Katrina - What Its Like To Be An Evacuee
With less than twenty four hours to go before hurricane Katrina hit land my wife and I started to pack up
the car to leave St Bernard Parish Louisiana. We had to have the brakes repaired only an hour before we
left. We had to depend on the kindness of a neighbor who was frantically working on the car as we
loaded it with those things the officials said we should take with us.
We loaded a few changes of clothing our important papers and our dog, Patches. We went to pick up an
older gentlemen whose daughter could not pick him up because she lived north of Lake Ponchartrain
which was already nearly impassible. He was a member of our church and we faithfully picked him up
for every service because he could hardly walk on his own. Looking back now we know he would not be
alive if we had not gone to get him out of his house.
We drove through the night. At first we could not go over fifteen miles an hour across the twin spans, an
eight mile long bridge across the lake a bridge that today is largely destroyed. The winds came just
behind us only hours later and washed the spans that weigh thousands of tons into the water like
toothpicks in a bathtub. In time we got up to about fifty but not once did we ever reach the speed limit.
We arrived at a friends house near Birmingham Alabama where we stayed for two days. We contacted
the old gents family and arranged for his family to come and pick him up. The power went out several
times throughout the second night as the winds gusted and threatened Old Birmingham.
On the third day only hours after Katrina had moved above Jackson Mississippi did we began the 450
mile trek to my wife’s sisters house in West Baton Rouge Parish. We listened to the radio reports with
some measure of hope that all was not that bad. Our hearts began to sink as hour by hour reports came
in about broken levees and rising waters.
Over the next two weeks we followed all the news reports and searched for friends and pictures from
our neighborhood on the internet. During the first week it was totally impossible to get a call through to
anywhere from Alabama to East Texas. It was a long dark moment of knowing nothing at all about
anyone or anything we ever knew.
The news began to trickle in slowly but none of it was good. We saw pictures of our neighborhood with
water up to the roofs. We slowly got reports from people we knew who were scattered all across the
country in places they had gone to take refuge. Some of them said they would never return.
Next came reports and pictures of toxic laden mud through out our Parish and talk of houses that
needed to be bulldozed into the ground that was said to be uninhabitable. Rescues of people, animals
and the retrieving of bodies went on with all the pictures being shown daily on Baton Rouge TV stations.
If things weren’t glum enough then we began the business of trying to call FEMA and Red Cross.
My wife must have dialed FEMA over 500 times before getting through. Then we were promised a
packet in the mail after they took our information. We have still not reached the Red Cross and they are
still talking about gathering 40,000 volunteers to help answer the phones. The insurance company that
covered our house informed us that their coverage would cover our house only and no more but they
are not sure they can do anything without seeing the house. But no one is seeing our house not even us.
The St. Bernard Parish President Junior Rodrigues held a news conference in the capitol building here
last night and spoke of months before residents could return, not weeks. Only hours before this bad
news came in we went to get shots to protect us from a host of diseases that we could get if and when
we do return.
Our bank accounts were not accessible and money doesn’t grow on trees even in this fertile Mississippi
valley so I thought I’d make an appeal on my own little one page website. Now we feel as if we are
caught between the warnings people are hearing about fraudulent sites collecting for Red Cross and
other organizations and indifference. No one as yet has responded to the appeal but then only 35 or 40
people a day click on my site.
My wife volunteered her help in feeding some 200 people in a shelter here. She helped prepare the food
and serve it. The food was provided by a small Baptist church in Erwinville Louisiana. Later we visited the
people in the shelter and are continuing to do so when we are not knocking our heads on the wall in the
biggest communications nightmare in the history of the telephone. We asked one family if there was
something we could get for them in the shelter, they asked for a bible. We purchased it the next day and
delivered it to them in person. That warmed us greatly, not the giving of the bible but the request for it.
Unlike stories out of the Superdome this was a wonderful family of black Americans that had a different
set of values. And thousands like them are suffering and waiting to begin their lives again, just as we are.
We have had several invitations to go and live with family and friends in other towns and in other states
but we are staying close to New Orleans to attempt a look see and to retrieve what we can. So far all we
are hearing is “stay away” and of course the endless buzzing of the busy signal from the aid
We are a praying couple, and when we talk to Jesus we are sure he is saying, I love you and I will take
care of it all. We believe Him and we are very grateful that his line was not busy.