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'Catatonic shock'

Thirty-seven-year-old Dianne Schoeffler has no word on when she can go home, no paycheck, and no idea of what's coming next.

BY SUSAN KIM | LAFAYETTE, Louisiana | August 31, 2005

"Everybody is just thinking, in a week or two, we are going to have to find some way to make money."

—Diann Schoeffler

Thirty-seven-year-old Diann Schoeffler has no word on when she can go home, no paycheck, and no idea of what's coming next.

She rents an apartment in the middle of New Orleans, and is now staying with her stepmother a two-and-a-half hour drive away. "It looks like a couple of months, from what little I can catch from the media. But I really have no word on it."

Schoeffler works for Tulane Medical School as a program coordinator in the child psychiatry division. She has had little contact with her workplace. "It's impossible. I tried to access our Tulane Web site to get my work e-mail but I couldn’t. I got in touch with one supervisor - one of the head people - and she's in Dallas. I haven't been able to get in touch with the professor I work for."

She is worried about her friends. "They tend to do vertical evacuation here," she said. "I'm not sure where everybody is. But I have heard from a few friends. We know people that stayed but haven't been able to contact them since yesterday morning."

Schoeffler was in Lafayette for a family visit when she realized she shouldn't go back into the city. "I was supposed to have jaw surgery on Tuesday. I came here with one set of clothes. I went to Goodwill yesterday to get some more clothes."

She likes her job, and she wishes she could go back to work. "And I wish I could afford to wait to go back. But I live paycheck-to-paycheck. I'm thinking pretty soon I'm going to have to find something somewhere, but I don't know what."

Most of her friends she has talked to are thinking of going to other parts of the country to work and live - at least temporarily, she said. "One of my friends owns a bike courier business in New Orleans. Everybody is just thinking, in a week or two, we are going to have to find some way to make money. They're scattered about the country with relatives."

Schoeffler did not have renters insurance, she said, so she has lost everything. "I didn't get to take anything with me but that doesn't seem to be important right now. We're all kind of the lucky ones."

That's not to say she's taking this gracefully all the time, she said. "I go through different stages of sobbing, disbelief, and something that just feels like catatonic shock. I'm pretty sure it's going to be a long time.

"It's been such an up-and-down emotional trip. We'd have a glimmer of hope. We'd think maybe it's only three days before we get back. Now we hear 80-90 percent of the city is underwater. We're losing all hope. You go back and forth. I mean, at least you have your life."

She tried to get renter's insurance after Tropical Storm Cindy. "But they said they were not taking out any new policies until after hurricane season."

She has believed for awhile that the worst could happen in New Orleans. "We were told for a long time that was a huge possibility. I believed it. I always thought it could happen but I was hoping it wouldn't be in my lifetime."

She loves New Orleans and she misses the city already, she said. "The looting is so disturbing. I loved New Orleans. I absolutely loved it. To think about all the historical places, all the oak trees. Architecturally and culturally it was one of the richest cities in the country."

Though she's with family members, she feels isolated by the lack of communication. "The hardest thing is the wait-and-see," she said.

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