April 13-19, 2006
After the flood…
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
A Katrina Survivor Discusses Her Ordeal with the IRC and Friends
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is floors still buckling under mud kicked up by the flood, shattered landscapes more reminiscent of the made-for-television movie “The Day After” than Mardi Gras, levees that still need to be repaired and a population scattered to the four winds.
One benevolent wind carried Inger Casnaz far away from her hometown of New Orleans to frosty Syracuse. Sunday, April 2, Casnaz appeared at the South Presbyterian Church at the corner of South Salina and Colvin Streets in Syracuse at the invitation of the InterReligious Council (IRC) of Central New York. She was invited to offer her own testimony regarding the Category 5 hurricane, which leveled the Big Easy and banished her family from the only life it knew.
Two other refugees from Hurricane Katrina were expected but neither attended the event. Casnaz, who comes from a military background, had lived near Syracuse at Hancock Airbase during her youth. So the Salt City was not entirely alien to her. During the discussion, she fondly recalled playing in the snow as a child. Nevertheless, the weather was jarring for her children during their first encounter with it. “It’s taking some time and getting used to it,” she said, adding that her children still miss their home. The presentation opened with a slide program showing the devastation wrought in New Orleans. It opened and closed with a satellite image of the white swirl of clouds enveloping the Gulf Coast.
The slides revealed demolished avenues, submerged neighborhoods and human misery. One slide showed an African-American youth pushing an elderly woman’s wheelchair through some two feet of murky water. Another showed a “For Sale” sign advertising a since shattered home. Yet another showed an elderly woman wrapped in an American flag for warmth.
Rev. Jim Bresnehan, the chairman of the IRC Education Committee, introduced the slideshow. Casnaz arrived late, noting that she had been held up at a prior obligation. With only one speaker and with the onset of unseasonably fine weather limiting the audience’s numbers, Bresnehan offered a chair to Casnaz to capitalize on a more intimate situation.
Casnaz introduced herself with a brief narration describing the onset of Hurricane Katrina. Aug. 29, she went to work like any other day. She was aware of the impending storm but not of its destructive potential. That night, Mayor Ray Nagin gave the contraflow mandate by which one is allowed to leave the city but not to return. “That’s when I knew it was going to be bad,” Casnaz said. Casnaz fled with her children to a relative’s home on a second floor. After the battering winds died down, 30 minutes passed and many in New Orleans thought the worst had passed. Then, the dark water so familiar to those who watched the news coverage from that week began to swell throughout the streets of New Orleans. Casnaz relayed that a paraplegic who lived below her relative was found floating in a wheel chair, his chin nearly dipping beneath the rising water, when he was rescued.
Casnaz and her family ended up in a nearby gymnasium before finally getting resettled in Syracuse by the Dunbar Agency. Since her arrival, Casnaz and her family have received general support from the Living Water Church of God in Christ in Syracuse and pastor Nebraska Carter. She said that experiencing Katrina has given her a new fear and respect for the power of nature. “I know that now I am just in awe of such power because all I could do was sit there,” she said. Casnaz has returned to New Orleans to visit but is hesitant to say whether or not she will return there permanently, noting that the people and the city have changed dramatically. “People’s attitudes have changed. They’ve become harder. They’ve become more bitter,” she said. Casnaz also said she is disappointed with the effort the federal and local governments have done to repair the damage from Katrina.
“I’m disgusted that none of the repairs have been done yet,” she said. “It’s still crazy down there.” During the course of her talk, Casnaz responded to questions from the audience. Many participants in the dialogue noted that they had been to New Orleans to volunteer their aid. One such volunteer, Norm Andrzejewski, a parishioner at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Liverpool, said that he would be taking another group to New Orleans later in April. Those wishing to contact Andrzejewski, should call (315) 559-9413.
The April 2 event was the first in a three-part series sponsored by the IRC. Sunday, April 8 was the second installment, which featured special presentations by two scholars from Syracuse University. Kishi Animashaun Ducre, assistant professor in the Department of African American Studies, offered a discussion entitled “Race, Space and Hurricane Katrina.” Hubert Brown, associate professor, chair of the Communications Department, Newhouse School of Public Communications, addressed “Media Treatment of Katrina and the Aftermath.”
This Sunday, April 23 at 2:30 p.m., leaders from the Central New York religious community who have served Katrina survivors locally and on the Gulf Coast will discuss their experiences.