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For Korean Laundry Owner, 24 Years of Hard Work Is Submerged in New Orleans

For Korean Laundry Owner, 24 Years of Hard Work Is Submerged in New Orleans

Posted September. 07, 2005 06:34,   


Kwon Oh-soo (51) and his wife arrived off of an elevated highway after a five-hour drive starting at dawn and he sighed in grief at the sight of his submerged laundry shop. He tried to find ways to go near the laundry, but to no avail, because water blocked all access to it.

“It is heart-wrenching to see the hard-earned laundry under water,” he said.

The U.S. government evacuated New Orleans for the seven days since Hurricane Katrina hit the region. Starting September 5, people are being allowed to return.

Last March he opened the laundry. He had high hopes of fulfilling his “American Dream” and he had bought a new boiler just 10 days ago. However, Mother Nature had other plans.

His apartment in Metairie, Louisiana was also filled with 30 centimeters of high water. His carpet went rotten, his electricity went out, and the house stank because of decomposed food in the refrigerator.

His wife shed tears as she cleaned up the house. Since she came to the U.S. in 1982 and worked all kinds of jobs until she settled down in New Orleans. In 1992 when the Los Angeles Rodney King riots broke out, she experienced first-hand painful Korean-black urban confrontations.

Kwon said, “I thought the riots would be the last pain I would face, but now I again face another hardship. The flood…”

Park Hee-seong (57), owner of Dong Yang Market, cleaned up his submerged house with his family. Park said, “The village is destroyed. I have lived here in Metairie for 25 years, but it looks completely different.”

Michael Lee (22), who is much younger than Mr. Park, was also looking at his wet carpet and household belongings in his house near Dong Yang Market. He is junior at New Orleans University. He said with a sigh, “The school submerged only one week after the opening of a school year. I have to get school permission from a school in a nearby area such as Houston to restart my schoolwork.”

The property damage of Koreans will amount to over $100 million, said Lee Sang-ho, head of the committee for Korean people affected by Katrina on September 5.

He expressed his concern, saying, “Some 3,000 Koreans, about 180 stores, and around 800 houses suffered damage from Katrina. And the maximum damage per person will run to more than $6 million. It will take years to restore the damage, hurting the business foundation of the Korean people.”

Seung-Ryun Kim srkim@donga.com