New Orleans Rebuilds the “Eternal Jewel” During the lazy, hazy summer months of 2005, New Orleans residents thought they had seen it all. The city—eccentric, charming, and beloved by millions—had lived under the threat of hurricanes for so long that the warnings sounded more like folk tales rather than reality. Yet on Aug. 28, Hurricane ... Features
Features  |   August 01, 2009
New Orleans Rebuilds the “Eternal Jewel”
Author Notes
  • Kellie Rowden-Racette, print and online writer/editor for The ASHA Leader, can be reached at
    Kellie Rowden-Racette, print and online writer/editor for The ASHA Leader, can be reached at×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / Healthcare Settings / Professional Issues & Training / ASHA News & Member Stories / Features
Features   |   August 01, 2009
New Orleans Rebuilds the “Eternal Jewel”
The ASHA Leader, August 2009, Vol. 14, 1-43. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.14102009.1
The ASHA Leader, August 2009, Vol. 14, 1-43. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.14102009.1

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During the lazy, hazy summer months of 2005, New Orleans residents thought they had seen it all. The city—eccentric, charming, and beloved by millions—had lived under the threat of hurricanes for so long that the warnings sounded more like folk tales rather than reality. Yet on Aug. 28, Hurricane Katrina dashed that false sense of security by slamming into the southern coast of the United States, causing more than 1,800 people to lose their lives and more than $81 billion in damage.
Among those affected were thousands of ASHA members along the Gulf Coast communities in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Some fled, some stayed, some left for good, others returned to rebuild their lives. The ASHA Leader ran a story in the Sept. 27, 2005 issue, “In Katrina’s Wake,” that highlighted the experiences of several ASHA members only one month after Katrina hit. Now, four years later as ASHA prepares to hold its first post-Katrina convention in New Orleans in November, The Leader revisits three of those members. Here are their stories.
Tiffany Hebert Spinos, MCD, CCC-SLP
Senior speech-language pathologist and feeding therapist, Texas Children’s Hospital, Houston
Even though Tiffany Spinos (then Tiffany Hebert) evacuated early from New Orleans the weekend before Hurricane Katrina hit, she didn’t comprehend the magnitude of the storm she was escaping until days later. An SLP at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans and a Big Easy native, she remembers not understanding that this hurricane, unlike other hurricanes she’d witnessed in the 1970s and 1980s, would change the course of her life.
“We had a few close calls but all through the earlier hurricanes, I don’t remember anyone ever evacuating,” Spinos said. “The mentality of New Orleans was unlike anywhere else. There was a false sense of security that the city was this eternal jewel that would always be preserved no matter what. Our attitude was, ‘Yeah, we’re below sea level but nothing’s really going to happen to us.’”
As she watched Katrina news footage with a family member in Dallas, however, she knew she would not be returning home for a very long time. Not only was the city sealed off to residents, but the infrastructure was nearly gone, and her house, a mere three blocks from the break in the17th Street Canal, was uninhabitable. When she returned seven weeks later—the earliest authorities would allow—she found her back door blown in, living room furniture in her kitchen, the refrigerator in the garage, and all her belongings covered in black sludge.
“It was completely unrecognizable and everything was topsy-turvy,” Spinos said. “We had nine feet of water on the first floor.”
She had already received e-mails from Children’s Hospital reporting that her employment was indefinitely suspended. Realizing that her best bet was to begin looking for work in Texas, Spinos turned to ASHA’s online message boards to search for former colleagues and job postings in Texas. Luckily she had previously lived and worked in Houston and, although her Texas license had expired, was able to renew it immediately and her ASHA CCCs were portable. Today she works in the pediatric unit at Texas Children’s Hospital. Adding more reason to declare her Texan citizenship, Spinos married and now has a 1-year-old old daughter who, by birthright and unwritten state law, is a Texan forever. Her life is settled and she has no plans to return. But still, she says, a part of her will always miss New Orleans.
“I think anyone who grew up in New Orleans would miss it,” she said. “There aren’t many days that pass when I don’t think of a snapshot of New Orleans where I wish I could place myself, if only for a few moments.”
Janel Mumme, MA, MCD, CCC-SLP
Head Start director, Plaquemines Parish
Janel Mumme was looking forward to a good school year in the early fall of 2005. Having worked as a special education educator with the Plaquemines Parish School Board and then as a school-based SLP since 1994, she had just been promoted to her first administrative job as Head Start coordinator and was ready to get going. But on Sat., Aug. 27, Mumme and her husband saw the approaching storm on television and decided to leave early for a planned three-day vacation in Arkansas. They left on Aug. 28.
“They were on the radio saying ‘Get out now while you can!’ so we did,” she recalled.
The next morning Katrina blasted through New Orleans and as the Mummes watched the news coverage, they quickly realized their duplex and the new house they had built were most likely under water. And unlike most other New Orleans residents who had to wait to return, Mumme and her husband had to return quickly because of her husband’s position as the operational manager of the local water and sewage treatment plant.
They were escorted by police into the devastated city and the couple slept in her husband’s office for a month until they moved into a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailer. As the water began to subside, they were offered an armed military escort into St. Bernard Parish to see their homes. The duplex they had been living in had been flooded by five feet of water and mold streaked the walls; the new house also had flood damage. Mumme salvaged a few kitchen items, but almost everything else was destroyed.
“Most material things you can replace,” she said, “but I can never replace the loss of photos from childhood to age 40.”
Mumme fared better professionally. Unlike nearby school districts that were handing out pink slips, Plaquemines Parish held everyone’s job. In addition, ASHA waived certification fees for affected members. The trickier part was getting the programs back up and running. Attendance records, Individualized Education Program, registration information—all had been stored on desktop computers that had been destroyed in the flood.
“I’d have folks from the Head Start state office call and ask for our attendance records and paper registration folders,” Mumme said. “They didn’t get it. Finally I went back to the main office that once had 25 feet of water in it and took pictures of the fax machines and computers and sent them those pictures.
“The registration folders probably were somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico.”
But eventually the schools did rebound, students returned, and services slowly resumed. Since that difficult first year, Mumme has been promoted to the director for Head Start by the Plaquemines Parish School Board. Everyone has learned some important lessons, she said. For starters, all the offices now use Web-based programs to store all school and service records. What’s more, at the end of the school year—which coincides with the beginning of hurricane season—all employees and students update their emergency contact information and provide an out-of-area telephone number where they can be reached if disaster strikes again.
“There have been a lot of things put in place since then,” Mumme said. “If another Katrina hit, it would be a disaster, but at least now we wouldn’t be coming back and reinventing the wheel. Anybody with any sense has learned from this and now has a plan.”
Natalee Allen Menge, AuD, CCC-A
Lead audiologist, Baton Rouge Speech and Hearing Foundation
The month before Natalee Allen moved to New Orleans in 2005, her family warned her about the threat of flooding there. But she didn’t want to talk about it. Originally from northern Louisiana, this was going to be her first experience living in the charming city. She was starting the AuD program at Louisiana State University’s Health Sciences Center and happily anticipating a new adventure. She had a new apartment and a plan.
“I didn’t want to talk about the flooding,” she said. “I didn’t want to jinx it!”
But then Katrina hit. Even though Allen didn’t exactly “evacuate,” she left town early the evening of Aug. 26 to attend her cousin’s wedding upstate. All she had with her was the dress she would wear at the wedding, her makeup, and the clothes she was wearing. As the news of Katrina unfolded, however, Allen knew she had underpacked.
“All I had were my flip-flops and the jeans and tank top I was wearing,” she recalled.
Although Allen’s new apartment, which was located on relatively high ground near the convention center, didn’t suffer any flooding, it was broken into afterward. When she returned a month later she found food, towels, candles, and sheets missing.
“I completely understood,” she said. “The television wasn’t bashed in, my stereo was still there, and so was all my jewelry,” she reported. “They [the intruders] obviously were just interested in survival items.”
But even though her apartment hadn’t flooded, the city of New Orleans was uninhabitable. Her program moved its classes to the Baton Rouge campus, so once she realized she could continue her studies, she found a place in Baton Rouge. Although many of the displaced students and faculty were housed on an anchored cruise ship in the Mississippi River, Allen was fortunate enough to stay with friends through May 2006. Once classes returned to the New Orleans campus, she found a new apartment and resumed her plan in the Big Easy. The adventure was back on, but this time her excitement was tinged with precaution.
“I moved downtown where it was more secure and there were always people around,” she said.
In the two years she lived there, “I was ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice if I needed to, but luckily there was never another reason.”
Much has changed for Allen since Katrina. She got married in October 2008 and received herAuD in May 2009. Today she works as the lead audiologist at the Baton Rouge Speech and Hearing Foundation and enjoys her new profession. She says Katrina taught her the importance of being flexible.
“I’m a planner,” she said. “I had everything about my new life planned and then it bombed. So I realized I can’t control everything—and now I don’t get as upset by bumps in the road.”
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August 2009
Volume 14, Issue 10