Evacuee still trying to cope with hurricane

Published 11:45 pm Sunday, June 8, 2008

Ophelia Collins is a broken-hearted woman.

She is one of thousands from New Orleans that lost every thing she owned in Hurricane Katrina.

Less than two weeks into the 2008 hurricane season, and close to three years since Katrina, Collins, 65, said she is still suffering from the storm.

Email newsletter signup

“I feel like I’m dead,” she said. “I feel like a zombie.”

The feeling Collins constantly lives with since the storm is what she described as mental anguish.

“It’s always there,” she said.

Collins is originally from Natchez but left in 1978 with her family for brighter job prospects in New Orleans.

Collins is not a rich woman but she is a proud woman.

She said during her time in New Orleans she worked in the food service industry to support her family.

“I was proud to work for my keep,” she said. “And I don’t want anything from anyone.”

What Collins does want is remembrance for herself and everyone who suffered as a result of the hurricane.

“You go to church and people say ‘pray for Africa,’ what about New Orleans,” she said. “They’re still suffering.”

Collins said she recently returned to her former eastern New Orleans neighborhood to pick up one of her grandchildren who had spent the past months living on the streets.

Of the seven grandchildren Collins was raising before the storm, three have been relocated to Texas.

She said she has no idea how to contact them.

Of the people left in the city Collins said many have been left homeless from the increased cost of housing after the storm.

“They’re just sleeping under the overpass,” she said. “And I could have been one of them. I thank God every day I’m not.”

Collins said she feels fortunate to have a house to live in after the storm.

Collins’ house was uninsured; she used money her son collected from insurance to purchase her house.

“Every day I thank God for that house,” she said.

And Collins is not the only one leaning on faith to cope with the hurricane.

Colleen Fury, with two young children, moved to Natchez after her home outside of New Orleans was destroyed in the hurricane.

She said her faith helped her move past the pain of the hurricane.

“I wanted to get past it,” Fury said.

Fury said talking about her experience with others and focusing on her children helped her to get over the storm.

But Collins said her home now is isolated from former friends and doesn’t feel much like a home.

But the house she lives in now is not her home, it’s not the home she and her husband built over the course of their lives.

Collins’ husband died only days before Christmas in 2005.

She said the stress from the storm killed her husband.

“That’s what I got for Christmas,” she said. “It was the worst Christmas ever.”

And the same stress that Collins said eventually killed her husband is taking a toll on her.

When she talks about the hurricane her face shows the pain.

She keeps a journal of her thoughts about her life after the storm.

When she reads from it it’s difficult to listen to.

For Collins the pain from her loss is as new today as it was almost three years ago.

Marbeth Schon and her husband, Andrew, lost their Biloxi home in Katrina.

They now live in downtown Natchez.

Schon said while she no longer feels the trauma from the hurricane, she can understand how some could still be pained by the event.

“It was traumatic for a lot of people,” she said. “Everyone takes it differently.”

But Collins is still taking it hard.

“I want someone to walk down the street and tell me hello and mean it,” she said.