On Your Side: Lost in the Storm

By: Ryan Duffy
By: Ryan Duffy

Hurricane Katrina destroyed much more than just homes and buildings.

It also wiped out the important records and historical documentation on thousands of lives on the Gulf Coast.

One evacuee, now living in Augusta, has been looking for her records ever since they were lost in the storm.

Paperwork and important documents kept either in people's homes or even in city buildings were destroyed, and the impact is being felt far from the Gulf.

Mildred Reese literally lost everything.

Her house in New Orleans and everything in it were destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.

"Nothing was salvaged from the house...not one receipt, nothing you could use," she says.

That included her birth certificate and drivers license.

She realized how serious a loss that was when she relocated to Augusta and tried to get a new license.

"We went down, and they said, 'You must have a birth certificate.' I could not be born again," Mildred says. "I am a Christian, but not physically born again."

We all remember the pictures of destroyed homes and buildings after Katrina. But what we couldn't see were all the documents and records destroyed--things like medical records, marriage licenses and birth certificates.

"I guess I wrote every week to New Orleans saying 'What can I do?' They said they couldn't find it."

Tracking down birth certificates falls under Louisiana's Vital Records Office.

That office's building was in New Orleans, and all the records had to be packed up and moved.

On top of that, demand for records since Katrina has doubled.

They've been so backed up that Mildred wrote and called for almost a year.

Once she got 12 On Her Side, the Vital Records Department called her.

"Just this morning they called and said, 'Guess what? We found Mildred Lyons birth certificate.' I felt so good."

There are things we can all learn from Mildred's story.

It's a good idea to keep copies of all these important documents, plus wills, bank account numbers, and medical information, somewhere other than your home, just in case.

There may be a time when you have to get out fast and there won't be time to hunt for all these things.

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