February 15, 2018 – Christine Bordelon
For many in New Orleans East living near Chef Menteur Highway, Feb. 7, 2017, is a date remembered alongside Hurricane Katrina’s landfall on Aug. 29, 2005.
Feb. 7 is when an EF-3 tornado ripped off roofs and tore down the walls of homes, rendering many families homeless for the second time in 11 years.
Roger and Vergie Davis were among those whose homes were devastated by the tornado, tearing off their roof, many walls and ruining most of their belongings.
Thankfully, their homeowners’ insurance helped the Davises build a new home on their same property, Davis said.
But those first months after the storm – when they were without a permanent home – Davis said he was amazed at the convergence of donations (clothing, shoes and food) from Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, Knights of Columbus from St. Maria Goretti parish, anonymous donors and many others at their Catholic church parish, Resurrection of Our Lord. It helped the couple with initial necessities.
“They offered to help us, but we didn’t need it,” Davis said about major help from Catholic Charities. “Our insurance company provided many of the necessities we needed.”
Response was swift
Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans (CCANO) was on the scene the same day – checking on residents and establishing a shelter for those displaced. That first night, 93 people were housed.
Within the six weeks that followed, case managers for Catholic Charities conducted intake interviews and assessments for more than 400 individuals and families to figure out “their immediate needs, the severity of their needs and their level of vulnerability,” said CCANO’s president and CEO Marianite Sister Marjorie Hebert.
More than 30 individuals whose homes were uninhabitable were housed and provided with intensive case management from CCANO and 1,900 hours of disaster case management. Some even received 80 hours of volunteer labor by Notre Dame Seminary seminarians, VAYLA New Orleans community group, the Knights of Columbus and Second Harvest.
Assistance will continue
Catholic Charities’ role is to “continue providing disaster case management for individuals and families affected by the tornado whose needs have not yet been met through the usual recovery process,” Sister Marjorie said.
It is part of Long-Term Recovery Group (LTRG), a collaborative of nonprofits, faith-based and community organizations and government agencies.
This cooperative body seeks to provide permanent, disaster-resistant housing that replaces the homes destroyed and to re-establish a “healthy, functioning and self-sustained community.”
In the summer of 2017, just four months after the storm, Catholic Charities’ Isaiah 43 Ministry and Office of Racial Harmony held its monthly Peace Prayer Walk through the area surrounding Resurrection of Our Lord Church, the center of the tornado destruction as well as the center for recovery relief.
“How appropriate that Resurrection Church served as Catholic Charities’ headquarters for disaster relief after the spring tornadoes in New Orleans East,” Sister Marjorie said. “Even in disaster, there is room for hope.”
In August, the LTRG held a resource fair at Resurrection, offering school supplies for children and the availability or resources for families that still had unmet needs. About the same time, Catholic Charities’ case managers had closed 165 cases out of a total of 315 FEMA client cases. Mary Smith, a Catholic Charities’ case worker, said CCANO provided case management for all 315 clients who applied with FEMA but still had unmet needs.
No one left behind
Now, a year after the tornado, Catholic Charities continues to work with 42 families still in need of moderate to major repairs on their homes. Most were underinsured or didn’t have any type of homeowner’s insurance, Sister Marjorie said.
“We hope to close these cases by year’s end,” she said.