Refuge in a Rec Room
Thursday, September 15, 2005
The first thing the Chase family, formerly of Chalmette, La., wants you to know is how lucky they are.
Lucky that Tana Chase, at 3 a.m. the day they evacuated, got up, looked at the television, saw that Hurricane Katrina was still heading their way, and, driven by some primal feeling she did not understand, began taking items such as pants and a hair straightener out of her suitcase and filling it instead with the children's framed baby pictures.
She also thought to grab one tiny box filled with irreplaceable mementos: the tiny reindeer bootie that daughter Eve, now 11, wore on her first Christmas, and the shoulder sling from when son Leo, now 9, broke his collarbone.
Lucky to receive financial assistance from the Red Cross once they made it to her two brothers' homes in Arlington.
Lucky they now have a basement retreat in her sister's Fairfax County home in which to camp out. Lucky that neighbors there have helped out with food, clothing and twin beds for their kids.
"It's almost embarrassing how lucky we are," said Tana, 49.
She was sitting on a small couch near a foosball table in what used to be her sister's rec room -- and what could be the Chase family's home for the next several months.
She and her husband, Greg, 49, have no jobs. They have no idea what condition their small, three-bedroom rancher in a working-class neighborhood just southeast of New Orleans will be in when they go back, whenever that is. It could be weeks before they know exactly how much was lost.
One thing they've already decided: Now that Katrina has turned their lives upside down, they'll be settling permanently in Northern Virginia. The couple, both New Orleans natives, left good jobs here to move back to New Orleans in 2000.
"We left Washington for the easy life in the Big Easy," Tana said. "Look how much trouble it's gotten us into."
Displaced families such as the Chases have been turning up at municipal offices, Red Cross centers and charities throughout Northern Virginia in recent days, officials said. Most have ties to the area through relatives or friends and made their way east however they could -- some hitching rides or taking the bus, others rescued by family members. Most have nothing more than what they could carry.
"Most of the people left thinking they would be gone for one to two days, so they didn't pack very much," said Dawn Matterness, director of disaster services for the Alexandria Red Cross.