FEMA crain

The Saturday before Katrina, I evacuated to Houston, with my three-year-old son, my mother, a dog, a bird and whatever few personal items I could fit into my car.  My brother and his girlfriend followed behind.  From our hotel room, we watched CNN constantly and saw our city get devastated by the flood waters. New Orleans would be off-limits for a month and a half.  After several days of shock and being unsure how much longer we could afford to live in a hotel room, HH&K partner Lenny Davis called me.  He said he had been trying to reach me, but phones with the 504 area code weren’t really working that well anymore.  He said, “Go get a cell phone with a Houston number; go get a place to live; and we are setting up a satellite office here.”  I was thrilled that there was a ray of hope!

I stuffed my family members and pets into a little 950 sq. foot apartment that we furnished with blow up beds, cardboard furniture and patio folding chairs.  HH&K rented a large single-room office where  8-10 of us worked.  I was so glad to be able to work with my friends and earn a paycheck.  The work was hard: the courts, our clients, opposing counsel – everyone was displaced! I felt like I was managing  things pretty well  until the day I got the news that my house had over two feet of water, a tree went through the roof and mold was on everything. My belongings could not be salvaged, and my house would require months of repair work.  I was devastated.  It was another hurdle that I just wasn’t sure I could handle.

Luckily, with the help of my real estate agent/contractor, my family and the firm, I was able to find a home that wasn’t completely damaged, sell my damaged home, deal with the insurance companies, etc.  This was no small task, but everyone was so supportive. When we moved back home, we lived in a trailer in front of our new house while it was being worked on.   I was so glad to be back in the city I love and to be part of “renew, rebuild, restore”  New Orleans.  We learned so much from this experience, and we are so much stronger because of it.  The firm has always been a family, but during Katrina, they proved it more than ever.  No one at HH&K was spared from Katrina’s wrath, but everyone helped each other through it, and  I am forever grateful to work with such great people.

Heather Laborde

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