Hurricane Katrina survivor Cece Campbell Rock plans to stay in the Bay Area for the sake of her children, despite how difficult it is for her.
The disaster left the New Orleans native’s home under 10 feet of water and scattered her family across the country. Rock has been living in Pleasanton with her teenage son and daughter, who are attending high school.
Her husband returned to New Orleans earlier this week to secure the family home and search for construction work so the "family can eat." Both Rock and her husband have worked in the Bay Area since they have been here, but have been unable to secure permanent jobs.
"For those of us in the Katrina diaspora, Katrina is not over a year later," she said. "It’s correct to say we are outraged and disenchanted."
Since receiving an initial $2,000 check from the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the hurricane struck, Rock said she has struggled to get more government help. Hurricane Katrina survivors are entitled to a maximum of $26,000 from FEMA, according to Jordan Klein of United Way.
Rock’s frustrations with bureaucracy led to her becoming one of the leading Bay Area activists for hurricane victims. The former newspaper reporter in New Orleans has recently helped establish a nonprofit organization called Survivors for Survivors to assist hurricane victims trying to help themselves.
The newly formed organization plans to raise money to help displaced victims pay bills, make rent and find jobs. It has established a toll-free number and is building a Web site to help victims connect.
Many Katrina victims would not have been able to survive without the help of average Americans, according to Rock. Her family received a rent-free apartment for a year after her eldest son, who was already living in Pleasanton, went before the City Council and asked what resources were available for victims. Rock said someone who heard her son speak offered the apartment.
"America opened its heart for us, and they poured out everything they had to give," she said.
Her two children struggled in school at first, but one year later are starting to pick up their grades.
"It’s really hard to adjust and start my life over and find new friends," 13-year-old Jordan said.
After his first year, Jordan will return to New Orleans to join his father, but his mother and sister, Amandi, a 16-year-old junior in high school, will not go back until Amandi graduates.
"I want to go to visit, [but] I don’t want to go live," Amandi said. "After all the destruction and chaos, it’s hard to go back."