2005 – A decade ago, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and took the lives of at least 1,833 people. Nearly 500 miles from the worst of the devastation, InfoMart employees discussed Katrina with worry, fascination, and fear.
We watched repeating footage of water flooding streets lined with cars and buildings peeling away in the wind. Journalists shared reports of bodies floating in the street, swept up in the current created by the storm. Some who’d given up on escape looted businesses.
It was difficult to imagine what you could offer those who were suffering so distantly.
The Kindness of Strangers
Here at home, in the city of Marietta and Cobb County, Georgia, local residents and businesses can hardly believe a decade has passed. “That event is etched in my memory as if it occurred yesterday,” remembers Marlene Murphy of InfoMart, a Cobb local background screening company. “At the time of Hurricane Katrina, I had been employed with InfoMart just a few weeks over one year.”
“Marlene came into a management meeting, obviously distraught, and said that her family and several boys who lived in Waldo Burton’s Boys’ Home were stranded in New Orleans,” Erica Clausen-Lee, EVP of InfoMart, remembers. “Tammy (Cohen, President & CEO of InfoMart) grew up in New Orleans and immediately began planning a rescue effort to save them.”
Within hours, Ms. Cohen had collected cargo vans, volunteer drivers, and gallons of gasoline for the drive, knowing that fuel was scarce along the way. Once in Louisiana, Cohen called some of her Cobb County connections, including Congressman Gingrey, Kim Gresh of S. A. White Oil Co., Holly Tuchman with YWCA, and Kimberley Starks, for support. With their help, Cohen and her team were able to get into the city, coordinate the airlift that brought the stranded to safety, and get everyone back to Georgia.
Coming Together as a Community
“As we were leaving Georgia, everyone kept asking, ‘Where are these people going to live? How are you going to handle the medical issues? Do they have credentials to get jobs or go to school?’” Ms. Cohen says the questions were valid, but getting the stranded people to safety took priority. “I didn’t worry about any of that. I knew, without a doubt, that our community would make it happen.”
Holly Tuchman, now CEO & Executive Director of the YWCA of Northwest Georgia, says, “I remember Tammy calling us all in to tell us that one of our co-workers, Marlene’s, sister and brother-in-law were trapped in the boys’ home they oversaw in New Orleans, and we were going to go get them. I thought, ‘Wow , really?’ but we sprung into action. The InfoMart team and the plan were put into motion to head to New Orleans to rescue over 30 people.”
Back in Georgia, the YWCA graciously provided housing and volunteers who worked with the InfoMart team to help the Louisiana arrivals get settled. Many in the Cobb community donated food, funds, and time to provide Katrina victims with hot meals, health check-ups, and places to stay.
Tuchman remembers, “The path was challenging, but once Tammy and the InfoMart team put their minds to something, it was going to happen and it did. We were able to bring all of them to Marietta, had a place for them to stay, and all were safe.”
Human Resiliency in the Face of Hardship
After a natural disaster wipes out your whole town, what can you do? How do you go about putting back together the pieces of what used to be your life? Without the support of our friends, neighbors, communities, nation, and world, we could have lost much more. With that support, former victims have been encouraged and able to thrive.
Claude Wilkerson, Mrs. Murphy’s rescued brother-in-law and still Program Director for the Boys’ Home, says New Orleans is both different and the same. “The Home has been rebuilt and refurbished since Katrina, but it lost several things that once represented pleasant childhood memories. Some things will be remembered, and some will be forgotten. Just like the city, things will be fixed or replaced, and life goes on.”
Mrs. Murphy says, “The time, energy, money, and resources contributed to that rescue by Tammy Cohen and my entire InfoMart family will never be forgotten. The words ‘thank you’ do not express my deepest gratitude. I will always appreciate what InfoMart did for my family and friends. In my opinion, no other company in this world would have taken on the responsibility and risk to go into such a desolate, dangerous city to extend helping hands, food, and clothing to strangers, but InfoMart did just that.”
“Fear, sorrow, uncertainty, excitement, and joy, all felt within a single 24 hour span… the rescue mission was a life changing experience,” Ms. Cohen recounts. “We were all so relieved when the mission was successful. I would absolutely do it all over again.”
Today, we remember those who passed or were lost, those who survived and kept on moving, and those who banded together to helping the victims of Katrina’s tragedy, even from 500 miles away. While many negative effects of this tragedy still plague the storm’s victims, it’s important to recognize the good that came out of the disaster.
Tragedy can strike at any time, and in any place. Do what you can to help your community. Even the smallest acts can make an impact. For more information on how to prepare for natural disasters, including hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, and wildfires, visit Ready.gov.