Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Dear Northeasterners,
Right now you are reeling from the most shocking thing that has ever happened to you, and the reeling will probably continue indefinitely. I know, because in 2005 I saw what a hurricane did to my own hometown, New Orleans. We here in New Orleans are watching your soggy nightmare with a mixture of horror and traumatic memory, but there are probably a few things you could gain from our own Hurricane Katrina experience. So, here goes:

Be prepared for insurance hell. You will find out, much to your surprise, that your insurance deductible may be quite a bit higher than you anticipated. In fact, the deductible you thought you had signed up for may not apply to this particular event. Your deductible for damages to your property may be based on a percentage of the value of your home.
Home values in the Northeast are generally higher than they are here in New Orleans, which in many instances is a plus. This time it’s not. Let’s say your home is worth half a million dollars. Prepare your head for a possible deductible of up to $25,000. We found that out the hard way here. Also, be prepared that your policy may cover wind damage, but not water damage. Or, your policy may cover water damage, but not wind damage. Or, the insurance company may simply announce that they are not covering one or the other for this particular storm. If you do not have flood insurance, which many, many Americans do not have, you may not be able to recover damages at all.

Get ready for politicians’ visits. The governmental response (local, state and federal) to Katrina established the gold standard for what not to do in the event of a major catastrophe. In New Orleans, an inept Mayor (C. Ray Nagin, now being investigated by the feds for possible acceptance of gifts [bribes?] from vendors, post-Katrina); a Governor who was in over her head; and a President who left it up to everybody else to respond to the disaster, combined to make all future hurricane responses just the opposite of theirs. In other words, expect to see Obama, Romney, your individual governors, your senators and anybody else who might benefit politically by doing some face time in the streets amid the rubble. There may be an exceptional legislator or candidate who is there for all the right reasons, sans TV cameras. But most of them will be there for their own self-serving reasons. If that sounds cynical, it is not. We lived it.

Try to stay healthy. Hospitals and clinics will be overwhelmed for some time to come. Healthcare may be sketchy. Doctors who lost their own homes may be unavailable, or not even fully present (mentally) when they see you. I tripped in a post-Katrina crumbling French Quarter street after the storm and broke my hand. Hospitals were either closed or over-burdened at the time,
but one hospital set up shop in an old Lord & Taylor department store downtown. I spent nine hours waiting for someone to just look at my hand. Find out right now what hospitals and clinics in your area are operating, just in case you may need one in the near future. Your own New York University Langone Medical Center had to be evacuated during the storm because its backup generators failed to produce any power. Meanwhile, other New York hospitals canceled outpatient appointments and elective surgeries. Believe it or not, it was worse here during Katrina. Patients and hospital workers were trapped in flooded hospitals for days and some died. Even without that horror, you may be in for some limited healthcare services for quite a while.

Watch the best and worst of humanity. Just as you experienced after 9/11, your community is about to come together in an unprecedented fashion. Strangers will actually make eye contact with one another, a general no-no in NYC. People will comfort one another. Humanity will prevail. Days after 9/11 I was in NYC and I was stunned to see the level of human contact and empathy among usually hard core New Yorkers. It was life-affirming. The same thing happened here after Katrina. But life gets in the way, and sometimes
people will react to you in ways you did not expect, simply because they are trying to survive the disaster. Interpersonal friction, physical fights and verbal assaults will happen, born simply out of fear and frustration with the slow pace at which recovery happens. Looting will happen, possibly in your own store or other business. Businesses that are open will run short of supplies and merchandise, and people will struggle with one another over who gets what. It becomes chaotic, sometimes scary and the undercurrent of stress is ever-present. And it lasts for a long time.

   Northeasterners, what we found here in New Orleans in those first couple of years after the storm was that we were much, much tougher than we ever believed we could be. Our new normal was something we never could have foreseen. We did not even have enough grocery stores for years after Katrina. For the first few months, or maybe a year, if you called 911 you might wait for a very long time for help in a crisis. There were a lot of divorces and other breakups simply because people did not know how to work together to survive what had befallen them. It seemed like everybody was on something – Paxil, Lexapro, Xanax, alcohol, pot, whatever. But resilience reigned. We prevailed. We moved forward. You, too, will move forward one way or another. This is the time for you to take a step back and just breathe. Look up, instead of down at the rubble. You’re still here.
You’re nervous and unsure of what even the next day holds for you, but you’re here and you’re still standing. Each step you take will become a minor victory and sooner than you think, life will happen again as it should. It’s about getting in touch with your inner Rocky Balboa and realizing that the giant wave of October, 2012 does not define you.

No comments: