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Hurricane Katrina: After the Storm

Cathy Christensen August 2006 issue of Skin Inc. magazine

After August 29, 2005, those who live on the Gulf Coast knew that their lives would never be the same. Whether this was due to the emotional baggage that resulted or to the continuing life stressors that have occurred in the aftermath, one year later, residents and business owners are struggling to make financial and emotional ends meet.

Round two?

Since Hurricane Katrina struck, much has changed in the affected towns, but even more has remained the same, causing those who decided to stick it out to wish for healing and closure. Unfortunately, as the 2006 hurricane season began on June 1, many felt like these will be a long time in coming. Threatened with another six predicted hurricanes, Gulf Coast locals are preparing for the worst, while hoping against hope that lightning won’t strike twice. The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted four to six potentially major hurricanes—Category 3 or higher—for the North Atlantic region.

However, the area is not ready—both physically and emotionally—for another storm. Chuck Kelly, owner of Chuck Kelly Salon and Spa in Gulfport, Mississippi—one of the hardest-hit coastal areas—doesn’t even want to think about it. “Even if we have a near miss, it will do tremendous damage to people’s psyches,” he says. Since the original article, which appeared in the December 2005 issue of Skin Inc. magazine, Kelly notes that much has stayed the same, with housing and staffing being the biggest issues. “Life is not a lot of fun right now,” he adds.

Although many cities in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana were devastated by Hurricane Katrina, none was more impacted than New Orleans due to breaches in the town’s levee system and its bowl-shaped topography. Because of the amount and extent of the damage, the city has so much to lose if another storm were to hit. Stanley Goldenberg, a meteorologist in NOAA’s hurricane research division, believes, “There’s no reason why New Orleans can’t get hit by another major hurricane in 2006.” Sam Brocato, New Orleans native and chairperson of the National Cosmetology Association (NCA) Disaster Relief Fund/Katrina efforts, disagrees. “A hurricane of this magnitude didn’t hit for so long that I don’t believe there will be another huge storm for a while,” he states. “If New Orleans gets hit with a healthy Category 2 storm, it will be contained, but it still will be such a blow to everyone.”

One year later: The French Quarter

Brocato is referring to the survivors who have remained in the area and have helped in the rebuilding efforts for a better New Orleans. Sandy Blum, co-owner of Shine Spa + Specialties and Spa Aria in the Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter, was one of those survivors. When interviewed approximately six weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit, her outlook was positive. At the time, Blum said, “I feel that I am one of the chosen and blessed ones needed to rebuild this great city.” After a year’s time, she continues the fight, although she admits that it can be an exhausting and disheartening one.

“Since we last talked, I really felt that once we got back, the rehabilitation of the city would happen much quicker. So many things came into play,” she explains. “October through December, you probably could shoot a cannon in the front foyer of Shine—that’s how dead it was. There still are vendors that we owe money to from before Katrina, and we lost about $150,000 in revenue coming back, being closed and then reopening. We’re down 90% in business. It’s really a bad situation. The local and national governments haven’t been any help at all. We lost $11,000 in inventory that we had to repurchase because insurance didn’t cover it. Our insurance company told us that our electrical box literally would have had to have been torn off the pole in order for us to get any reimbursement—the product sitting in the heat for three months didn’t count.”

At the time of the interview, Blum confessed that unless a loan from the United States Small Business Administration (SBA) or other funds were to come through, Blum and Cindy Cocke, co-owner, would have to close Shine within 60 days. Luckily, things are looking up for her and her two businesses. In late May, Blum and Cocke signed loan paperwork from the SBA and are feeling a little relief. Also, due to May’s French Quarter Festival and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, it turned out to be a good month. However, this is only a small battle won in the larger war of hardship in the area. Ironically, the French Quarter was mostly spared from the wrath of Katrina, but now is facing an equally damaging outlook due to the lack of tourism on which its small businesses thrived.

One year later: The Garden District

In the Garden District of New Orleans, however, business is good. According to Kim Dudek, owner of Belladonna Day Spa, her sales numbers are comparable to where they were last year, even with shortened spa hours and fewer business days, due to staffing issues. She can attribute this only to the lighter schedule creating a sense of urgency among the clientele. “Our prescheduled appointments are through the roof now,” adds Dudek.

Because of the spa’s location—a more residential area than that of Shine—she is able to count on more local spa-goers as they slowly return to their homes. “We have been very lucky,” says Dudek. However, she isn’t taking her good fortune for granted. By utilizing Belladonna’s massive retail area, she is focusing on helping the community. Whether it is creating and selling T-shirts that raise morale and funds or offering a “Be Prepared” booklet, now that the 2006 hurricane season has begun, Dudek certainly doesn’t shirk her civic duty. In fact, in her very limited free time, she is a dedicated volunteer for the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. This commitment involves the regular feeding of and searching for abandoned animals in the most unwelcoming parts of the city.

One year later: The rebuild

All who have lived through and are adapting to this tragedy agree on one thing: The rehabilitation efforts have only just begun. According to Blum, “People either think we are fine or we are ruined.” It is this thought process that threatens to slow momentum on relief efforts for the area. Money and help continue to be needed desperately. Those who operate the NCA Disaster Relief Fund/Katrina probably understand this the best.

So far, according to Gordon Miller, executive director of the NCA, the initiative has raised just less than $1 million for the spa and salon industries affected by Hurricane Katrina, the majority of which came from individual donations. Brocato explains that, due to the charity scandals in the wake of the disaster, people initially were having a difficult time believing that all the money was going to the affected individuals.

“Every single penny goes back to the professionals in the area,” Miller explains. “When we mail people a check, NCA takes the price of postage out of its own funds—we don’t take it out of the donations.” Despite major funding concerns about other charitable organizations, as well as the national government, Miller reports that people have been pleasantly surprised to see that their own industry has been the most reliable and the most helpful during their time of need. “We gave people emotional strength and encouragement to stay in this industry after the storm,” he says.

The NCA’s efforts continue. “We still have a fair amount of people needing aid. The biggest issue is that we don’t have enough funding, and that kind of stops things in their tracks. We need more money,” emphasizes Brocato.

When the organization believes that it has done all it can do to help with the Katrina recovery effort, it wants to extend the fundraising to filter into a natural disaster fund. “Those things happen all the time, and there is nothing for the victims,” explains Miller.

Although it can be difficult to believe that any good can come out of such a disaster, Miller personally feels fortunate for having worked at the NCA. “At the NCA office, we talk with every single person who has applied for funds—more than 800. It helped change the way I look at life. It makes me value the things I have more, and appreciate the friendships and family that I have. That has been a gift. It also keeps me motivated to continue doing this work and to do other work in my personal life. I’m a little more conscious about doing something for the homeless guy down the street than I was before.”

A new perspective

It is this mentality that causes human nature to win over Mother Nature. In the months and years to come during the massive rebuilding effort, those who remain to reconstruct the city will, in the end, gain a perspective that most can envy—thankfulness for what they have, as well as an appreciation for life. And those whose lives went virtually untouched by Hurricane Katrina can step in and help wherever possible—whether it be donating to relief efforts or traveling to the damaged areas to help rebuild. Please see How You Can Help for contact information of various charitable organizations. Ironically, a trip to the French Quarter—once the source of self-centered indulgence—can help New Orleans to rise again. “We want people to come and see that the French Quarter is fine. They can come and eat, and listen to great music like they used to. They can come and shop in the French Quarter. That’s the only way things are going to get better,” says Blum.



The Author's Perspective

Since beginning on this journey approximately six weeks after Hurricane Katrina thrashed the Gulf Coast, I have become extremely connected to the people and the cause about which I have learned so much. The information in the body of this article is factual and without personal bias—the way all newsworthy articles should be. However, I don’t feel as though it would be complete without sharing the thoughts and experiences I encountered on a recent trip to New Orleans to research this article. The relationships that I have forged during this process have been incredible, and I have bonded with once complete strangers in an amazing way. These people took time out of rebuilding their lives to speak with me when I wrote the first article, which appeared in the December 2005 issue of Skin Inc. magazine, and I will never be the same.

New Orleans, April 21–23, 2006

I left Chicago for New Orleans at approximately 9:30 am and arrived at almost noon. When I drove away from Louis Armstrong Airport, I took the interstate. The day was warm and lovely, and things seemed normal … that is, until I got my first glimpse of the Superdome. Conspicuous from the other buildings in the area, its normally white dome showed its battle scars, as well as a worn banner on the side of the structure announcing its reopening for football season this year. This set the scene for the entire trip—a battle-worn city that is down but not out. I then proceeded to the Hotel Monteleone, where I was staying. My first appointment was with Sandy Blum, co-owner of Spa Aria in the Hotel Monteleone and Shine Spa + Specialties, a retail store/spa in the French Quarter. I had interviewed her for my original article and enjoyed a really good rapport with her.

I arrived at Spa Aria. Sandy was on the other side of the counter, and I recognized her from her photograph. When she discovered who I was, she ran around the counter with her arms open wide and said, “I feel like we know each other.” The funny thing is, I felt exactly the same way. I also met Chance Brignec, the spa manager. The facility is relatively small and has a more earthy, organic feel than the romantic décor one might expect in an old hotel in the French Quarter, as well as a substantial retail section. Also, the place was hopping! Sandy said it was because of several wedding parties and the French Quarter Festival. They were thrilled for the business.

After the tour, Sandy took me to Shine, which is only about a block away. It is a retail store with personal care items, T-shirts, candles, jewelry and kitschy books. Sandy explained that it was undergoing a renovation to be turned into a spa when Katrina hit, and they had to use the budget to maintain operations. There are rooms in the back of the building that are halfway completed. For now, the open space is being used for yoga classes, which Sandy says have been well attended by the stressed-out masses of the city.

At Shine, I met spa co-owner Cindy Cocke. She and Sandy took me on a quick tour, and the three of us sat in the back of the store to conduct the interview. I learned a lot about the current state of the New Orleans spa industry from Sandy. When I initially talked to her for the first article, she was really gung-ho about helping to revitalize the city, but some of that seemed gone from her. She explained how she had 60 days before she might have to close Shine unless she received grant money from the United States Small Business Administration (SBA). The store has been in business for 10 years. Sandy discussed how the entire French Quarter is hurting due to the lack of tourism because of conferences being cancelled in the city until 2007, which is her bread and butter due to her location. She also spoke about the emotional toll the storm has had and about the numerous suicides that have taken place in the community, including a close friend of hers and a fellow spa owner.

My next meeting was with Kim Dudek, owner of Belladonna Day Spa in the Garden District. Her spa is amazing. The Garden District was mostly spared from the flooding, although it is closer to the devastated areas. It also is a very trendy district in which to live and work. The facility features an enormous retail area, with products ranging from clothes and shoes to crystals and candles. Kim also is the owner of a bedding store called Bellanoche and is opening a dog spa called Belladoggie. She greeted me with a warm hug and said she was so happy to see me.

We took a tour of her facility and chatted. I found out that her numbers are almost as high as they were last year, even though she has had to shave an entire day, as well as several hours off of her weekly operations schedule, due to fewer staff members and those newcomers who still are going through training. Kim attributes the steady numbers to having created a sense of urgency to make standing appointments, now that they are harder to get. She also believes that having a more locally based clientele has helped her to maintain her business—this probably is very true when compared to the spas in the French Quarter and their troubles due to the lack of tourism. She also has worked to convince her clients that regular spa visits are crucial to their health, and this has helped to keep her treatment rooms full.

Kim then took me on a tour of the city. She works with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and has volunteered since the storm to hunt down stray animals and locate their owners. She is very familiar with the devastated areas and continues to maintain feeding stations where she leaves food for homeless animals, which is just amazing. Kim took us through these areas, and the devastation was horrifying. Neighborhoods, remarkably similar to the one in which I live, were completely destroyed. Every house was empty and gutted, and there were piles of people’s belongings—their lives—in the middle of the street. The area was like a war zone and was completely abandoned except for the occasional cat or FEMA trailer in front of the shell of a house. The water lines—where the floodwater stood for weeks—were visible just below the rooftops. This was an eye-opening experience.

After the tour, I enjoyed dinner with Kim and Margaret Lippman, the special projects manager for Belladonna and a retail consultant. We met at Café Adeliade in the Lowes Hotel in New Orleans.

I flew back home on Sunday, but not before experiencing the French Quarter Festival that was taking place in the area. The community seems to be coming back, slowly but surely. Hopefully, tourism will revive and start pumping money back into the economy.

Those who remain in the area love New Orleans more than anything, but their wounds are still exposed—healing has yet to begin, and closure has not been attained. But there is a love and a sense of hope that overwhelm you throughout the city. People smile, offer a heartfelt welcome and thank you for visiting. Their strength and persistence need to be applauded and adopted. Personally, it has caused me to view humanity in a better light, and it has ignited a fire in me to become more helpful within my own community. This has been a truly life-changing experience.

How You Can Help

Following are some of the organizations that provide various kinds of relief to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

Beauty Associations for Katrina Relief

c/o NCA Hurricane Disaster Relief Fund—Katrina

1449 Paysphere Circle

Chicago, IL 60674


The American Red Cross

Contact your local chapter.


AmeriCares Foundation

88 Hamilton Ave.

Stamford, CT 06902


America’s Second Harvest

35 E. Wacker Dr., #2000

Chicago, IL 60601


Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

1319 Japonica St.

New Orleans, LA 70117


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