Nothing could have prepared Kathy Landau for th devastation of Hurricane Andrew last summer, or for how it would consume the next few months of her life.
The 36-year-old Elkridge resident arrived in Miami Beach to visit her grandfather soon after the storm hit. Before she knew it, she had become co-editor of Recovery Times, a weekly newspaper published for hurricane victims by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The four-page publication, printed in English, Spanish and Creole, provides telephone numbers and information on housing, transportation, business loans, meals and clothing.
"It's been exciting," said Ms. Landau, a FEMA reservist who was unemployed before starting the FEMA job in mid-October. Before joining FEMA, Ms. Landau was a self-employed management consultant, and a volunteer for the Maryland for Choice campaign, which supported an abortion-rights law approved by voters earlier this month.
She was so eager to help in the aftermath of Andrew, she left five phone messages at the Miami disaster field office during the first month of the hurricane.
She was finally hired after showing up in person.
"I walked into the Miami disaster field office and they hired me," she recalled.
Of the hurricane's extensive devastation, she said, "It looks like ground zero in a bomb."
Hurricane Andrew struck in August, leaving 55 people dead and an estimated $20 billion in damage.
Three months after the disaster, Ms. Landau's days still have no rhyme or reason. "There is no typical day," she said.
Most days she can be found in her office with a phone stuck to her ear.
She researches stories and scouts listings of services for possible publication in the paper.
As a FEMA employee, she also investigates victims' inquiries about applications for disaster relief. More than 172,000 applications have been filed since the hurricane struck, FEMA officials said.
And she files a daily report that goes to FEMA headquarters in Washington, D.C., and to the Presidential Task Force on Hurricane Andrew.
Ms. Landau said her job is rewarding. "It's very stressful, and the hours are long, but it's a big sense of satisfaction."
After being discharged from the Army in 1981, Ms. Landau sold medical diagnostic equipment for seven years.
Being a FEMA reservist is more her style, she said.
"I feel like I'm finally in my element," said Ms. Landau. "I feel like I'm finally helping people."
Ms. Landau expects to continue with the job as long it lasts -- until about March -- when she may return to Elkridge.
FEMA spokesman George Thune said the newspaper's goal is to alert hurricane victims of disaster relief, including FEMA applications for emergency housing grants, individual and family assistance grants and loans to repair homes and replace property.
"The goal of the paper is to try to make sure everyone is aware that they can file an application and get some help," Mr. Thune said. So far, FEMA has paid about $244 million in grants for temporary housing and individual and family assistance, he said.
For a time, the newspaper was the only source of information for residents in a four-county area debilitated by power outages. Conditions in South Florida prompted FEMA to publish a newspaper for the first time during a natural disaster, officials said. "There really was no way to get information to victims," Ms. Landau said.
About 250,000 people read the newspaper at its peak, FEMA officials said.
It now has about 20,000 readers and is distributed free through churches, schools and a free minivan service for hurricane victims.