ESSEX JUNCTION – Two seniors who lost their homes to the devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita have new homes at Whitcomb Woods Senior Housing in Essex Junction, a Cathedral Square Community.
Shirley Columbe was spending the summer in Alburg when Hurricane Katrina destroyed her home in Waveland, Mississippi. “All I had was two suitcases of clothes. Everything else was gone.” Shirley says. Her daughter weathered out the storm and reported the devastation from the upper floor of her two bedroom house. “Everything was under five feet of water. They lived upstairs for five days before the water level went down.” Shirley’s daughter began taking in abandoned pets and was recently made an official member of the ASPCA for her efforts.
Shirley was scheduled to return to Mississippi on the Sunday following the storm. “I had my plane tickets already.” She says. Luckily, the airline was able to refund them following the storm. At the time she contacted Cathedral Square Corporation (CSC) searching for housing, Shirley was living in a camp in Alburg. “I had to find something quickly. The winter was coming and the camp wasn’t winterized.” For Shirley, who suffered a stroke in April, the task was daunting.
A month later, Hurricane Rita slammed into Texas leaving another path of destruction. Pam Gray of Cleveland, Texas, found herself evacuating with no clear sense of where to go or what would be left when she returned. Pam recalls repeated cell phone calls between herself and friend Debbie, who was in Vermont at the time. “We were just driving trying to find a place to stay. There were no hotel rooms available because evacuees from New Orleans and Mississippi were filling them all. Debbie was calling around to hotels to find a vacancy then calling us and telling us which direction to head in.” Pam eventually found a room near Austin and was there for five days before returning home. When she arrived she found the town pitch dark, without electricity, and her home in shambles. “It was a trailer home and it had been knocked off its supports so it was at an angle. The roof was coming off, the doors wouldn’t shut, and I had no water or electricity.” For Pam who has MS and often uses a motorized scooter this was a nightmare. Everyday she made the trip to FEMA to collect water and food. The sight of National Guard troops in the streets to prevent looting and keep order left “an image that will never go away.”
Pam and Shirley are unpacking and adjusting to life at Whitcomb Woods, a 65 unit independent senior living community in Essex Junction. Both express their gratitude to their new neighbors and the staff of Cathedral Square Corporation. “Everyone has been wonderful. I am so grateful for their help and to be here.” Pam says.
During the relief efforts following both hurricanes, CSC made vacancies available to victims looking to relocate. Vacancies were posted on several websites, including those hosted by the National Church Residences (NCR) and the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA). Pam and Shirley were the only two hurricane victims to contact CSC. Nancy Eldridge, CEO of Cathedral Square Corporation says “the thought of losing everything so suddenly is difficult to imagine, especially for these seniors with health concerns. I’m very proud of CSC’s ability to bring these two women home and of all the support both staff and residents at Whitcomb Woods have provided for them.”
Cathedral Square Corporation is a nonprofit, statewide organization, created in 1977 by the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Burlington.