One Myth (or more), One Possibility
"Go look at fema.gov and see if you can get reimbursed for your hotel room stays," our friend Edie told us from her perch in Florida. "They owe you. They owe all of us."
Ummm....no, apparently, they don't.
To receive money or help for "Housing Needs" that are the result of a disaster, all of the following must be true:
You have losses in an area that has been declared a disaster by the president.
You have filed for insurance benefits and the damage to your property is not covered by your insurance or your insurance settlement is insufficient to meet your losses.
You or someone who lives with you is a citizen of the United States, a non-citizen national, or a qualified alien.
The home in the disaster area is where you usually live and where you were living at the time of the disaster.
You are not able to live in your home now, you cannot get to your home due to the disaster, or your home requires repairs because of damage from the disaster.
You may not be eligible for "Housing Needs" assistance if:
You have other, adequate rent-free housing that you can use (for example, rental property that is not occupied).
Your home that was damaged is your secondary or vacation residence.
Your expenses resulted only from leaving your home as a precaution and you were able to return to your home immediately after the incident.
You have refused assistance from your insurance provider(s).
Your only losses are business losses (including farm business other than the farmhouse and self-employment) or items not covered by this program.
The damaged home where you live is located in a designated flood hazard area and your community is not participating in the National Flood Insurance Program. In this case, the flood damage to your home would not be covered, but you may qualify for rental assistance or items not covered by flood insurance, such as water wells, septic systems, medical, dental, or funeral expenses.
According to Maitri, there isn't much point in trying to navigate FEMA's online application OR in calling their 1-800 number. It also means that folks like Loki, who went through, quite literally, hell on wheels evacuating by way of I-59, won't get any sort of reimbursement through those federal channels - in fact, judging from the pictures he and Alexis took, many levels of government made it a point to treat people leaving like lambs to a certain sort of slaughter:
Our group joined Contraflow, the evacuation plan where several designated highways have all lanes temporarily pointing away from the evacuation zone. It was in Contraflow that the real nastiness began.
The six hours before dawn took us into the gridlock. Once we hit I-59, traffic was reduced to an average of one to three miles per hour. With no available gas in sight, the option of AC rapidly became too fuel-intensive to embrace. In heat close to 90 degrees we watched people around us start to wilt. With each hour, the situation became more unpleasant.
Remember the beginning of this post when I spoke of people gathering their possessions? Now came the heartbreaking part, watching them leaving behind entire trailers, sometimes boats or cars, because they were terrified that they would not have enough gas to get out if they kept them.
As my cats came closer and closer to fatal heatstroke, we poured water over their heads to cool them off. Two almost died. People around us were obviously suffering in the temperature, including many elderly and infants. The various cars stalled out on the side of the road stood like scarecrows striking the fear of being left behind into our hearts. The worst place to be in a hurricane, bar none, is in a car stuck in traffic. Visions of being blown into the air in your vehicle by the “Mother of All Storms” contributed to the palpable feelings of despair.
In Mississippi, police blocked the off ramps, several cars at each. it seems we were not wanted or allowed to leave the parking lot that was Contraflow. Fear of the situation warred with rage at those whose panic was substituted for leadership. All the while, the radio spewed forth reports of how well Contraflow was working, alternating with self-congratulatory proclamations by the mayor.
My wife became so ill with the heat that an ambulance, sheer impossibility in this situation, was seriously contemplated. The lady who was driving and my wife both had to use the side of the road to relieve themselves, as did anyone else on the road.
The last few miles of this hell ride were the slowest and ugliest. The fact that I did not see any violence around us is something that makes me take pride in my fellow man; the shimmering heat haze was a type well know in the subtropics, the type that incites tempers.
Now Contraflow had both sides of I-59 heading east, at a crawl, and as we approached the end of the route we hit the slowest point of the trek. The signage and police were merging these two glacially slow-moving sides of the highway onto our side. Movement slowed a few feet every twenty minutes or so.
It took thirteen hours to reach Hattiesburg, MS. That’s 110.59 miles for those of you following at home.
Understandably, Loki is staying put up in Ohio until everybody in his family, human and feline, is fully recovered and they all have a home with full electricity restored to come back to.
However, we are on the comeback trail.
Technically speaking, my son's school is postponed until Monday. My husband's business won't resume operations until then, either. "We can head over and visit Austin or San Antonio, if you want," Dan told me.
"I just want to go home," I said testily.
Things are different when the weather and general government incompetence have conspired to make you leave and then prevent you from returning without a fight. Even if evacuation proves to be a fairly easy process (which it was for us - we learned a long time ago that standard evac routes were not the way to leave one's beloved city. Case in point: a friend of ours, on a lark, decided to test out all the blue evacuation route signs on Long Island to see where they led. He found himself driving in one giant circle all around the island. No....escape....!!!!!!), there is a feeling of unease, of guilt at being able to see people in Natchitoches enjoying themselves with live zydeco music until midnight, of being miles away from where things are happening. Even though you know there's probably very little you could do if you stayed, it is still home, and it needs tending. It should not...must not...be taken for granted.
"I heard they reopened the city to everybody, finally," my dad said to us over our last meal together before we headed south.
WARNING: what follows is speculation, not confirmed fact.
"They were looking for the criminals our idiot former D.A. let out on the streets," Dan said. "Problem is, it backed up things so badly, the state police had to put pressure on New Orleans to remove the roadblocks."
If the possibility my husband mentioned is the reason, or one of the few, stupid reasons why city residents such as ourselves were denied an immediate return to heck on our homes and businesses, then our city's recovery is quite doomed. This also does not bode well for any attempts to move mass populations out of harm's way if, in the end, all of us will be treated as criminals regardless of whether or not we actually are. And, "Oh, if you don't have a record, you have nothing to fear," doesn't cut it.
Considering New Orleans' history, it really would not have surprised me if the reentry was a reverse version of this satirical scenario, which is sadly funny in part because, historically, there has been some truth to it.:
As local officials laid out preparation plans for the impending arrival of Hurricane Gustav to the Louisiana coastline, local business leaders convened at an undisclosed location Uptown before passing a written statement to an armed Blackwater guard, who read the following while standing at the security gate of Audubon Place on St. Charles Avenue.
"We feel an evacuation by groups is the most efficient way to deal with potential problems of gridlock and general citizen disobedience," the guard read. "The simplest way to assign citizens group affiliation is by color-coding. We ask that all black residents of New Orleans evacuate first. We will even provide buses."
Now, if you'll excuse us, we'll be heading home.