Friday, April 07, 2006

Refugees from home

How has your life changed in the last 6 months and 13 days? Oh, a better question: what comforts have you enjoyed nearly every day since Sept. 24, 2005?

That was exactly 195 days ago. Or 4,680 hours. Or 280,800 minutes. Or 16.8 million seconds.

Why do I ask? Well, Sept. 24, 2005, is when Hurricane Rita hit Beaumont, Texas. That night, the Category 3 storm rendered our top-floor newsroom uninhabitable as wind-powered rain sliced through every weakness in our roof, collapsed our ceilings and airducts, and flooded the workplace of more than 50 journalists.

Since then, the reporters and editors at my paper have been scattered to cubby holes and dark niches elsewhere in our building, where we remain today. We have set up computers on folding tables anywhere we could find extra space; our phones are re-directed in labyrinthine ways; the ventilation in our orphan spaces is inconsistent, to be nice; we are scattered hither and yon through the buildings, making communication unwieldy and clunky; we sit -- and and reporter alike -- elbow-to-elbow, consigned to every personal tic and peccadillo of the co-workers on either side of us; and our separate mini-"newsrooms" are, in fact, hallways, passages and gathering places for customers, janitors, and colleagues from every other department.

In this time, we've had little or no access to our "morgue" -- our library of microfilm, photos and clippings. Many personal belongings and professional resources were either destroyed, lost, appropriated or safely stowed in unimaginable places when we fled the rising water. The things we carried were simply not meant to suffice for more than six months.

Contractors working to restore and renovate the newsroom have made great progress, but they can't seem to wrap it up. Our move-in dates have been set and moved so many times that it no longer fazes anyone when a new postponement is announced.

Today, we're still not back.

BUT ... we're told that we should be back in our newsroom by the end of next week, nearly seven months after the storm. Most of us -- seasoned veterans of A Series of Regrettable Delays -- can't get too excited. It'll happen when it happens. We continue to put out a newspaper every day, and it's often pretty damned good, despite the deprivations. If anything, it made us appreciate the security and comfort of normalcy. How pleasant it is to have some room of one's own. We certainly haven't suffered as much as people who lost their homes and entire businesses in the horror show that was the 2005 hurricane season.

So I ask again: How has your life changed in the last 6 months and 13 days? What comforts have you enjoyed nearly every day since Sept. 24, 2005?

ABOVE: My office, the morning after the storm.


SingingSkies said...

First up - you (plural) have done an awesome job in trying circumstances! In the immediate aftermath, the Enterprise online was where I got my info. And once things were cobbled back together, it's hard to tell that you've been cobbled together yourselves. Kudos for the fine job!

What comforts? An intact roof over my head (even if it's not my own), regular computer and internet access, being able to have my dog with me, a place where I can sprawl and not impose on anyone, the assurance of a regular income.

How has my life changed? Well, on a practical level, I've gained an appreciation for those who speak 'insurance', 'contractor', and 'mortgage company'. Still don't speak any of them fluently, but am beginning to follow the conversations! This has led to a greater awareness of how overwhelming the repair and return to normal can be for so many affected by the storm-which-shall-not-be-named.

I find myself noticing things I would never have been aware of before - cracks near the ceiling, nails dislodged slightly from their sheetrock, the slight tilt of the ornamental ironwork at the front of my house, growing mildew spots. Guess you could say I'm a bit hypersensitive at the moment. *chuckle*

I recognize that I'm quite fortunate in my personal situation with a place to live for now and a place to go home to once it's repaired. That's better than so many have awaiting them. Yet I feel displaced, a rather disconcerting feeling.

I think the biggest change, though, has been a greater awareness of and empathy for others whose homes and businesses/employers have been damaged or destroyed in natural disasters. It amazes me that people continue to live in Florida and other areas which seem to get hit by at least one big storm each year (not just once in a while). And, for the most part, the disasters they experience are quickly forgotten when the next disaster elsewhere occurs. The same has happened to us now, so I'm hoping I won't be quite so quick to forget the difficulties of people in other places.

Ranando said...

Oh My God!

I am so sorry that PatC over at Born Again Redneck has removed your link. God for-bid you carry on a conversation with me, Ranando.

Ron Franscell said...

If we didn't occasionally talk to people with different views, how self-destructive and isolating would that be?

I have no energy or inclination to participate in the angsting.

Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

Ron, I have restored my link to you as I need it to pop over for a visit. I should never have involved you. I am sorry.

Love, Rita said...

I will never again take electricity for granted. I never knew the night could be SO DARK! We were without power for 7 days. But, we were much more fortunate than most, as we never lost our water, the phone stayed on, and no one got hurt. We had access to a motor home with refrigerator, so we didn't lose ALL of the food. The roof stayed put and the three trees that fell missed the house entirely, but it was close; one grazed and dented the metal roof of our patio.

How is my life different? I was in the midst of a tremendous personal upheaval at that time--it's hard to say which of the major events I was dealing with had the greatest impact! I guess I have so much more sympathy for the people in New Orleans who had 10-12 feet of floodwater in their homes. And for the evacuees from Katrina who had to flee a second catastrophic storm!

What scares me is that we are careening head-on into another hurricane season, and we aren't even close to being prepared for it.

God help us.