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Everyday Heroes: Kasim, Owner of the Wash Zone, New Orleans

Dawn Nagle |

NEW ORLEANS — Casey Kasim, owner of the Wash Zone, New Orleans, remains hopeful and yearns to see positive change, but it’s tough in the 9th Ward. He’s come through quite an ordeal.In the early morning hours on August 29, 2005, Kasim was working at the counter of his convenience store. He remembers hearing Hurricane Katrina had turned direction and thinking they were safe.When he saw water rising outside the front door of his store, he thought it was probably just some minor flooding. The very next minute, the door was blocked by surging water and he couldn’t budge it.At the back door, pushing with all his might, Kasim squeezed through and rushed to his boat, which was almost submerged. Instinct and adrenaline kicked in. He quickly unfastened it from the trailer and jumped in. Within five minutes from when he first noticed the water lapping at his door, it had risen to 12 feet.Kasim was now stuck in his boat, jammed under the awning of his building for the next nine hours. His wife, trapped in their second-story apartment, did not know if he was alive or dead.When the storm calmed a bit, Casey climbed into the second floor where he and his wife huddled together, not sure what to do next. That lasted a very short time — they immediately started hearing neighbors screaming for help and Kasim jumped back in his boat.From out of the floodwaters and off of rooftops, he brought more than 29 people back to the safety of his apartment. He broke through the window of his store below and brought up water, chips, anything they could eat for the next week. After Katrina, when the neighborhood was in ruins and abandoned, looters ransacked his stores, broke through walls, and took whatever they could carry.A NEW CLIMATEWhen I first met Kasim, he was behind security glass, busy working at his newly rebuilt convenience store. As he came out to talk with me about his experiences during and after Katrina, I noticed sadness in his eyes, but also a keen sense of purpose and determination.He has rebuilt and works 12-hour days, seven days a week, at his gas station, while managing his coin laundry and other stores in the small shopping center that was demolished in Hurricane Katrina. He, like so many others, did not have flood insurance.After Katrina, he got a loan through the Small Business Association (SBA), but it took an entire year and he was turned down twice. During that time, he still had loans to pay back on his original stores and businesses. He also had to pay vendors for the destroyed and looted products — soda, snacks, gasoline and more.After what seemed like an eternity crammed with complications, red tape and paperwork, Kasim opened for business in April 2007. His laundry has 10 20-pound washers, six 40-pound washers, two 55-pound washers, seven 30-pound stack dryers and two 50-pound dryers.Though the neighborhood has many abandoned houses and a much lower population, he has business and it’s growing each month. When he first reopened, he had about 300 customers a day at his gas station, laundry and other shops — today, it’s more than 800 and growing.One challenge he sees is the changed neighborhood demographics. “I see a lot of drug dealers and people using drugs,” shares Kasim. “They live in homes that are partially destroyed and may not even have kitchen facilities, let alone a washer or dryer. So they come to do their laundry and for fast food, basic necessities and other items, since there are no supermarkets close by anymore — but I must take a lot more safety precautions.“It has been difficult, but I remain hopeful for my businesses and the community. I believe that together, we can overcome just about anything.”DOWN BUT NOT OUTIn the week following Katrina, Kasim continued to go out in his boat, working tirelessly to help local authorities find and rescue stranded survivors.“The suffering I witnessed was devastating,” he says. “But I know I am also lucky. My family is alive and we have our businesses open again. Others lost loved ones. We can recover from this.”Today, about three years after Katrina, there is still devastation and much to be done. An enormous amount of time, money and hard work — with the support of the community and people across the nation — are helping to put the pieces of New Orleans, Gulfport and the other hardest-hit areas back together again. Many volunteers have helped put things back together again.Homes, schools, police stations, hospitals, roads and bridges are still being repaired. Supermarkets, gas stations, delis and other local businesses are gone. Entire neighborhoods remain in ruin with many homes abandoned and uninhabitable. But what touches my heart most of all and gives me hope is the compassion of people like Kasim, who helped save others with little regard for their own personal safety. These everyday heroes continue to come from all over the country to help their fellow human beings who have suffered so — and they give us a clear view into the heart of humanity.(For anther example of an “Everyday Hero,” click here.) 

About the author

Dawn Nagle

Wascomat

Marketing Director

Dawn Nagle is marketing director for Wascomat.

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