WASHINGTON—About 140 New Orleans women — stay-at-home moms, successful professionals and mothers of celebrities — flew to the nation's capital and personally invited lawmakers to their hurricane-scarred city.
Carrying photographs of their flooded homes, the "Women of the Storm" worked in small groups Monday to invite each member of Congress to visit post-Katrina New Orleans to see the devastation firsthand — and possibly support a boost in federal aid to the region.
"It's something you cannot grasp until you experience it," Pam Bryan said as she pushed an invitation across a conference table into the hands of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.
Only 55 representatives and 30 senators have visited New Orleans since Katrina. The women, who include chefs, authors and college presidents, argue that delays in federal aid to New Orleans are the result of so few lawmakers seeing the destruction up close.
"I can feel your sympathy," Anne Milling, 65, a community activist and organizer of the group, told Pelosi. "But seeing is what will impact you, even more than hearing the stories."
Before Milling and others left Pelosi's office, they extended a pin adorned with the National Weather Service's hurricane symbol, the group's logo. Pelosi smiled and carefully pinned it to her jacket. "I'll be there," she said. "No one has forgotten you."
It wasn't immediately clear how many members of Congress met with the women, who planned to compare notes on their flight back to New Orleans Monday night. The women were offering members of Congress 36-hour, all-expense-paid trips to New Orleans.
Hurricane Katrina landed Aug. 29, breaching levees and submerging 80 percent of New Orleans. It killed more than 1,300 people, most in Louisiana, and caused over $200 billion worth of damage. More than 66 percent of the city's homes and offices still have no electricity, and even more lack hot water and natural gas.
The White House says $85 billion in federal assistance has been approved to help the region recover, including direct spending, tax breaks and flood insurance. Some of that money is still in the pipeline, and many Gulf Coast officials say more will be needed.
While images of poor, Black residents stranded at the Superdome have lingered, many middle- and upper-class neighborhoods also were flooded but received far less attention. The women offered a different image of Katrina's victims. Along with their designer bags and strings of pearls, they carried bright blue umbrellas, symbolizing the tarps covering their pockmarked roofs.
In the office of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, attorney Cheryl Teamer, 42, pulled out the before-and-after pictures of her ravaged house, which took in nearly 10 feet of floodwater. "The water was up to the roof," said Teamer, pointing to a spray-painted line.
"Isn't that a beautiful home? Will you be able to salvage it?" asked Reid.
"Senator, there are homes like this all over the city," interrupted Verna Landrieu, the 73-year-old matriarch of one of Louisiana's political dynasties, which includes daughterSen.Mary Landrieu,aLouisiana Democrat;sonMitch Landrieu, Louisiana's lieutenant governor; and husband Moon Landrieu, New Orleans' former mayor.
"When you see it with your own eyes, it's indescribable," said Olivia Manning, wife of former New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning and mother of two current NFL quarterbacks, Peyton of the Colts and Eli of the Giants.
While her home survived unscathed, she and her husband were forced to evacuate and still haven't returned permanently.
"It affects all of us," Manning said.
— The Associated Press