After Katrina, Finding Refuge in South LA

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans ten years ago, Cassandra Cousin was in a local hospital recovering from heat stroke. “We stayed up all that night,” Cassandra recalled. “It was bad, lot of them girls were so scared. But I was used to hurricanes — Betsy, Andrew, Ivan. But Katrina was worst. Oh my Jesus. Katrina was a disaster.”

Born and raised in New Orleans, Cassandra didn’t expect to end up in Los Angeles. But after the storm she had nowhere else to go. Some of her family was evacuated to Texas, but they didn’t have room for her. So she reached out to a cousin in L.A.

Cassandra was not the only one. After the storm, the Federal Emergency Management Agency received more than 2,000 applications for help from Hurricane Katrina victims who reported moving to Los Angeles. Some estimates said 6,000 evacuees ended up in L.A.

“When I came here, I was at the airport, I was lost. I was just totally lost,” she said.

The Red Cross put her up at a Travel Lodge just east of Hollywood. Cassandra stayed at the hotel for six months and watched other evacuees come and go until she was the only Katrina survivor left living there.

Unable to go back to her house in New Orleans’ 7th Ward, Cassandra now lives in South Los Angeles. She plans to stay, in part because “I don’t want to be in another hurricane. It was just too much for me.” Cassandra found solace at St. Brigid Catholic Church, where she still attends mass every Saturday at 4:00 p.m.

“I don’t want to go back down there because I don’t want to be in another hurricane. It was just too much for me.”

One recent weekend, Cassandra took a seat near the front. A stained glass window depicting the Virgin Mary looked down on her. On the opposite wall a portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. hung above the organist. “I always did say, the closer to God the better your life will be,” said Cassandra. “That’s who I put l my trust in. He sure eases my pain.”

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