Katrina survivors try to rebuild a dream
Appeal Staff Writer
Elaine Blakeman always put her daughter’s education first.
Crystal Blakeman, 20, was accepted at the University of New Orleans in August. She would major in communications, with an emphasis on drama, because she so enjoyed performing in plays at Carson High School.
Her mother is all Crystal has now, since her dad died in 2000, when they all lived in Ohio. When he died, Crystal and Elaine, 50, moved to Carson City, where Elaine became a manager at Dottie’s Casinos.
Crystal settled in at Carson High, from which she graduated in 2004. She dreamed of going to college, and her mom shared that dream, so much so that when Crystal was accepted at UNO, Elaine packed up and relocated to be with her daughter.
“That was my main objective the last three years,” Elaine said. “Her dream has always been to go to college.”
When they got to the Big Easy, it took three weeks to find an apartment and for Elaine to find a job as a manager at a Wendy’s restaurant. The day she was to begin, Crystal had been in school for one week – and Hurricane Katrina made landfall.
They fled, grabbing only some clothes and heading north to Shreveport, La., with several of Crystal’s new college friends and their dog, Missy. After a few weeks, they moved to Russell’s Point, Ohio, to stay with friends.
They thought they’d be back on the Gulf Coast in a month or so, and used some funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to return to the apartment to retrieve priceless items – Crystal’s father’s ashes and some photographs.
“When we got to our apartment, it was just before dawn,” Crystal said. “It was really creepy driving because there were no lights. It was a red sky, and we were going into a big city where nothing was moving.”
The pair found a small boat blocking the steps to their apartment, which, after more than a month, was still filled with putrid water. The roof had fallen in, and mold was everywhere, Crystal said.
“We had to try to pick our things out of the pieces of ceiling that fell in,” she said.
They retrieved the damaged urn containing the ashes and the photos they wanted. Everything else was ruined by water and mold.
They returned to Russell’s Point, but their friends’ home was too small to accommodate them. FEMA helped them rent a nearby apartment. It was not an ideal one, though, and infested with corn beetles and mice.
And no work was available in the small town.
“We’ve been trying to get jobs here for two months,” she said of the town near Indian Lake, Ohio, where weekends fish and nearly everyone else farms.
“I can do a large array of things,” Elaine said. “That’s what gets my goat here. I’ve put in so many applications and gone on so many interviews. I think a lot of them are afraid if they hire me I’m going to run back to Louisiana, so it will be a waste of their time.”
Without funds to return to Carson City, Elaine has decided to head to Dover, Del., to stay with her brother. They move Thursday.
From Carson City to New Orleans to Shreveport to Russell’s Point to Dover. Four moves in four months.
“We try to keep above it by believing these things happen for a reason, but it’s hard to keep that up,” Elaine said. “Depression seems to be the biggest thing we’re fighting right now.”
Elaine’s biggest goal is to somehow get Crystal back into college, but it won’t be easy. Katrina wiped them out.
“This has been her dream to go to college, but this trip, the hurricane and moving has cost me everything,” she said. “The safety net I built up doesn’t exist anymore.”
n Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 882-2111, ext. 351.
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Elaine and Crystal Blakeman
P.O. Box 1114
Russell’s Point, OH 43348