This story about us appeared in the local Bloomington paper yesterday. Thanks, Mike.
NOLA evacuees just glad to be back in Bloomington
by Mike Leonard
September 1, 2005
Bart Everson and Christy Paxson hadn’t evacuated New Orleans in the six years they’d lived there and didn’t pay much heed to Hurricane Katrina, either, when chatter about the storm increased in intensity over the course of last week.
“Saturday morning, I got up and started reading The Times-Picayune, and when I saw the map with the projected path, I thought, ‘Uh-oh,'” Everson said Wednesday afternoon. “Within about a half-hour, I’d pretty well decided we were leaving tomorrow.”
The couple got up at 3 a.m. Sunday, packed hastily, and headed north from their Mid-City home at about 5 a.m. They made it as far as north-central Mississippi that evening when they decided to grab a hotel room where they could wait out the storm.
“When we got up in the morning and saw the footage of the roof being ripped off the Superdome, I honestly had visions of me stomping through the snow,” Everson said. “I knew we were headed back to Bloomington, and it was going to be a long time before we could go home.”
The married couple made it safely back to Bloomington, where Paxson’s parents, Mike and Susie, live.
“We’re homeless and jobless, and we don’t know what we’re going to do,” Everson said. “We got out with a couple of changes of clothing and our three cats, and that’s about it.”
Still, the former Bloomington residents are surprisingly sanguine.
“Every time I start feeling sorry for myself, I think of those images from the Superdome and the flooded streets and that snaps me back to reality pretty
quickly,” Paxson said. “We have friends and family here, and we’re healthy and safe.”
Like a million other evacuees from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, however, the couple still have a hard time comprehending what happened to their
lives over the course of a weekend.
Paxson, an Ellettsville native, had just begun her second year teaching sixth grade in a public school in Algiers, which is just south and east of metropolitan New Orleans. School was just getting started for Everson as well at Xavier University, where he works as a “multi-media artist” doing video production, Web design and computer programming.
Both are Indiana University alumni, and Everson was among the first graduates of the IU’s innovative MIME (Master’s in Immersive Mediated Environments) program.
Paxson and Everson say they truly came to love New Orleans and feel a part of the city and culture after living there for six years.
“It has a well-earned mystique in literature and film and cuisine,” Everson said. “It’s also a city where many people live in bone-crushing poverty, which is
something that people who go there for vacations or conventions can’t fully appreciate.”
Paxson noted, for example, that it was considered bold when the New Orleans school district guaranteed at the beginning of the school year that the schools would have toilet paper at all times and administrators were authorized to use credit cards to buy toilet paper at Wal-Mart if necessary.
The couple chafes at insinuations that people who didn’t evacuate were just stupid.
“There are 100,000 people in New Orleans that are too poor to own a car or pay for transportation,” Everson said. “And the thing is, that’s always been known. The potential for a devastating hurricane has been known. But there’s never been a plan to get these people out.”
They worry about their neighbors in racially and economically mixed Mid-City, which was inundated with water after a levee between the city and Lake
Pontchartrain failed on Monday. They’ve had trouble even contacting friends because telephone communication to land-lines and cell phones in the 504
area code remains spotty at best.
They expect that it will be months before they can return to the city, and even then, some are predicting that colleges will be closed for at least a semester and the public schools for possibly the entire school year. They fear that looters may well make off with what possessions the flood waters didn’t take.
“We’ll be looking for jobs here, and who knows, maybe we’ll wind up staying here for the rest of our lives,” Everson said. “I love Bloomington, but I hope we can go back. The future is just so uncertain right now.”
Paxson said she was in a surprisingly good mood on Wednesday, and she really couldn’t figure out why. “I have one pair of shoes,” she said with a good-humored laugh.
“It’s because what’s happened has made you focus on what’s really important,” her husband offered. “Life is not about stuff. It’s about people and family. Sometimes it takes something like this to remind us of that.”