Al Vega, 59, clung to a tree for nine hours while Hurricane Katrina roared through the Gulf Coast last August 29, 2005. He counted himself lucky to be alive after the 21-foot storm surge destroyed his home, two boats and a shed filled with tools and lawn equipment.
It took Vega two days to walk into Waveland, Miss., climbing over homes that had been swept into the middle of streets. He found emergency food and water in the parking lot of a destroyed WalMart and he slept on the curb for a week. This was the beginning of a 14-month search for hope that has been filled with one disappointment after another.
"We met Al last January when 10 of us went down to Mississippi to help with flood relief," said Pastor Dennis Doerr of the First Presbyterian Church in Chittenango. "He had no family or friends to help him clean up his property and, because of a serious heart condition, he wasn't able to do much himself."
The team from the church cleaned up the debris from Vega's property and cleared an area for a trailer he hoped to purchase with money from his insurance settlement. The settlement never came, and Vega lost his down payment on the trailer.
Vega is still living in a FEMA trailer, is unable to get a loan due to his medical condition, his property insurance has been cancelled and he is not eligible for federal assistance because he is in litigation with his insurance company.
He would like to resume his lawn care business, but he can't afford to buy new tractors and "people just don't have any money," Vega said recently when Doerr visited again in October. Applications have been completed, lawsuits have been filed, but Vega is still waiting for help, as are many others in the Gulf Coast area.