Hurricane struck close to home for student

Writers’ Note:  Marilyn Viger  is my great aunt.  My mom and her siblings always loved visiting her house on Runnels Avenue before Hurricane Katrina tore it down. It was always their favorite place to visit. They would take a long car ride down to her house every year. Marilyn VIger and her family tried to save everything they could from her house but the saltwater destroyed almost everything. Marilyn Viger never ended up going back to Long Beach because of many factors. She now lives in Sildell, Louisianna close to her family. Even though the house is gone, it will always be remembered by Marilyns kids and family. It was the house where they grew up and will always have many memories. 

When Hurricane Sandy shook the northeastern United States, many were reminded of the most destructive hurricane this nation has ever been through: Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast on Monday, Aug. 29, 2005 at 8 a.m. With winds up to 145 mph and a 10-30 foot storm surge crashing ashore on over 200 continuous miles of coastline, Katrina caused over $110 billion in damage. Over 1,800 were killed due to the Hurricane Katrina devastation. Homes, businesses and more were destroyed.

Marilyn Viger of Slidell, Louisiana was one of the many who lost her home to Katrina.

Before Katrina, Viger lived in Long Beach, Miss., directly one block off the beach. When she heard of the storm, she still stayed in her home unaware of how powerful it would be. “The news did not report the storm severity for the area until two days before it was due for landfall. I had my grandsons visiting me in Long Beach at the time and considered staying there with them, to which my daughter, Joni, said ‘no you are not staying there’,” Viger said.

Viger quickly packed up a few belongings and headed to Slidell where her daughter Joni Fahrenholtz lived. Having lived in Long Beach for 35 years, Viger had experienced many storm alerts, so she didn’t think much of this one. “Still unaware of the devastation it would bring, I just grabbed a few clothes, two pairs of shoes and my picture books my daughter had put together with pictures of John (my husband) and I as children and throughout our life. Then, thankfully, I drove my car to Slidell. Thank goodness for that as all my pictures still in the house were ruined by flood waters,” Viger said.

The drive Viger took to Slidell was 46.9 miles from her house. Once there she took shelter in Fahrenholtz’s home. “Joni’s house was also devastated by the storm. She sustained $50,000 worth of damage and 16 trees down, including one on the house that broke a skylight in the den a few feet from people sitting on the couch. We could not leave her neighborhood till Tuesday afternoon when neighbors working together removed trees blocking the roads,” Viger said.

After the storm had ended, Viger and her daughters went back to Viger’s house to try and save any belongings she could. “My daughters and I went to Long Beach to check on my house, and Joni walked into and over debris to get to the house. It was eerily quiet and nothing but debris scattered over miles. Emergency crews were picking up bodies on my street,” Viger said.

She came back to her street of Runnels Avenue to find everything in pieces. “My entire block of houses were gone except for a concrete house and my house. A lot of the debris from those homes was literally pushed up against the back of my house since I was the last house on the block. All the homes right off the beach were destroyed entirely for about 1 1/2 blocks. My house was built tongue and groove, and I wonder if that’s why it was still standing. However, the entire inside sustained considerable damage; missing walls, furniture and a large hole in back of house (facing the beach) where my closet and bathroom were,” Viger said.

Viger’s old street and the area around it will probably never be the same after Katrina wiped out everything. “It took over a year for the infrastructure (gas, water lines) to be repaired on my street. Temporary lines were run above ground for those who placed trailers on their property. To this day only two homes have been rebuilt on my street and only one is occupied. Almost all of the houses that once sat between the beach and Magnolia Ave about 1 1/2 blocks inland from the beach have still not been rebuilt probably related to high cost of homeowners/flood insurance. It cost approximately $5000/year and the length of time to repair the damage had people opting to rebuild elsewhere,” Viger said.

Chaos followed Katrina, however many stuck together to survive the aftermath of the storm. “Directly after Hurricane Katrina, neighbors banded together, shared food, resources and helped needy with repairs (church volunteers gutting houses for free). Our family personally helped a lone woman cut a tree off her roof that was intruding in her house and did temporary repair to the roof,” Viger said.

There were deaths all around as a result of Katrina. “My grandsons and son-in-law helped a neighbor whose brother who was killed by a tree. He and his brother went outside to check on the tree that seemed to be a problem when it fell, and he was unable to outrun the tree. They wrapped his body and repaired his roof. It took two days for EMT’s to pick up the body. We drove to Baton Rouge on Tuesday late afternoon when we could finally get out of the neighborhood. We were then able to call relatives that didn’t know how we were and get a generator and supplies,” Viger said.

Katrina has changed so many lives to this day. Viger had to leave her former home of Long Beach, a place where she raised her children and called home for nearly 40 years. “I had to relocate to Slidell and live with Joni for a year because no housing was available in Long Beach. Due to the uncertainty of when the city of Long Beach would actually be livable again and the fact most of my friends had left as well due to the loss or damage to their homes, I decided with my family to build a home in Slidell. I moved into a condo a year after the storm since there was no housing available right after Katrina in Slidell. I had to leave a community I had lived in for over 35 years, my friends and my church. The seven years since Katrina has left the landscape in Long Beach forever changed; barren lots, businesses not rebuilt and friends scattered,” Viger said.

Although it has been seven years since Katrina hit, the areas affected are still recovering to this day. Marilyn Viger and this country will never forget everything that was lost in Hurricane Katrina.

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