Share Survival Stories One Year After Katrina
By Donal Brown
FRANCISCO – The men in the office slept on
the floor, had to forego bathing and ate rations
provided by the National Guard, but they were able
to broadcast nonstop after the devastating hurricane.
The men were five dee jays for 1540 Radio Tropical
Caliente, some of the workers for the ethnic media
of New Orleans that survived Katrina to provide
first response services and eventually overcome
financial blows and play a role in the rebirth of
Upon the one year anniversary of hurricane Katrina
ethnic media shared their survival stories.
After a two-day evacuation, the dee jays returned
to their offices in New Orleans to provide critical
survival information in Spanish and help Latino
residents connect with loved ones.
As business owners cancelled ads, severely cutting
the station’s revenue, radio host Azucena
Viaz said people from the community came to their
rescue. They donated gasoline for their generator,
some even bringing it from Houston. Viaz said the
station played a crucial role for the Spanish-language
“We established a beachhead of good will,”
One day, Viaz and her editor, Ernesto Schweikert,
received a call that 300 people, including children,
were living in a warehouse with two bathrooms and
When they reached the site that housed laborers,
security guards were angry with them. Schweikert
and Viaz argued that the laborers were promised
$10 and were paid $7 and were living in these filthy
conditions. Rather than risk further exposure, the
security guards then told the people in the warehouse
that immigration was coming, a de facto firing of
all 300 workers.
As the workers rushed out of the warehouse, Viaz
was in tears. “What can you do now,”
she asked some of them. But her station helped call
attention to the situation of unequal pay. One of
the workers told her, “Don’t worry.
We are just happy you came and demonstrated that
Spanish people are not alone.”
Viaz said the station is now doing great financially.
She said the Hispanic community had grown substantially
with new restaurants, discos, and stores opening.
After fleeing to Atlanta, Terry Jones, publisher
of the 40 year-old New Orleans Data News Weekly
rounded up writers who lived in Atlanta, sent reporters
down to New Orleans and found a printer in Atlanta
to replace the one in New Orleans that was wiped
out. With the help of associate Cheryl Mainor, he
was able to go beyond CNN coverage to give information
on the location of displaced people, salvaging property
and dealing with FEMA.
They called friends in Houston; Jackson, Mississippi;
Baton Rouge, Lake Charles and Alexandra and arranged
to ship the newspapers to New Orleans for distribution
in shelters. They effectively became the “voice
of the black diaspora” in the year following
Their crowning achievement came with the election
season. With editors, photographers, sales people
and reporters in a temporary office in New Orleans,
they reported on the New Orleans election and facilitated
the participation of displaced residents.
The election was good for business but even better
for people threatened by disenfranchisement while
mired in temporary housing in distant cities. As
one of the major conduits to the displaced, the
Data News Weekly ran six and seven pages of ads
with voting information paid for by the state of
Louisiana. Jones put the entire newspaper online
so that people could download it and stay informed
about how to vote.
“Everything was at stake,” said Mainor.
“How the city was to be rebuilt and whether
people were to be able to return.”
With the information from the Data News Weekly,
thousands displaced by natural catastrophe were
able to vote. They came by bus to New Orleans to
vote or faxed or mailed their ballots.
Mainor said the future looks bright for the Data
News Weekly. They are rebuilding in New Orleans
and slowly regaining their ad base.
The Vietnamese Americans displaced by the hurricane
received essential information and support from
the Vietnamese media. Thuy Vu, CEO of Vietnamese-language
Radio Saigon Houston, said the day after Katrina
hit, the station directed Vietnamese to a shopping
mall in Houston where they could find food and shelter
and other information in Vietnamese. The radio also
went on the air to search for residents in Houston
who could take in these displaced as well as provided
a bulletin board to unite children with parents.
Other ethnic media did not fare so well after the
hurricane. The 21-year-old Vocero News of Kenner,
Louisiana serving the Hispanic population of the
Gulf Coast, New Orleans and Mississippi has ceased
publication. The vibrant weekly had a circulation
of 60,000. Their telephone service was disconnected
and the last posting on their website was for their
weekly of May 20-27, 2005. So too, the telephone
service for the editors of Little Saigon News of
New Orleans is disconnected.
The Louisiana Weekly, a proud family-run newspaper
since 1925, also had a difficult time. Executive
Editor Renette Dejoie Hall, whose grandfather founded
the operation, said the two days after the Katrina
hit they returned to take down the server and computers
and move everything to Houston.
By Oct. 24 the Louisiana Weekly was publishing on-line
and print editions. Unable to hire back her staff,
Hall said people worked as volunteers.
“They donated their time and effort while
they had other jobs and were trying to deal with
the quagmire,” she said.
It took until this past Aug. 18 for Hall to make
her first payroll in 11 months, down from 21 to
Before Katrina, the weekly had a press run of 25,000.
Hall said they were down from this but that the
exodus of blacks from New Orleans was exaggerated
by the mainstream press. She was hopeful for a regeneration
of the black businesses and their ad revenue even
though businesses have found it difficult to obtain
“Banking has not been forgiving. To get an
FDA loan, they want the business owners to provide
tax records back to 1993, but the records were under
10 feet of water and no longer exist,” said
Hall. - New America Media