At the Creole Chef restaurant in Los Angeles’ Crenshaw district, Amy Lipp works every day to deliver the spicy flavors from her hometown of New Orleans to Southern California.
But she had more than New Orleans cuisine on her mind Monday as Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Lipp was worried about her parents back in New Orleans, the potential damage to their house and the future of the city she still considers home.
Her newly opened restaurant, where customers order off paper menus at the counter, features Gulf oysters and andouille sausage flown in from New Orleans.
Busy working around the clock to get her business next to the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza going, Lipp didn’t even know the monster hurricane was barreling toward New Orleans until Saturday afternoon, when thousands of residents were evacuating the city.
“When I found out about it I immediately called my nieces,” she said Monday as the storm brought flooding and high winds to the New Orleans metropolitan area. “I couldn’t get through to anybody. The circuits were busy. You were hearing all these things. And I don’t know where everybody was.”
Like many Southern Californians concerned about family and friends in the hurricane region, she relied on family members in other area codes to provide whatever information they could about loved ones. Lipp and other natives of coastal Louisiana and Mississippi living in the Los Angeles area also monitored television reports throughout the weekend trying to gauge the danger.
“I’ve been watching the news,” said Joyce Francisco, 48, of Carson, whose 78-year-old aunt, nieces and nephews decided to ride out the storm near Gulfport, Miss.
She said she would send her family money or whatever else they need. But for now, what she can do is limited. “You have to pray for them,” she said.
Sue Honore, co-owner of Harold and Belle’s Creole restaurant on West Jefferson Boulevard in South Los Angeles, was relieved to learn that her relatives had fled New Orleans for higher ground in Baton Rouge, about 90 miles to the north. In her restaurant’s bar, decorated with photos of the French Quarter, Honore said she was ready to help her family rebuild if necessary.
“In a few days I’ll know more about what they need, what they lost,” she said.
Another former Louisianian, Richard Victor, 70, of Monrovia, could not persuade his 65-year-old brother to leave his wood-frame home in one of the low-lying areas of New Orleans, not even to go to the Louisiana Superdome with thousands of other evacuees.
“He kept making one excuse after another. He would not leave. I’m assuming he did not leave,” Victor said. “You always fear the worst.”
Since the hurricane made landfall early Monday morning, Victor has been unable to reach his brother by telephone.
Lipp, 36, of El Segundo, learned that her parents drove from New Orleans to her sister’s home in Houston early Monday. “My sister called me, woke me up, and said everybody’s safe,” she said. “That’s all I care about.”
But she has no idea if their house, her childhood home, in New Orleans is standing, if the wind has damaged its roof or if any of the oak or cypress trees out front have fallen on it. And she becomes emotional when she thinks about the potential damage to the historic French Quarter and other landmarks.
“I’m worried about my city, to be honest with you,” she said, as her eyes began to water. “I’m worried about the Quarter. That’s my hometown.”