turned upside down.
“Everything was misplaced and mildewed,” he said. “Things that were supposed to be in the living room had floated to different parts of the house. The refrigerator was upturned on its side in the kitchen.”
Lemmon has faced trials similar to many other residents who have been trying to recover from the flood.
“When I was getting my home repaired, a contractor stole $25,000,” he said. “First the insurance company delayed payment and denied coverage.”
The Louisiana Road Home Program was designed to give residents financial assistance due to storm related damage of their home.
“The program was supposed to help to restore some of the things that we lost,” he said. “I was denied those benefits because they said the damage my home endured wasn’t severe enough.”