Looters violate a home, wound a spirit
Friday, January 20, 2006
They can't imagine the pain they have caused. Nor do they care.
They invaded my home. Twice.
Scarred by the howling winds of Hurricane Katrina and the mucky, corrosive floodwaters that followed, my house has become the gravesite of my life. Looters preyed on the remains of my home.
Gone is the crystal cruise ship I bought in Grand Cayman to celebrate my years of travel. My crystal Christmas Nutcracker soldier and the gemstone globe were swiped, too. My leather briefcase was locked, so the burglars tore it open.
The burglars must have a fetish for my furnishings and collectibles trimmed with antique map print. They pounced on a cabinet jam-packed with CDs that would be the envy of any music lover -- jazz, New Age, rhythm and blues, classical, you name it.
My Italian rosewood inlaid clock was not spared. Neither was the pair of bronze Hawaiian sculptures -- the canoe paddler and the Polynesian dancer with her arm outstretched to the sun.
Rifling through everything I've worked hard for, the thieves ransacked my bedrooms, snatched four hand-painted wall panels from the hallway, emptied the shelves of my curio cabinet and even took the eagle figurine, one of four that adorned my father's casket.
Residence burglary is another one of Katrina's rippling effects, but the dregs of society reared their ugly heads even before the wind and floodwater arrived.
"When people were evacuating and fleeing for their lives, looters with sacks on their backs started working the neighborhoods," a shopkeeper in Metairie told me.
Post-Katrina looting has been aided by a minimal National Guard presence, absence of street lighting and easy entry through backyards whose fences were destroyed by Katrina. Houses with a dry second floor are particularly appealing.
I discovered my house in eastern New Orleans had been broken into after frantic calls from my neighbor, who was hit multiple times. In the first invasion, crooks made off with her son's National Guard uniform.
Police responding to our calls say looters have been bold -- tearing chandeliers out of ceilings, striking in broad daylight and overcoming property owners' best efforts to keep intruders at bay.
"You loot, we shoot" became the mantra of homeowners across the New Orleans area. One of my neighbors has scrawled a warning on plywood: "Poisonous snakes inside."
When I found my house violated a second time, I was in such emotional shock and so awash in despair, I sobbed through the 911 call. Furiously, I yanked out the "I'm Coming Home" sign from my front yard.
Already grieving the loss of my childhood home in Pontchartrain Park to the levee break, the lootings have made my recovery more difficult.
I'm weary after weeks of working during the storm's frantic aftermath and worrying about the safety of displaced relatives. I'm angry at being
barred from my home for weeks, and tired of waiting for insurance adjusters to call. I'm tired of waiting for a blue roof. I'm weary of hoping for something to make me whole.
Whole. Home again. Will that ever happen? Can I restore my home? Will I be able to live there, knowing it's been violated?
Yes, I am grateful to be alive and well. But I long to return to what had been a roof over my head for almost 30 years. I want to get mail at my own front door, wave at my neighbors across the street and sleep in my own bed.
As hard as it is to do, though, I have to put my losses on the heap with everybody else's Katrina piles and move on. I have to hang in there and fight. Crying only casts a bigger shadow.
The struggle is far from over. I won't let the looters dissolve my spirit. I've put my dukes up.
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Rhonda Nabonne is an assistant city editor. She can be reached at (504)826-3346 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.