Elsie Burkhalter, a delegate from St. Tammany Parish in Louisiana, is staying in a hotel this week, but will be homeless when she returns to Louisiana.
Burkhalter lost her home for the fourth time in Hurricane Isaac and left for Charlotte before even inspecting and sorting through the damage.
“This is the third or fourth time,” she said of losing her house. “We had Katrina, we had the flood of ‘95 and there was one before ‘95, just the flood, where water just flooded us all out in the area. Right now I’m homeless. The water came up, I would say, about four and a half feet. It might’ve been a little heavier than that but it was at least that.”
Burkhalter said she watched the news and weather reports and that Hurricane Isaac did not seem all that dangerous.
“I usually go and check the cemetery,” she said. “Because in Louisiana we bury on top of the ground. I saw just a little water there so I drove a block and a half back to my house.”
Back at home, Burkhalter pulled into her garage. She said she knew the electricity was out so she started charging her cell phone in her car’s outlet. She then felt her car move, and she pulled the keys out of the ignition. Burkhalter said her husband came out of the house and explained that a wave of water had rushed in. The water rose quickly, she said.
Burkhalter called a local representative to help the couple evacuate.
“All the furniture in house is gone. Everything has to be taken out, all the walls and cabinets, I guess we should be grateful we made it out alive,” Burkhalter said.
She added that her neighbors have all began the recovery and rebuilding process but that she and her husband have not. She could not return to the area for safety reasons, she said.
“My neighbors all had stuff thrown on the street like mattresses and couches. I haven’t done any of that.”
Burkhalter was elected a delegate earlier in the year and, after the hurricane, made the decision to attend the convention despite the damage.
“I started not to try to go back to work but there’s nothing else I could do. My schools were closed,” she said. “I might as well do what I do as a community leader. So I made the decision that we just have to take it a day at a time.”
Burkhalter has been an educator for almost 30 years and is the president of the St. Tammany Federation of Teachers and School Employees, a position she has held since its inception in 1979. The union bargains on behalf of school faculty and staff.