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New Orleans Hurricane Victim Poised for Comeback

Washington Afro American, News Feature, Dorothy Rowley Posted: Apr 28, 2007

Neither Hurricane Betsy nor Katrina has manged to dampen the spirit of one survivor, but the August 2005 storm did take a toll on her family and has postponed her plans to reopen her catering business in New Orleans.

katrina victimWhen Hurricane Betsy ravaged New Orleans in the 1960s, many of its residents were able to make their way to safety with relative ease. For the most part, properties remained intact and the cleanup effort was an expedient one.

Among those residents at the time, was Elois Jenkins, who recalled that when Betsy swept through, she found refuge on a neighbor's roof.

Jenkins left New Orleans in the early 1980s to work in Washington, D.C., at the Small Business Administration. Along the way, she also had managed to operate her food business called Gumbo-Elois Catering. Jenkins returned to New Orleans in 1994 after her father died, and for four years prior to Katrina, she had been trying to put together a delicatessen.

However, "When Katrina came in August 2005, it took it all away. I had no insurance because I was in the process of trying to talk to different insurance companies," said Jenkins. "Katrina came and took everything I had."

But Jenkins made her way to safety, first living in Crestview, Florida, where she stayed with a nephew, then moving on to a hotel. She settled down last year in Chevy Chase, Md.

The rest of Jenkins' familyabout 75 relatives in allfound themselves scattered about the country from Georgia to California. Nearly two years later, Jenkins, at age 59, says she also has no intentions of returning to the Big Easy. "What for," she said wryly. "There's nothing left to go back to. Maybe in five or six years, but not now."

Jenkins said during an interview this week with the AFRO, that she left New Orleans with the clothes on her back and three personal phone books. "They came in handy," she said, "for making contact with people. Although not many of Katrina's victims] were able to communicate with use of our cell phones, I'm thankful for them because they did help keep some people in touch [with their loved ones.]"

Jenkins has now made her home in Chevy Chase with long time friends, Rollie and Gwendolyn Kimbrough. She said the only time she has been back to New Orleans was last year when she left Florida to go and vote for Mayor Ray Nagin.

"My house was one block from the levee," said Jenkins. "Everything's gone," including a treasured photo of her parents celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. "Sentiments that you can never get back," she said.

"My brother nearly drowned," Jenkins recalled of her 53-year-old sibling, Calvin. She said he continues struggle to put his life back together, despite a liver ailment she believes is directly related to his entrapment in Katrina's flood waters.

Jenkins said her brother also faces amputation of a leg; the result of electric wiring that wrapped around him during his bid for safety.
At the time Katrina struck, Jenkins lived with her sister, her sister's daughter and grand child. They all left New Orleans on Aug. 27, 2005, she said., where they headed to Clearview, Florida, seeking shelter with Jenkins' nephew. "That was before Katrina hit, because we were supposed to evacuate," she said.

Jenkins said that because that Sunday was going to be Calvin's birthday, he did not leave town. Instead, Calvin went to a hotel and returned to his home that Monday morning. He fell asleep in the living room, according to Jenkins. "He said that when he woke up, the water was so high, all he had time to do was to grab a chair and get up in the attic."

Jenkins said she wasn't sure if her brother stayed overnight in the attic, but that his house started shifting down the road, eventually splitting in half. "As the house began to dip under the water, he was able to jump onto another house," said Jenkins. "But apparently, he passed out. And when he did that, the military guards rescued him."

While her brother was unconscious, electric wiring from fallen poles wrapped around his leg, breaking it in three places, said Jenkins.
During his rescue, Calvin was put in a boat and taken to a spot underneath a bridge where many of Katrina's victims had been carted off to, Jenkins said.

"He was put there in the hot sun, where he stayed overnight and his leg was steadily bleeding, "she said. Then they took him to the Superdome where he came across a lady he used to date. She fed him a little water and some peanut butter and crackers," said Jenkins. "From there, they took him to the airport, but he said he first had to crawl on his knees onto the bus."

Jnkins said she and her family had no idea of Calvin's whereabouts. Then, a few weeks later, while on an errand in Clearview, Jenkins happened to buy a USA Today. She spotted a photo of an ailing Calvin among its pages. In the photo, "he was lying down on a stretcher and he looked like he was worn out," said Jenkins. She said the caption read, Suffering: Calvin Joseph Jenkins. Jenkins said she learned that her brother had been hospitalized for a month in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Jenkins said Calvin is currently residing in New Orleans with his daughter. "But he has a problem with his liver from where all that filth from the flood waters got into his system," she said. "It also got into his leg, and eventually he'll probably lose it."

Jenkins said she left her nephew's home in September 2005 and lived in a Hampton Inn until the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) stopped paying her rent in February 2006. "FEMA cut off some people's rent and they continued to pay others'," said Jenkins.

She said she got some assistance from a United Methodist Church in Crestview, but by the time she left the hotel in July of last year, she still owed the establishment money. She has been living with the Kimbroughs since August 2006. "But they didn't put me out," she said.

Meanwhile, Jenkins, who had worked for the Small Business Administration in DC for several years in the 1980s, until she quit and started her own catering business, says she has been working with Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in downtown D.C. She came back to the area after the Kimbroughs sent her a plane ticket to attend their daughter's wedding.

But when Jenkins first came back, she stayed with a 95-year-old woman in Upper Marlboro, Md. She stayed there ("which I really enjoyed") for about a month before moving in with the Kimbroughs, who had to travel at the time out of town to visit their sick grandson.

"At one point when I lived here before, I did food demonstrations for Woody and Lothrop's department store. I had a catering business and I have some products that I'm trying to put back on the market," said Jenkins.

She said Metropolitan AME has been a great help in getting her back on her feet. "Starting in May, I'm going to be doing Creole Cajun lunches there Wednesday through Fridays. I'm calling it Katrina's Kitchen and hopefully that will go over real well," said Jenkins. She added that, "Lutheran Services and a lot of my old friends from the Small Business Administration have been a great help too, but I still can't get any help from FEMA."

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