St. Augustine Catholic
A Clinic on Wheels
Katrina One Year Later
Angels of Mercy
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editor's notes
saint of the month
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Katrina one year later
By Mark Udry

An update on how your gifts have provided hope for many of the hurricane survivors.

Langston and Louadrian Reed had heard it many times before. As natives of New Orleans, they listened and ignored the weather forecasters’ warnings over the many years of this hurricane or that tropical storm being “The Big One” that would wreak havoc on “The Big Easy.” Like the boy who cried, “wolf” one too many times, the warnings carried were met more with skepticism than worry.

The couple had made a wonderful life for themselves. Langston was a dentist with a thriving downtown practice and Louadrian participated in volunteer work at her parish, St. Matthias. Both of them were active in various civic organizations, devoting their time and energy to helping others. Their three grown children all lived nearby. They lived in a beautiful home in an upper middle class section of New Orleans. Louadrian’s 94-year-old mother, Stella, tended her backyard garden one block over.

Then, on August 23, 2005, Tropical Depression 12 formed over the southeastern Bahamas. The next day the system was upgraded to a tropical storm, the eleventh named storm of what was to be the busiest hurricane season in recorded history. Katrina.
  Looking at pictures of their storm damaged home in New Orleans, (l-r) Louadrian, Langston and their daughter Meredith are still amazed at the amount of damage that occurred to their family home.

Two hours after being upgraded to a hurricane, Katrina made landfall in southern Florida, crossing the state and entering the Gulf of Mexico on August 25. Feeding on the warm gulf waters, Katrina nearly doubled in size, intensifying into a Category 5 monster, one of the strongest Gulf hurricanes on record. Hurricane Katrina, with maximum sustained winds of 175 mph, tracked towards the Mississippi-Louisiana coast.

On Saturday, August 27, the phone rang in the Reed’s home at 8:30 a.m. It was Louadrian’s cousin calling from Ponte Vedra Beach. She was watching The Weather Channel, growing alarmed by the size and strength of Katrina and insisted Louadrian and her family come stay with her.

“I told her I never leave for a hurricane,” said Louadrian. “Langston was going to a funeral that day, and I was going to play cards with some friends.”
  Surrounded by food is Suzanne Edwards, executive director of the Lake City Catholic Charities office. Suzanne and her dedicated volunteers distributed more than 385,000 pounds of food to the needy last year, including families who evacuated from the Gulf Coast area.

As the day wore on, however, they began having second thoughts. The storm warnings grew more ominous; long lines formed at service stations and ATM machines.

Louadrian’s cousin kept calling, pleading with them to leave. Shortly before midnight they finally made the decision to evacuate. Packing little more than a couple of changes of clothes, Langston, Louadrian, Stella and the Reed’s youngest daughter, Meredith, piled in a car and left town.

They drove through the night and arrived, bleary-eyed and exhausted, in Ponte Vedra Beach late Sunday morning.

“We were only planning on staying a couple of days, and then we were going to turn right back around and go home once the storm had passed,” Langston said. “And we would have, if the levees hadn’t been breached.”

After a couple of days in Florida, watching the news reports of widespread flooding in New Orleans, it became apparent to the Reeds that they wouldn’t be returning anytime soon.

Their home, built five feet above ground level and located 10 miles from the nearest levee, was flooded with six feet of brackish, slimy water. A lifetime of photos, mementos and possessions were ruined.

“I realized I couldn’t go back to New Orleans to practice, where my office was flooded,” Langston said. “Our house was flooded. So we had no place to live, no job to go back to.”
After years of dedicating their free time to helping others, the Reeds were now in the unique position of needing others to help them. A couple of weeks after the hurricane, their cousin called the St. Augustine Regional Office of Catholic Charities for help.

The Reeds were atypical of families that usually seek assistance at Catholic Charities, says Becky Stringer, executive director of the St. Augustine office.

“Normally we deal with the very poor, and they were an upper middle class family,” she said. “It was very hard for them to even ask for help. They came to Florida with the money they had with them, and they couldn’t use their bank or credit cards because of the storm.”

Becky said the St. Augustine office assisted more than 80 families that evacuated to the area. They helped the evacuees with obtaining basic necessities - food, clothing and gasoline - as well as providing housing, finding jobs and medical attention. Fifteen of those families have permanently relocated to the area.

Langston soon found a job as a dentist at Hamilton Correctional Institution in Jasper, about 30 miles north of Lake City. Stringer put the Reeds in touch with Suzanne Edwards, executive director of Catholic Charities in Lake City.

Evacuees had poured into Lake City and the Catholic Charities office there, a small converted residential home, was crammed daily with people seeking help.

“We’re not normally supposed to be first responders, but we became first responders,” said Suzanne.

Suzanne, her volunteers and staff worked for 21 straight days, aiding more than 750 people. She soon realized that the hurricane evacuees had to be treated differently than the cases that usually came to the agency.

“With our normal client base we think about how we’re going to help them over the course of 30 days,” she said. “The hurricane families were in such stress and shock, they didn’t know their day-to-day needs. We re-aligned the staff to ask, “What do you need today, because you can always come back tomorrow.” That way we were able to help more people.”

Catholic Charities found a three-bedroom apartment for the Reeds. They gave them debit cards for food, gasoline and clothing. People in the community donated furniture, bedding and appliances.

“Catholic Charities, I must say, has been extremely nice,” said Langston. “And we still have contact with Suzanne. It wasn’t like she put us here and forgot us. She still keeps in touch with us. Everyone in Florida has been nice to us. Once they found out we were evacuees, people welcomed us with open arms.”

Langston used the family’s only car to travel daily back and forth to work, leaving Louadrian and Stella without transportation. (Meredith returned to New Orleans in January.) Suzanne made arrangements with a local car dealership to pick the women up in a courtesy van whenever they asked. Later, when an anonymous donor brought a 1988 Cadillac to Catholic Charities on the condition that it be given to an evacuee family that needs a vehicle, Suzanne gave it to the Reeds.

Bill Beitz, diocesan director of Catholic Charities Bureau Inc., says the lessons from the past two busy hurricane seasons have provided stark lessons in preparedness.

“This year I know enough to be worried,” he said.
All the Catholic Charities offices in the state have signed a mutual agreement contract, pledging money, staff and materials to areas hit by storms. They have also pre-purchased food and water, storing it in warehouses scattered around the state to be distributed when needed. All the Florida dioceses now have satellite phones, purchased with grant money, so they can communicate in an emergency. And Bill is undergoing training as a member of a state emergency response team to learn how to coordinate relief efforts when disaster strikes in the Diocese of Saint Augustine.

The Reeds have now made Lake City their new home. They recently moved out of their apartment to a home on the outskirts of town. And despite having to start their lives over from square one, they say their faith has been strengthened by the experience.

“It’s made me believe that God and the angels are looking down on us,” said Louadrian. “I’ve heard horror stories about people who still don’t have a job, a place to live, no where to go. We’ve been truly blessed.”