In the days after the 9/11 attacks, Louisianans came together to support New Yorkers. One of the most memorable gestures was the "Spirit of Louisiana," a fire truck specially built as a gift to the New York City Fire Department (FDNY). Three and a half years later, after Hurricane Katrina, when New Orleans lost much of its own firefighting equipment, the FDNY sent down firefighters to help in the recovery — and returned the Spirit of Louisiana with thanks. It was decommissioned in 2010 after nine years. Last week, at the request of New York state, it was returned to service to help in the recovery following Hurricane Sandy.
Our bonds with New Yorkers run deep. No other city in America can understand so completely what people in New York, New Jersey and elsewhere are going through because of Hurricane Sandy. We know what it's like to get by, benumbed and moment to moment, in the first days after a devastating storm. More important, we know what it's like to pick up the pieces in the months and years afterward when you've lost everything you own in a gush of filthy water or a slurry of mud.
Along the way, we learned a lot from hard experience. In the spirit of deepening our bonds with New Yorkers, we share some of those lessons now.
We know all too well what it's like having to replace the thousands of items that make a house a home, from expensive appliances to underwear. Everything you need at any given moment — a scratch pad, a pen, Kleenex, a nail clipper, all the sundries of a life — must be obtained again. Then there are the things you can never get back at any price: family photos, important documents, identification, diplomas, cherished recordings and home movies — all gone. The pain of losing such things will recede, but it will never completely go away.
The need for mental health services will be immense. In the days after Hurricane Katrina, people who came through the storm feeling OK were suddenly confronted with emotions they hadn't had time to process. We got used to seeing strangers break down at the market or the post office, and we learned when to offer a hand and when to step back and show them respect. Weeks, months and years later, our suicide and depression rates soared. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would be wise to begin planning now for more mental health services, because the increased need will arrive soon and remain for years.
Many whose homes and automobiles were destroyed by Sandy didn't have flood insurance. For those who had insurance, we can only counsel patience when it comes to dealing with adjusters, who can deny coverage for what seems the most arbitrary and frustrating of reasons. And beware: there are people who specialize in re-victimizing the victims of tragedy. Be careful when dealing with contractors. Lots of New Orleanians learned this the hard way.
Being hit by tragedy doesn't necessarily mean the tax man will give you a break. This year, more than ever, it's vital to check with an accountant who knows the ins and outs of personal and business casualty losses. Forewarned is forearmed; get a copy of IRS Publication 547, "Casualties, Disasters and Thefts."
Above all, be aware that the wave of national sympathy will ebb almost as quickly as it flowed; the TV cameras will leave long before you are whole again. New Orleans and the Gulf Coast got used to hearing about "Katrina fatigue" while we were still struggling to get back on our feet. When that happens after Hurricane Sandy, you'll need to take care of each other — but know that those of us on the Gulf Coast know and understand your pain. We won't forget you.
After Hurricane Katrina, New York held "From the Big Apple to the Big Easy" concerts at Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall to help Gulf Coast recovery. Now New Orleans is returning the favor. The city is holding a benefit concert Nov. 20 at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre for those affected by Hurricane Sandy. The lineup was still being put together at press time, but it promises to be a star-studded evening. Tickets for "NOLA: Pay It Forward" are $52 and are available at Ticketmaster.com and the Mahalia Jackson Theater box office. We urge those who can to pay it forward to our friends in the Northeast.