Skyline professor loses family in New Orleans

Three weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast on Aug. 29, Patricia Deamer, professor of mathematics at Skyline College, had to leave her teaching post to go back to her old hometown in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The California National Guard reported that one person had been found dead in Deamer’s father and aunt’s house located in Lakeview, New Orleans. Deamer’s father, Leslie and his sister Ella drowned in their home when the levees in the city broke, following Hurricane Katrina’s passing.

When Deamer left for Louisiana she didn’t know which of her two relatives had been found dead.

“It was very tough,” Deamer said. “Knowing that at least one of the two people that lived in the house was already dead and not knowing which one it was.”

Deamer stayed in Baton Rouge, a city approximately 60 miles northeast of New Orleans and virtually unaffected by the hurricanes. While she was there she underwent a DNA test to make sure the body found was her father’s. She also made several phone calls in search of her missing relatives.

On Oct. 5, over a month after Katrina hit, citizens were allowed to enter the city of New Orleans again. Deamer went to her father and aunt’s house with a few other relatives. While clearing away debris in the house, Deamer’s cousin discovered Leslie’s body under some furniture in the guest bedroom. His body hadn’t been removed or identified.

After Leslie’s body was found the Deamer family requested that the house be searched again for Deamer’s aunt who was still missing. Kenyon, the company licensed by the state to retrieve bodies, completed a “thorough” search of the house and said they didn’t find anyone. This news brought some hope to the Deamer family.

“When they told us there were no more bodies in the house there was hope,” Deamer said. “There was hope that [Ella] was alive and that she had made it out.”

Unfortunately, 11 days later, all hope had died. Deamer and other relatives were in the house again and a different cousin of Deamer’s found Ella’s body up in a corner of the attic.

Even after the bodies were found they were not released until Nov. 18, due to the tedious process of identifying the dead. The memorial service was held on Nov. 21.

Deamer had talked to her aunt in the morning on the day Katrina had hit and another one of her aunts had spoken with Ella that day as well at around 11:30 a.m.

“At 11:30 a.m. the sun was coming out in New Orleans,” Deamer said. Everyone expected the worst was over, but it had only really just begun. According to Deamer the flooding started anywhere from 4 to 5 hours after the hurricane had passed. There was talk of evacuating but according to Deamer the evacuation didn’t come until the following Sunday. No one expected the massive flooding following the hurricane because New Orleans had lived through hurricanes before.

“Most people who lived in New Orleans all that time survived numerous hurricanes,” Deamer said. “[New Orleans] was expecting another real furious hurricane, but where my father and aunt lived there was never any flooding in that area prior.”

According to Deamer, some New Orleans residents don’t intend to go back to New Orleans because they don’t trust the levee system. These people won’t come back until the system is built better. A lot of people were placed on buses and planes and transported to different states. According to Deamer often times these people weren’t even told where they were going.

Deamer, like many others was disappointed with the government’s delayed reaction time to the crisis.

“It was most unfavorable, it came off as if the government, city officials, everyone, really didn’t care about the people in New Orleans,” she said. ” We can go all the way to the other side of the world and in 72 hours have hospitals and roads and all of that built [and] they couldn’t even get into New Orleans which is only a few miles a way.”

Deamer spent five weeks in New Orleans, came home briefly to see a lawyer and went right back. She didn’t return home until around 3 a.m. Jan. 17, giving her only a few hours before she had to teach her first class.

Deamer grew up in New Orleans and later attended college in Baton Rouge. She moved to California in 1971, a few years before she began teaching at Skyline.

Deamer said it was heart wrenching to see the city she grew up in, now lie in ruins.

“I grew up in a city that care forgot, a city that is basically a party city,” Deamer said. “And the party was over, simple as that.”

Ms. Deamer would like to thank her Skyline family for all of the support and kindness they have shown her through this tough time.