News » The Fly-By

Going Home Again?


Sisters Sheryl Norman and Tammy Palma have trouble believing that's their Superdome they see on TV. They already miss crawfish and seafood. And they're not sure what exactly they've got left in New Orleans.

With the immediate danger behind them and the fate of their hometown still unclear, Norman and Palma are two of the estimated 10,000 Katrina refugees in Memphis, trying to put their lives back together.

At home, there are two holes in the roof of Palma's first house, a tree on the shed in her backyard, and ruined carpet and bedding. Perhaps even worse, Norman still doesn't know the state of her apartment.

"It's the scariest thing not to know," says Norman. "We need closure."

But for now, they -- like many of Katrina's luckier victims -- are in limbo.

"Our number-one goal was to get the kids settled in school and get them focused and out of the house," says Norman. "We've got that taken care of so the next thing we've got to do is get jobs. We're not sure if we want to reside in Tennessee or Texas or Orlando. I guess it just depends on what kind of jobs we can find and what kind of money we can make."

They're currently staying with generous friends in Midtown, sleeping on couches, taking turns cooking meals. They're concerned about both their own bills and being a burden to their friends.

"We had to call on all our bills and let them know that we're not able to pay right now," says Palma. "I was scared [the insurance company] was going to cut our policy off. We're not making mortgage payments, and our flood insurance is escrowed into that payment."

The sisters spent last Wednesday at the Red Cross and have already applied for food stamps and been to the unemployment office. Norman has banking experience. Palma worked with Shell Oil in New Orleans and says she could probably work for the company in Houston.

"I know it's going to be hard for us to make the money we were making back home," says Palma. "I could be in Houston right now ... but the thing is, I don't have friends in Texas to stay with. If I had to rent something, it would be difficult for me to pay. Right now our resources are in Tennessee."

They never thought about moving to Memphis, and though downtown sort of reminds them of New Orleans, it's just not the same. If they can't find jobs here, they say they'll go somewhere else.

What strikes me is how much Norman and Palma love New Orleans. Norman jokes that if she had known they were going to be gone this long, she would have kept that bag of Mardi Gras beads in her car when she evacuated.

Given a horrifying natural disaster, a small insurance pay-out, and a bit of assistance, I'm not sure I wouldn't leave Memphis and never look back. The way the city handled itself after "Hurricane Elvis" in 2003 does not bode well for the massive earthquake we are apparently overdue for.

Federal lawmakers have begun to question not when but if New Orleans should be rebuilt (and if the country can afford to do it). NOLA-based companies have moved their operations temporarily. And with New Orleans residents scattered across the country -- and some of them saying they plan on staying in Phoenix or Salt Lake City permanently -- people have wondered if New Orleans' unique spirit and culture drowned in Katrina as well.

If people like Norman and Palma are any indication, I don't think so. They admit that by the time New Orleans is rebuilt, life -- better jobs, new people -- might conspire to keep them from moving back. But they know they want to return -- even now.

"We're just taking it one day at a time. I still can't believe this happened. All I know is New Orleans," says Norman. "We've been to Lafayette; we've been to Florida, but you always go back to New Orleans. You always go home. But we can't and that's just devastating."

Add a comment