Hurricane victims relocate to Muleshoe

Marlena Hartz: Freedom Newspapers

The house Annie Young grew up in is gone. So is much of city she calls home. So are photographs of her childhood. Hurricane Katrina took much, but it spared her family.

Her parents, three siblings and their four dogs are currently staying in her Muleshoe home. The full house generates a near-constant din: Dishes clatter and voices rise and fall with the cries of Young’s two toddlers.

Her father, Jay Ridolfo, is by contrast quiet.

The past week has worn on him. His voice is barely audible, his sentences punctuated by heavy sighs.

Although the days that that led to his Muleshoe exodus are jumbled together — “it’s hard to know what day it is,” he said — the wrath of the hurricane is fresh in his mind.

The home he and his father built from scratch is buried under a waist-deep river.

“That’s the hardest part,” Young said. “That was the one thing my grandfather left us, and it’s gone.”

The house is located eight blocks from the New Orleans levees that shattered during the hurricane.

“When the levees broke, I knew everything we had worked for all our lives would disappear before our eyes,” Ridolfo said.

Ridolfo, also a Hurricane Camille survivor, said he did not heed storm warnings because he believed he could wait it out at home. However, when winds started howling outside and seawater flooded the first floor, he knew he had underestimated Katrina’s ferocity. Soon, pungent sea water had risen past their door frames.

“We scrambled to get whatever we could — important papers, food and water. When the wind died down, we crawled through a window and onto the roof,” Ridolfo said.

By morning, water was lapping against roofs on which he and neighbors huddled for nearly two days.

Divine intervention saved his wife, his two sons, his daughter, and his daughter-in-law, Ridolfo said, and led his family to Muleshoe.

They fled the demolished neighborhood on two flat boats, with few possessions, he said. The Ridolfo’s owned one boat. The other, he said, wrangled from the water where it floated by empty. Ridolfo’s cell phone worked intermittently — another miracle, he said — and the only person he could reach was his daughter in Texas.

When they reached Interstate 10 by boat, the family was picked up by an army truck and taken to a shelter. From the shelter, they stopped in Baton Rouge, and then traveled to Muleshoe.

“Even though I am making my home here (in Muleshoe),” Young said, “New Orleans was still home. Now it’s gone.

“That’s a hard thing to put into perspective. But those are all things, and they can be replaced. Everyone is alive and well, and that’s the important part,” Young said, just days after her family arrived in Muleshoe.

Her father said he plans to rebuild his home and his life in New Orleans. A carpenter by trade, Ridolfo said he will use his hands to reconstruct what Katrina took.

He said he looks forward to joining the effort to rebuild the city.
“It will take months before they get water down and the city clear enough (for us) to go back. Everything I’ve ever worked for was right there,” Ridolfo said.

Ridolfo said rural Muleshoe is a “world away” from where he came from — a booming city turned to rubble.

However, he also searches for kernels of goodness amidst the ruins.

“America’s shown it’s true colors,” Ridolfo said. “The country is caring for people they don’t even know.”