Elyria Ambeau said she didn’t think she loved New Orleans as much as her husband, who always said he never wanted to leave. But when the Mississippi native was forced to leave her home in the Garden District after Hurricane Katrina hit, she said she realized how much the city had grown on her.
"I didn’t think I was like [my husband] until I had to leave it, and I miss it so much," the 59-year-old mother of four and grandmother of nine said. "I have never realized how much I love that city."
On Aug. 31, 2005, Ambeau, two grandchildren, 14 and 6, her eldest daughter, Vea-Lowel, 39, and her husband started a cross-country journey by car. They got a ride to Texas to borrow a van from family and then to New Mexico, where they stayed with her son-in-law’s family.
Once there, Ambeau received word from her youngest daughter, who lived in San Francisco, that an apartment had been set up for her. She and her family moved into a fully furnished apartment in the Castro, donated by a local restaurateur, and were given six months of free rent.
"We really didn’t have anything but what we had on our backs," she said. "It was just unbelievable. People gave us money. People gave us everything."
Ambeau scoured Craigslist and secured a job at a medical clinic. She said that as much as she would like to go back to New Orleans, she feels like San Francisco is her new home.
"I am almost 60 years old, and I can’t start over again," she said. "I started over again here, but I had to out of necessity."