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Families Lose Homes in Hurricane

Hurricane Katrina affected the personal lives of many in the dredging industry on the Gulf Coast. A number of people reported that they had lost their homes to flooding.

Two of these families have agreed to share their stories.
Damon Gonzales and Troy Schulz, employees of Dredging Supply Company, lived blocks apart in Arabi, Louisiana in St. Bernard Parish, east of Orleans Parish. The houses there are modest, one-story dwellings. Both had lived in Arabi their entire lives, and neither plans to go back.
Gonzales is director of Engineering, and Schulz is senior staff accountant/payroll manager at Dredging Supply Company in Reserve, Louisiana, which is about 30 miles west of New Orleans, and was not in the flood area.

On Saturday, August 27, Gonzales was planning to take his four-year-old son to a fantasy football draft pick that Robert and William Wetta were holding for DSC employees at their Shell Beach fishing camp. But seeing that all models showed Hurricane Katrina approaching New Orleans, he and his wife Tara decided to evacuate with their two children. They made reservations at a motel in Houston, and left with a small caravan of family members, taking as many cars as possible.

They arrived in Houston on the morning of the 28th, and for the next two weeks, eight people lived in the hotel room, mostly watching news of the hurricane.

Gonzales noticed that not much coverage focused on St. Bernard Parish, though it took a direct hit from the hurricane.

He praised the outpouring of help they received in Houston.

"There are a lot of little places of worship which hosted meals, donated clothes and food," he said. The family qualified for the Red Cross and got food stamps, which will sustain them until the end of October. They also received a $2000 check from FEMA.

He returned alone on August 12, and lived in a camper DSC had set up on their property. When his family joined him, they became guests of Nodie and Robert Wetta, where they will stay until the 15th of October, when they are scheduled to take possession of their new house in Prairieville, northwest of DSC.

Troy Schulz and his wife Sara, when they saw the size of the hurricane, and the fact that none of the New Orleans levees were designed to withstand it, headed for Hattiesburg, Mississippi on Saturday afternoon with their three small children. Though they were safe from the flooding around their home, they rode out the hurricane in the hotel, where all sewer and electricity was lost, and all the shingles were blown off the roof.

Following the hurricane, it took them two days to get to Cincinnati, where Sara's father lived. From the Gulf to Memphis, Tennessee, there was no gas because there was no electricity to run the pumps, said Schulz.

Leaving his family in Ohio, he took two cans filled with gas and drove back to Louisiana, arriving on Sunday, September 5 in time for DSC to resume operations the next morning.

When residents were allowed back into St. Bernard Parish for a short time to salvage what they could, Gonzales took photos of his and Schulz's houses, both of which had been destroyed by the flood waters.

Very little could be salvaged; furniture was piled around, the waterlogged ceilings had fallen down and paint hung in sheets from the walls. All wood was warped and mold was everywhere. Both homes were a total loss, and all their belongings had been inundated with polluted water.

"The only thing we cold salvage was glasses, dishes and statues that could be washed in a bleach and water solution," said Schulz.

Gonzales was able to retrieve his guns, his college ring, and, incredibly, his wife's wedding dress, which was in an airtight box at the top of a closet.

Neither family plans to return to St. Bernard Parish, where the earliest habitation date has been set for next summer. Both men have lived there their entire lives, but don't see a possibility of re-establishing a life there. Friends and relatives are not moving back, and there are no amenities such as stores and gas stations nearby.

"I hope to pay off my mortgage. I'll own a piece of real estate in St. Bernard Parish," said Schulz. He and Tara are looking at a home in Laplace, also near DSC, and are staying with another DSC employee.

Friends and colleagues have been generous in providing both families with clothes and other necessary items, including a place to stay in until they can set up on their own again.

Pictures of the Gonzales home include his fishing boat, and a dozen fishing rods and reels on the rafters of his garage. The boat had been floated to the top of the house, and the motor filled with muck.

Asked about his obvious love of fishing, he said that he had been looking forward to taking his son along in the near future.

"But that has been taken away," he said. "Everything we worked for our whole life is gone, except each other. It is a totally different way of living, and we're very grateful to have what we have," he said.


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