Survivors’ stories carry message of hope, warning

Cheryl Murdock is one of thousands of Hurricane Katrina survivors who came to the Bay Area after the storm.

A year later, no one knows exactly how many people, like Murdock, arrived in the Bay Area or how many are still left, according to Millie Burns, a board member of East Bay Katrina Assistance and Recovery Effort (KARE), a nonprofit organization that provides case management assistance to survivors.

There were about 3,000 cases registered by Katrina survivors with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the Bay Area, according to Jordan Klein of United Way. He said there were between 150 and 200 families living in San Francisco, and he estimated that about 1,000 of the original Bay Area cases are still here, trying to pick up the pieces.

“This is such an expensive place to live, it’s really not sustainable for a lot of folks,” Klein said.

Murdock is one of the success stories, according to Burns, because she has been able to secure a job and integrate herself into her new community in Fremont. The New Orleans native made her way to the Bay Area after she was adopted by St. John’s Catholic Church in Fremont and was given an apartment in The City rent-free for six months. But Murdock said she never thought she would stay in the Bay Area once the lease ran out.

“When I first came out here, I kept asking why I was out here, but God kept showing me things,” she said.

One of the signs she points to is the job she landed at BART. At a church career fair, she filled out an application for the train service without even knowing what they did.

“The funniest thing is when they called, they said, ‘Hi, this is BART,’ and I said, ‘Bart who [and] how did you get my number?’” Murdock said. “I had no idea what BART was.”

The 43-year-old mother of two will complete a grueling 12-week training course and take an exam Sept. 6 before being assigned to duties at BART.

“It’s been 12 weeks of boot camp, and I had no idea it was that hard to work for BART,” she said. “I can’t tell you how blessed I am to have that job.”

Her $27-an-hour wages will help pay for her diabetes medication, her daughter’s tuition at Louisiana State University and reuniting with her husband, who now will be moving to the Bay Area.

Many Katrina victims who came to the Bay Area still need help securing work, according to Klein.

“Almost all of them need employment assistance,” he said. “Very few of the people who are [still] open cases have stable jobs right now. They came to a place where a lot of them don’t have a social support system.”

A year later, services are available for survivors through local charities, such as KARE. The San Francisco chapter of KARE is trying to raise $200,000 to hire two caseworkers to help victims and to provide them with basic living assistance.

sfarooq@examiner.com

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