agosto 31, 2005

Katrina / Refugees

Scattered across several states, survivors of the hurricane try to track down missing loved ones and to keep their minds off all they've left behind.

By Carol Rust, Staci Semrad and Dirk Johnson

The refugees of Hurricane Katrina are tired and scared, not knowing if they will ever be able to go home again. They are sleeping in cars or campsites as far away as Houston. They worry about their belongings and their bank accounts. But more than anything, they worry about the friends and family members who have gone missing.

Sylvia Loyd wants desperately to hear from her sister, Gail. Her mom was talking to Gail when the storm hit. "My sister told my mom, 'The hood's just been ripped off my truck--I've got to go!'" said Loyd, of Chalmette, La. "That's the last we've heard from her."

When Sylvia and her boyfriend, Mike Carey, left on Sunday, they didn't think they'd be gone long. The couple found a hotel room about 27 miles west of Beaumont, La. They brought along just a change of clothes and left Carey's dog, Jake, at home. Now Carey tears up when he thinks about the beloved old mutt. Loyd says both she and her boyfriend have shed plenty of tears. "We cry and then we straighten up, and then we cry some more," she said. "What else can we do?"

Faye Bussard, 36, of New Orleans, said she tried in vain to convince her father and other relatives to come with her when she left the city. "Now I don't know how we'll even be able to find them," she said, breaking down into sobs. Even those who own cell phones often found the devices to be useless as circuits were overloaded and relay towers were down in the affected areas.

Hearing that evacuees in the New Orleans Superdome were being transported to the Astrodome in Houston, Brussard and other family members had trekked to the Texas stadium with the hope of finding them, holding aloft posters with their names.

Officials fear that many of the missing won’t be found alive. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said Wednesday that the death toll in his city alone could be in the “thousands.” Fast-climbing damage estimates are in the billions of dollars. The U.S. military Wednesday sent four Navy ships to New Orleans to try to rescue people still trapped on rooftops or wedged in rubble.

Of those who did escape, people from New Orleans talked of spending eight or 10 hours to drive to Baton Rouge, just 60 miles away, and worried that they might run out of gas in the traffic jam. Lionel Drummond, an electrical contractor, fled New Orleans on Sunday with his 8-year-old son, Leonel. Searching for shelter, they drove to Jackson, Miss., then to Alexandria, La., and on to Lake Charles. They finally found refuge in a church in Kinder, La., where the hungry man and his son were fed a meal. "I've been driving for days," said Drummond. "We don't know when we'll be able to go back, and whether we have a home anymore when we do."

Parents also worry about children who will surely be falling behind in their schoolwork. Even some of the kids, like Dustin Cascio, 14, of West Wego, La., acknowledge they'll have to make up the time, probably next summer. He understood this was no vacation.

Good Samaritans have been everywhere, offering their homes, food and, occasionally, money for gas or a hotel. Deidre Sweatt, 37, of New Orleans stood inside a gas station in east Texas, burdened with worry and wear, when a kindly woman came to her rescue. "She invited us into her home so we could rest," she said. "She even fixed us breakfast."

In a campground 30 miles east of Houston, evacuees John Brennan, 87, and his wife, Renee, 84, of Metairie, La., shared their 17-foot camper with their daughter, son-in-law, three grandchildren, a dog and a cat. Renee has had two hip replacements. John has Parkinson's. They don’t know what they will find when they go home. But they were not about to complain. "This has been terrible, but God has been so good to us," said Renee. "We're alive, and none of our family has perished."

Many other hurricane refugees hope they will be able to say the same. But it could be days before they know the answer. [Newsweek]