A Family's Life in Limbo After Katrina

A displaced extended family of 22 from New Orleans' Ninth Ward has taken refuge in an Austin hotel and is trying to figure out how to obtain aid. Robert Siegel talks with Christine Francis about the losses she and her family have experienced.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Christine Francis is from New Orleans. She's employed by a company that works on computer systems for the mayor's office. For most of her extended family, home is the largely still-flooded 9th Ward of the city. Refuge for the family this week is a hotel in Austin, Texas.

Christine Francis, how big is the family and why are you in Austin, Texas?

Ms. CHRISTINE FRANCIS (New Orleans Evacuee): Well, we have 22 family members here. I also have four in Alexandria, two in Birmingham and two police officers that are in New Orleans. And that's pretty much the core family.

SIEGEL: Why Austin? Why did you go there?

Ms. FRANCIS: Well, actually, it was the only place we could get a hotel. We put together a caravan of six cars with my grandmother, who's the eldest--she's 90--down to age two.

SIEGEL: Now so far as you know, everybody in the family is well and has survived the disaster?

Ms. FRANCIS: Everyone is well. Yesterday, we went to the Red Cross and had everyone go through a medical triage and have received medication. Overall, we're in pretty good health.

SIEGEL: Now in terms of property loss, what has the extended family lost in the 9th Ward?

Ms. FRANCIS: Every family has lost everything; my mother's home, we've lost vehicles, the water is up to the rooftop. As a matter of fact, in watching the rescues from the rooftops, some of the rescues were approximately three blocks away from my paternal grandmother's home, and really could see that our houses are under water.

SIEGEL: So in terms of the homeowners in the family, how many homes were lost?

Ms. FRANCIS: Let's see, maybe a total of nine.

SIEGEL: Nine homes?

Ms. FRANCIS: Right.

SIEGEL: Is there insurance to cover it? Do you get some special benefit from FEMA? Well, what happens now?

Ms. FRANCIS: On Tuesday of last week, we applied for FEMA. And we were told within four to six weeks, we would receive a packet in the mail at our permanent addresses that would tell us about the benefits that FEMA would offer. Basically, we will qualify for a grant or a loan, a SPA loan. To date, we have not received any assistance from FEMA. When we went to the American Red Cross shelter in Austin yesterday, there were signs posted throughout the shelter that said, `FEMA will be here on Tuesday.'

SIEGEL: Apart from federal assistance or state assistance, is there any insurance assistance?

Ms. FRANCIS: Yeah.

SIEGEL: Would there be any recovery? There would be.

Ms. FRANCIS: Everyone with the exception of one relative had homeowner's insurance and flood insurance. The main problem that we're having is there's no way to assess the damages because the homes are under water.

SIEGEL: Your home is under water?

Ms. FRANCIS: Correct.

SIEGEL: But that's the permanent address to which FEMA says it will send its packet of information within four to six weeks.

Ms. FRANCIS: Right. So what we've done is we're sending everything to our aunt in California. She's going to have to FedEx it to us here.

SIEGEL: It sounds, Ms. Francis, though, every family needs an MBA at this moment to negotiate what's going on...

Ms. FRANCIS: And you now what?

SIEGEL: Hmm?

Ms. FRANCIS: My sister has one, I'm three classes away from mine and we're not there. It is quite a challenge. So, you know--but you're correct. So...

SIEGEL: For a lot of your neighbors, there isn't an MBA in the family and there isn't...

Ms. FRANCIS: Pardon?

SIEGEL: Your family. Your...

Ms. FRANCIS: And here's the other myth. We're from the 9th Ward. We're all professional people. I'm a project manager; my cousin is a federal officer. The 9th Ward at one point had the largest percentage of black homeowners in New Orleans, and many of them just chose to stay there because that's where the churches are. So what the media is presenting, that everyone is poor and they're black and uneducated, is simply not the case.

SIEGEL: Do you think you're getting back there? Do you think that the neighborhood gets re-established and the family all returns to the 9th Ward?

Ms. FRANCIS: No.

SIEGEL: You don't think so?

Ms. FRANCIS: No, I don't.

SIEGEL: That must be a very dispiriting thing to you.

Ms. FRANCIS: It is. And at the moment, I'm--you hear the noise in the background. My cousin is getting ready to leave, so his mother is crying. And he works with the Department of Energy. They're mobilizing them, you know. And for us, he's one of the anchors with this group of 22. And, you know, I'm going to have to get off the phone...

SIEGEL: Yeah.

Ms. FRANCIS: ...because I have to tell him goodbye.

SIEGEL: Absolutely. Well, Ms. Francis, thank you very much for talking with us...

Ms. FRANCIS: OK.

SIEGEL: ...during this period. Take care now.

Ms. FRANCIS: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Christine Francis, speaking to us from Austin, Texas, where she and 21 members of her family have gone there from the 9th Ward of New Orleans.

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