Juneau couple recounts their Katrina story

Larry and Tressie Foster to return to home state to help

Posted: Friday, September 09, 2005

Larry and Tressie Foster went through the usual preparations for a hurricane on the weekend before Katrina hit. But they still thought the storm would not reach Louisiana.

The Fosters, who own an orthodontics practice in the Mendenhall Valley, were visiting family members in their hometown of Denham Springs. Every summer warnings go out and only occasionally does the hurricane arrive, they said.

"A lot of people thought it was never going to happen to them," Larry said.

Their house, which they have not sold since moving to Juneau a few years ago, sustained only a broken window when the devastating storm finally hit.

Denham Springs, some 90 miles north of the coast and New Orleans, suffered wind damage: Trees fell on power lines and homes, and smashed cars. The city was out of reach from the floods.

The Fosters and their families outlasted the town's power shortage with canned goods, bottled water and a generator bought the weekend before. Tressie spent the Sunday before the storm cooking meals her family could eat through the week in case the hurricane hit. The Fosters also filled the bathtub with water ahead of the storm for an extra reservoir.

When it was safe to move about, Larry pitched in by driving stranded trucks to the New Orleans area so goods could be transported.

When they returned to Juneau, Larry and Tressie vowed to return to their home state to help others who were not so lucky.

Larry is giving up his scheduled hunting and fishing trips to lend a hand down south and Tressie, who does office work at the Juneau practice, will spend about a month in Louisiana working with the relief efforts.

The two said they hope to give special attention to needs not met by the larger relief organizations. Tressie said she especially wants to help the families of New Orleans police officers.

"I just feel like my time would be better served down there," she said.

Tressie proposed that Alaskans donate money through her, and she can seek out such individuals with special needs. She said many families are separated and need money for bus tickets to be reunited. Students attending schools in new cities need uniforms and supplies. And some people don't have shoes.

Churches are playing a role in Denham Springs by finding local homes willing to shelter families with infants and children.

The heat in towns with scarce electricity is one of the biggest enemies now as stores are sold out of the popular window air conditioner units that cool the 100-degree air.

From their old practice in Louisiana, the Fosters had hundreds of toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes and dental floss packs to donate to victims.

"There are so many needs out there," Larry said. "They lost their homes and they lost their jobs temporarily."

The Fosters do not want smaller communities around New Orleans to be forgotten while much of the media focus on the major city, they said.

Some of Larry's patients have asked about volunteering and he warns that most hotels within a 300-mile radius of the disaster are shut down. Many volunteers are living in the same conditions as the victims, he said.

"People don't have to volunteer now," Larry said. "This thing will be going on for a very long time."

To contact Tressie Foster about donations, call 789-9683 or send contributions to 9191 Lee Smith Dr., Juneau, AK 99801.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com

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