The lobby of the public health clinic at the Clifton Chenier Center has been transformed into a large waiting room. Last Tuesday morning, patients filled out medical forms, nurses hurriedly ran back and forth holding clipboards, babies cried and a man in a wheelchair with a "Cajundome resident" identification card was agitated that his name hadn't been called yet. At a desk in the corner of the room, a mother with two young boys was trying to get prescription medication. Across from her, a middle-aged woman was having her blood pressure checked. The scene resembles a typical doctor's office. Some people fidget. Others read magazines or talk on their cell phones. Some just stare at the floor.
Despite differences in age, race, religion and hometowns, every person there has one thing in common: they are all taking another small step in trying to figure out the next chapter of their lives. Most are waiting for a free tetanus shot so they can return to areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
One elderly couple sits and holds hands. They've rented an apartment in Crowley so they can be near their children and grandchildren in Lafayette. They say the people in Crowley have been wonderful and helped them at every opportunity. Do they plan on returning home?
"We're from St. Bernard," says the man.
He doesn't need to say anything else.
Farther down the row of chairs, a middle-aged professional with a briefcase is next in line for a tetanus shot. "I'm going back today for the first time, but it's just a formality," he says. "I'm from Buras."
For so many people, the last six weeks have been an agonizing wait filled with questions. When will the water be safe to drink? What will my insurance company cover? Where will my children go to school? Who will be returning to my neighborhood?
How do I move forward and rebuild my life?
There are no easy answers to many of the questions, especially when issues of infrastructure, public safety and housing are involved. But the scene inside the Clifton Chenier Center is happening in different ways and locations across the state and country. At press time, every zip code in New Orleans except the lower Ninth Ward was open to residents and visitors, and in Cameron Parish and Lake Charles, homeowners and residents were surveying damage and trying to construct a post-Hurricane Rita plan of action. Somehow, some way, people are trying to move forward.
The psychological effects of the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita are palpable. Besides people directly impacted by the storms, there is a ripple effect for other residents that stretches across the state. Here in Lafayette, many citizens are helping our family, friends and neighbors from the east and west. For The Independent's cover story in this week's issue, contributing writer Jeremy Alford interviewed a number of people in Lafayette ' residents, evacuees, emergency responders, doctors and psychologists ' and chronicles the process of how we can start mending our spirits and psyche.
Even people directly unaffected by the hurricanes must process an avalanche of images and stories from the media ' and there's no telling how the quantity and placement of post-hurricane coverage will change in the coming months. Louisiana Press Association Director Pam Mitchell-Wagner told Alford she's concerned that post-hurricane coverage in regions outside of New Orleans and the affected areas will soon be phased out in favor of other stories.
A number of readers have asked when The Independent will start doing "non-hurricane" stories. To some extent, we've already done that with recent features and reviews in our Living Ind section; arts and entertainment and community events are a vital and important part of our community and provide an especially welcome respite in such turbulent times. And in our news section this week, a number of stories and items ' such as the controversial land swap between UL Lafayette and a local developer, the announcement that retail icon Abdalla's is closing down, and a new lawsuit filed by BellSouth over Lafayette Utilities System's fiber-to-the-home initiative ' reflect our unchanged commitment to covering stories and issues that impact the Lafayette community.
And continued post-hurricane coverage will undoubtedly be a part of our editorial mix. The impact of Katrina and Rita ' on everything from the state budget, tourism, our economy and countless other areas ' will continue to be profound and unexpected at times. We will report and write what it all means for Acadiana, and welcome your feedback.