Tragedy at home for Katrina worker

P. Diane Schneider left her work in the Southern Gulf Coast after she heard her house had caught fire. This is what was left of her home when she returned to her property in South Whidbey. - Photo courtesty P. Diane Schneider
P. Diane Schneider left her work in the Southern Gulf Coast after she heard her house had caught fire. This is what was left of her home when she returned to her property in South Whidbey.
— image credit: Photo courtesty P. Diane Schneider

P. Diane Schneider has faithfully helped people in need.

She provided support to people in New York after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Schneider traveled to Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict riots.

And, most recently, the Clinton resident was helping the thousands of people who lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina when she found out she had suffered a loss of her own.

It was 11 p.m., Sept. 26 in Biloxi, Miss. when Schneider received a call with word that her house was on fire.

Schneider returned to Whibdey Island as quickly as she could. Her friend Chris Williams drove her home from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport when she returned the night after hearing the news.

Williams tried to prepare Schneider for what she was about to see when the car's headlights shone on what was left of her home.

"I warned her, are you ready for this?" Williams said.

The house looked like it had caught fire twice. And it actually did; the home suffered additional damage when hot embers from the first fire caused it to re-ignite a second time. Firemen had to pull burned items out of the house to prevent it from igniting yet again.

"There was a heap about eight feet high," said Williams. "A huge amount of massive material."

It was a difficult sight to see, but Schneider remained remarkably calm.

Perhaps more surprisingly, she stayed at her property just long enough to deal with her insurance company, and to salvage what few items she could.

Then, less than a week after first hearing the news, Schneider returned to the Southern Gulf Coast to continue providing aid; she's a federal worker on loan to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"You know what I thought?" she mused. "Hey, I'm already homeless, so I might as well be useful."

"Down here," she said. "Everybody is in the same situation, and I can be of some help."

But she said one thing that is different from herself and those who lost their homes from the hurricanes, is that it is very difficult for them to know where to turn.

"They can't look to their neighbors for help, because their neighbors are in the same position," Schneider said.

The South Whidbey resident is thankful for the support she received from the community when she returned to her destroyed home.

"Friends took my dogs home with them," she said. "Others have called offering support, furniture, and even a place to stay."

Among those who helped out were members of the Friendship Force, a club that Schneider belongs to. They helped her retrieve some potentially salvageable items and put them under cover to prevent further damage.

"South Whidbey is truly like a family," Schneider said.

Her biggest losses from the fire, she said, are "the little things that don't have a lot of economic value, but do have a lot of sentimental value."

She lost some of her grandmother's furniture, and many collectable items she's picked up during her travels.

"Some things you just can't replace."

Schneider will continue to help people find a way to rebuild their homes through her work in the Gulf Coast. And when she returns, she will start rebuilding her own home.

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