FACETIME- Unhappy anniversary: Katrina survivor makes new life, gumbo
Not only is Carolyn Brooks' house gone, her whole neighborhood is gone– still devastated two years after Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast.
Brooks left her home in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward August 28, 2005, one day ahead of the storm, with nothing but the clothes in her suitcase. "We thought we were going to be back in a few days," she says.
Her sister drove Brooks, 50, and two of her children– she has eight altogether– to Memphis. Today she lives in Charlottesville and reflects on the events of two years ago.
"It's sad," she says during her August 29 lunch break at Kroger, where she fries chicken for the deli. "I know people who drowned, babies drowned..."
Although Brooks still hasn't been back, one of her daughters returned to their old neighborhood. "It's all messed up," Brooks says.
A son who was living in Charlottesville urged her to move here, and churches provided gift cards for food and household items for her apartment. Anne Brown, who was property manager for her landlord, Dogwood Housing, took Brooks to pick out furniture collected by the Charlottesville Hurricane Relief Initiative, and borrowed her husband's pickup to deliver it.
"We provided a lot of support," Brown recalls, and even though she no longer works at Dogwood, she says she still keeps in touch with Brooks.
"She's worked out well as a tenant," says Dogwood Housing founder Eugene Williams. "We're extremely pleased we could accommodate her."
"[Brooks] is one of the success stories– she stayed," says Kinda Sandridge, who headed up a relief effort spearheaded by Robert Tobey and Associates. Today, that effort, the Charlottesville Hurricane Relief Initiative, is "dormant," says Sandridge, but it could revive if the need arises again. She estimates the organization collected around $45,000 and helped 65 families with furniture or clothes.
Financially, it's been rough for Brooks. But she says her children, Joshua, 12, and Precious, 15, "like it okay" here, and Precious, now a ninth grader at Charlottesville High, has been making As and Bs.
Brooks moved to New Orleans when she was 15, and she still misses the city where she spent most of her life– especially the food.
"I don't worry about the gumbo– I can make that myself," she says. "You can't find no good Chinese food [here]. And Popeye's chicken. And seafood– crawfish, crabs... "
Brooks says sadly, "I wish I was at home." But she knows it could be much worse. "I got my life. That's the most important thing."