Surviving Katrina

1 Jun


When we met Ann Schexnyder at her pink shotgun house in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward in November 2011, it had been six years since Hurricane Katrina.

Yet she was still living without electricity. She was living without a furnace and air conditioning. She still didn’t have hot water.

In fact, she didn’t even have an official occupancy permit to be living in her home, which, following the devastating flood caused by Katrina, had once been filled with three feet of water.

Ann’s story is both unique and similar to every homeowner’s experience in the Lower 9th: The hurricane and flood were just the beginning. The years post-Katrina were the real nightmare.

Ann chose to move to her neighborhood in 2002 for its history and affordability. Her 19-by-100-foot home was built in two stages: one in the 1850s and one in 1910. The back, older half of the house used to be a social club.

That she’s living in her house – after being completely displaced for nine months and living in a FEMA trailer in the backyard for three years – is a testament to Ann’s strength and tenacity.

She had to fight with her insurance company, which for six months insisted she had no homeowners’ insurance. She had to fight with governmental agencies. She got ripped off by unscrupulous contractors.

But she’s rebuilding, little by little. She heads up community meetings. She chases thieves out of her neighborhood.

“Guys would drive by with trailers full of [stolen] doors. I called the cops, but it was like screaming in the dark,” she said of the first two or three years after the flood. “I became [a self-appointed] safety officer. I walked down the streets with a hammer in my hand, [asking these guys], ‘Who are you and what are you doing here?’”

Hurricanes are nothing new to Ann (’85 art & design), who grew up in Louisiana. She also grew up in a house without air conditioning, which helps her deal with her current situation.

“I can tolerate being miserable,” she said. “I’m not bothered by things that bother other people.”

Still, it’s been a battle.

“If it happens again, I’m not doing it,” she told us in November 2011. “It’s not that I couldn’t. I just wouldn’t.”

Postscript: Despite the fact that she still needs to install gutters and finish the floors, Ann now describes her house as “definitely livable.” Some of the work was completed by the crew of “American Horror Story: Coven” after Ann’s home was featured on that television show. “Now that I can see an end to the renovation, I will finally be able to put Katrina behind me,” she says.

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