[StBernard] In St. Bernard, reflection and anxiety

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Sun Aug 31 15:05:03 EDT 2008

In St. Bernard, reflection and anxiety
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Bob Warren
The St. Bernard Parish school district's annual "Day of Reflection" Friday
in Chalmette was an event held this year to celebrate heroes. There were
upbeat speeches. There was singing. There was dancing. There was confetti.

And, one giant elephant in the room named Gustav.

During the 90-minute program scant mention was made formally to Gustav,
which as of Friday morning was still a tropical storm trying to make its way
into the Gulf of Mexico. And schools Superintendent Doris Voitier says that
wasn't by accident.

"We didn't want to do that," she said. "We mentioned it and moved on. We
wanted this (the program) to concentrate on coming back and rebuilding and
how far we've come."

Voitier knows the residents of St. Bernard Parish will worry enough about
the latest storm threat without having to be pounded over the head with it
during a program meant to commemorate Katrina.

And make no mistake -- they are worried about Gustav.

In the "old days," -- before Katrina -- a storm like Gustav, still days away
from anywhere along the Gulf Coast, wouldn't have prompted such a reaction.

No more. Katrina's lessons were painful and three years later remain fresh.

The devastation in St. Bernard was complete. All but a handful of the
structures in the parish were swamped, as Katrina's storm surge crashed
through the levees and floodwalls into which residents had put their trust.
Parish officials have put the death toll at 163.

"I'm doing OK," Judy Hoffmeister of Chalmette said, "I've already had two
(nervous) breakdowns."

Hoffmeister, a former St. Bernard Parish Council member, rode out Katrina
with other officials in Chalmette three years ago. She and the others were
forced to the roof of the government building by the massive flooding that
covered the parish from end to end.

Hoffmeister's house was destroyed. It was recently demolished, and she moved
into another house in Chalmette two months ago.

She won't stay for Gustav -- or any other storm that threatens.

"Oh God, I don't want to go through it again," she said.

Former Parish Council Clerk Polly Boudreaux, whose teenaged daughter,
Sophie, was one of the emcees for the "Day of Reflection," was one of the
people who spent those chaotic post-K days atop the parish government
building with Hoffmeister.

Like Hoffmeister, she looks into the eyes of her fellow St. Bernardians and
sees people who are grappling with fear of the unknown as Gustav approaches.

"This is our first re-taste of Katrina," she said. "We're all dealing with
how to react. People are afraid. They don't know what's going to happen and
no one wants to do the wrong thing."

Unlike Hoffmeister, she won't evacuate this time around. She's now a member
of the council and, after sending her kids out of town to stay with family,
Boudreaux will stay back with other government officials.

"I've told them they're going away for a long weekend," she said. "That's
what we thought last time."

. . . . . . .

St. Bernard bureau chief Bob Warren can be reached at
bwarren at timespicayune.com or 504.826.3363.

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