By the Grace of God--Life after Katrina
By Senior Master Sgt. Elizabeth Gilbert, 136th Airlift Wing
/ Published June 23, 2011
NAS FORT WORTH JRB, Texas -- Hurricane season is upon us again. Six years ago the biggest hurricane hit the coast of Louisiana devastating New Orleans and wiping out entire communities. More than one million people were displaced. Among them was Patricia J. Johnson, chaplain's assistant, 136th Airlift Wing, Texas Air National Guard. Her story will inspire those who are facing life's challenges and feel they are hopeless, "For they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength," Isaiah 40:31.
On Aug. 27, 2005, Saturday-- an order was given to coastline regions of Texas, Louisiana and Florida to evacuate away from the coastal areas. The southern coastal communities were getting ready to brace themselves for a category 3 storm at landfall.
"We evacuated on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2005, before the storm hit and headed to my sister's house in Jackson, Miss.," said Johnson.
For the past 35 years, Johnson and her family evacuated every year for some type of storm or hurricane... it became a routine. So this particular time was no different and they packed minimal clothing thinking they would return in a couple of days.
By Aug. 29, 2005, Monday--Katrina made landfall as a category 3 storm.
The hurricane made its landfall... Katrina made its name known throughout the world and was one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States. More than 1,800 people perished and the total property damage was estimated at $81 billion. The most significant amount of deaths occurred in New Orleans, La., which flooded as the levee system catastrophically failed; in many cases hours after the storm had moved inland.
For a lot of displaced persons, there was no going back. Entire communities were lost, devastated in some cases annihilated. The Johnson's home was no exception. They had lost everything to Hurricane Katrina.
"I thought about heading to my mother's house in Mississippi, but she already had a packed house with 18 relatives already living there. I could not burden her anymore," continued Johnson. "Then, I heard this voice in my head that told me to head for Dallas, Texas, to Potter's House."
With the clothes on their backs, two outfits each for Johnson and her two boys, and their essential papers, they headed for Dallas, Texas.
"Never been to Dallas before... nor having family or friends there. I ended up in Mesquite, and stayed the night at a hotel," said Johnson.
The following day the hotel reimbursed Johnson for their lodging because a church had paid for every displaced person's stay that night. The hotel clerk informed her about apartment leases that were being given to displaced victims through FEMA, with all expenses and furnishings covered; all in one day.
"The next day on Sept. 1st I headed to Potter's House to seek for relief. They gave us food, clothing and information on resources for relief assistance to start a new life," continued Johnson. "There was no going back to New Orleans. We had lost everything in one day and in one day we gained a new life."
With her two boys in tow, she headed for the relief center located at the former Reunion Arena to apply for unemployment benefits and other assistance FEMA was offering. To her astonishment she became the first recipient of the 'Welcome Home Project'.
"By Sept. 15th, by the grace of God we moved into our first single family dwelling home in Texas provided by the Department of Housing Urban Development (HUD)," exclaimed Johnson. "I was the first recipient of the 'Welcome Home Project' for displaced neighbors! Today, by God's grace I can say that I am a proud owner of this home. I was able to purchase the home from HUD."
Although having a home provided by HUD with all the furnishings for her family, life was still very difficult for the Johnson's. The domino effect of the hurricane took its toll on our economy as businesses were wiped out or closed down due to the power of Katrina.
"I was unemployed for seven months and life was financially excruciating. I could not find a job that could support my family. I was offered a job that paid $8.00 an hour, not even enough to pay for all our necessities," smiled Johnson. "Again, by the Grace of God, after months of waiting I was offered a job similar to what I was doing in New Orleans."
Prior to Katrina, Johnson was employed by the U.S. Navy contractors in New Orleans, La., and through that contact she was reestablished in a new position here at NAS Fort Worth for the past four years. Just recently, she became a certified computer literacy and robotics teacher for fifth and sixth graders.
She was in the Navy Reserves for eight years from 1999-2007 and in 2008 she enlisted with the Texas Air National Guard, where she is a chaplain's assistant sharing her passion to help others.