Louisiana still home in hearts of relocated Katrina victims
A piece of artwork in the lobby of Big Easy Animal Hospital in Lawrenceville shows one of the French Quarter's iconic lampposts with a question scrawled around it: “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?”
The clinic's owner, Dr. Aileen Ruiz, does. She's one of about 500 Gulf Coast residents who fled to Western Pennsylvania after Hurricane Katrina displaced 1.5 million people in August 2005.
Social service agencies estimate about 100 Katrina victims stayed in Western Pennsylvania to rebuild their lives.
“When I sit back and think about it, it's crazy,” said Ruiz, 39, of Lawrenceville.
She fell in love with New Orleans during an internship and planned to live there forever.
“The music, the food. It's really fun,” she said.
The night before Katrina hit, Ruiz couldn't sleep. She had weathered Hurricane Andrew years before in Miami but sensed this would be worse. She packed a bag of clothes, grabbed her two dogs and cat, and hit the road.
It took eight hours just to get out of Louisiana. Ruiz made it to a friend's house in Pittsburgh, where she slept. When she awoke to the TV coverage, the levees had broken and people stood on roofs, awaiting rescue.
Ruiz returned to New Orleans when the water receded. She and other veterinarians rescued cats, dogs and birds.
Though the storm spared her apartment, the clinic was gone. Ruiz knew she would have to start over somewhere.
“I thought I'd like to try living up north,” she said. “Since then, I've discovered camping, whitewater rafting, skiing.”
Ruiz opened her business in July 2010. Some of her family has moved here. She visits New Orleans, sometimes twice a year, and hopes to retire there.
“I feel like I have two homes,” she said. “It's where your heart's at.”
Several charities assisted Katrina refugees. Fran Lewis, supervisor of social services for the Salvation Army of Western Pennsylvania, remembers people seeking help finding family back home.
“The fear of the unknown was awful,” she said. “... Who's living? What will they find once they get there?”
Lewis stayed in touch with some people who remain here. “You can see it in their eyes — their hearts still miss New Orleans.”
Donna Jean Raines, 64, of Butler, finds improvement each time she returns to her hometown of Metairie, La.
“The people who are helping rebuild are wonderful,” she said. “With all the horrible things that happened, there is so much warmth and love in my city — and it is still my city.”
Though 29 people in Metairie died in the storm, Raines escaped harm by staying with a friend a few miles away. Within weeks she flew to Pittsburgh to be with family.
“I can understand why it's all over the news, but so many horrible things go on, Katrina should be laid to rest now,” she said.
Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pittsburgh schools chief Lane stepping down next summer
- Truck hits teen cyclist, goes over Brighton Heights hillside
- West Jefferson Hills schools closed after bomb threat
- Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto: Public has stake in Penguins
- Belle Vernon woman visits ship like lander she helped build as WWII welder
- Pittsburgh Zoo staff caring for African lion suffering from seizure condition
- Embezzled $14.8M could cause woes for North Side firm Matthews International
- 2-vehicle crash shuts down Route 65 outbound lanes
- Gas cost, construction barrels coming down for Labor Day travelers
- Asking price for Penguins franchise said to be at a record $750M
- 1 killed, another injured in early-morning Clairton shooting