Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images
Few stories stood out in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac than that of school bus driver Melanie Martinez, who huddled in her attic while the storm tore her home to shreds.It wasn’t the first time. Since the age of 3, Martinez, now 50, has seen five different homes destroyed by hurricanes, first Betsy (1965), then Juan (1985), then George (1998) and Katrina (2005).
Days after Isaac passed, Getty photographer Mario Tama followed the Martinez family as they salvaged water-logged belongings from the wreckage. When we published his photos, the story caught the eye of OceanSafe, LLC, a large manufacturer of hurricane-proof building materials.
“[We] were touched by Melanie Martinez’s story and are interested in assembling a team of people to help her rebuild without any out of pocket expenses,” a company spokesperson said in an email.
Initial plans were made and Martinez scouted property suitable for rebuilding. Then OceanSafe stopped calling.
“They wanted me to pay for [the property],” Martinez told me. “They were wanting to build it on my old land … but I told them I wanted to get out of the flood zone.”
Weeks went by, and with no sign of OceanSafe, Martinez was left with few options. Since September, she, her husband, who is disabled, and elderly mother have lived in her daughter’s one-bedroom apartment. It’s far from a permanent solution, but the insurance money she’s expecting from FEMA has yet to come through.
“It’s just gotten hard,” she said by phone Thursday. “We couldn’t wait for them to build a house.”
After weeks of trying, Business Insider got in touch with OceanSafe President Joseph Basilice Thursday, who helped explain the situation from his end. The real problem, he said, has been asking for charity from businesses in a community that has endured so much hardship.
“I’ve tried several avenues to get her something to get donated and I can’t,” he told me. “Even if we can get the material, we’re just a manufacturer. I needed a building arm to actually do construction for her and right now nobody’s jumping in to help… Everyone feels like they’ve done enough.”
Terri Cercovich, a Louisiana native and managing editor of the Plaquemines Gazette, calls it ‘Katrina Fatigue’: There’s a limit to people’s generosity.
“It’s easy to say [to homeowners], ‘Well, move,’ but what if you’re an oyster fisherman like my family?” she told me in September. “How are they supposed to move to the suburbs of New Orleans and be two hours away from their boats?”
Despite facing a lost opportunity with OceanSafe, Martinez hasn’t had time for complaining. She’s been through worse.
“We [just bid on] a house, a three-bedroom in Picayune, Mississippi,” she said. “I wanted a bigger kitchen, but we’re cramped up here and every time I go to buy a house, somebody else beats me. It’s not the nicest house, but it’ll do.”