Jo Quasney is a survivor of Hurricane Katrina. Of French Creole heritage, Quasney is a native of New Orleans who was living alone in her house in the eighth ward when the hurricane struck on August 29, 2005. Quasney bred birds and had no way of transporting or finding shelter for the birds when New Orleans residents were advised to evacuate so she stuck it out. Her neighborhood began to flood after she heard an explosion that she attributes to a Halliburton company oil barge breaking through a levee. (For a discussion on the cause of the breech, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ING_4727)
After the third day, she noticed that the waters had receded sufficiently for her to exit the house. Throwing her briefcase and a small bag of clothes into a recycling bin, she left the house and, turning around to look back, then knew in her heart she would probably not see her home again.
For more than ten hours she pushed her bin through the floodwaters to the Superdome where she endured three horrific days of body odor, people out of control and authorities treating the hurricane victims like prisoners.
She left and started walking along Highway 10 and says she was halfway to Baton Rouge when she got picked up by a relief worker. There was no place to stay in Baton Rouge so she wound up for another three days at the Cajun Dome in Lafayette, Louisiana which was not much better than the Superdome but she at least got a chance to shower.
Authorities suggested that she relocate to Arkansas but she was determined to come to Philadelphia, where she had studied years before. For three days she sat in a chair in the Greyhound bus station waiting for a bus that could get her to Atlanta from where she get her connection north.
Upon arriving in Philadelphia, a very kindly hotel manager at a hotel she was acquainted with from before converted the $68 nightly charge to $60 for the week upon learning of she had survived Katrina.
After a couple days of recuperating, the manager knocked at her door and told her to go to the Wanamaker School. The people there were incredible, she says- firefighters, police and Housing Authority personnel volunteering their off-time. She received food stamps, help filling out FEMA and other forms, a $300 gift card from the Red Cross and relocation assistance. She still maintains friendships with people she met there.
Finally, Quasney decided to accept placement at the Emlen Arms, a Philadelphia Housing Authority building. In her small, but very cozy apartment, she has the company of Ziggy, a parrot rescued from a crack house, a parakeet and a cat. She has amassed a sizable little collection of ceramic elephants, like the one she had in New Orleans, and numerous pothos plants adorn her small living room.
She loves Mardi Gras so that’s what she misses most about New Orleans but she continues the tradition here. She decorates a tree in green and gold, the Mardi Gras colors, and bakes King cakes for the community room. Friends and neighbors usually cajole her into making jambalaya and gumbo.
As she has become settled in her new home, she is now the one regularly helping newly entering residents who often arrive with few possessions. Of her Emlen Arms sanctuary, Quasney says, “They’ll have to carry me out of here feet first.”