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Hurricane evacuees share tears, fears, frustrations

 


Hurricane evacuees share tears, fears, frustrations

Sept. 6, 2005  

By Jane Dennis*

DUMAS, Ark. (UMNS) — Tears streaked down Adlay Callahan’s face and her voice shook with emotion.

“Why can’t they get them out? Why can’t they help the old people?” she asked, waving her hands. “I just don’t understand why. I could come up with an evacuation plan! I could tell them how to get water and food down there!”

Then, in a softer tone, she said, “I’m just tired … tired and frustrated with our city.”

Callahan was one of thousands of evacuees from hurricane-stricken areas pouring into Arkansas and neighboring states, arriving with a suitcase, a few dollars and a load of fears, tears and frustrations. The number of displaced people in the state was not known, but the American Red Cross said Arkansas could expect as many as 30,000 more evacuees. 

Callahan and 16 other family members left their New Orleans homes Aug. 28, the day before Hurricane Katrina made landfall and caused the levee breaches that obliterated the city. In a caravan of cars, they zigzagged on northbound highways and backroads for hours, stopping at 2 a.m. in the Wal-Mart parking lot at Dumas, some 350 miles away from the desperation and chaos of New Orleans. Callahan’s husband stayed behind, figuring he could weather the storm. She hasn’t heard from him since she left.

The weary travelers found their way to First United Methodist Church in Dumas, where they stumbled into the care of “a band of angels,” according to one observer. The church was prepared, organized and ready. Cots, blankets and towels were waiting, food was stockpiled, children’s toys were on hand, and televisions were set up.

Soon, the church was overflowing with more than 70 evacuees. At meal time, the numbers increased to about 150, as other displaced families at area motels arrived. 

“This place is such a blessing,” said Shawanda Robertson, watching her daughter, Satoria, play with other children on the playground. “I’ve never met a group of people so nice.”

Robertson escaped New Orleans with her two children and her father, Bobby Robertson. Her mother was in the hospital awaiting surgery when the evacuation notice came. Nurses told Robertson the patients were to be transferred to another facility, but in the confusion she couldn’t find out if that occurred.

Many of the evacuees arrived at the church in a state of shock, but with the passage of a few days, they were coming to terms with the enormity and reality of the disaster.

“The big picture is there’s nothing to go back to,” Robertson said. “But I also have family missing, I don’t know where my mother is ...”

Her voice trailed off as she watched Satoria scamper up the playground slide.

“You try to be strong for the kids, but they don’t have a clue what’s going on,” she said, dissolving into tears.

The unknown haunts many.

“You don’t know if your house is still standing or not,” said Kimberly Boudreaux, who sat on a cot next to her husband, Frederick, and 12-year-old daughter, Farrah. “We don’t even know where some of our relatives are.”

“It’s the helplessness that hurts the most,” Callahan said.

With the shelter’s televisions tuned to CNN around the clock, the Boudreauxs caught a glimpse of their elderly, wheelchair-bound aunt waiting for help at the overcrowded New Orleans Convention Center. They remained distraught, not knowing if she was moved to a safe place. When Arkansas Conference Volunteers in Mission coordinator Don Weeks of Little Rock visited the Dumas shelter, he and the family stood in a circle, held hands, and prayed for the family’s safety and future.

Before Weeks left, Frederick Boudreaux came bounding through the church, announcing he had received a call and learned that a cousin who is a police officer had located the elderly aunt and was helping her move to safety.

“We are so relieved,” Boudreaux exclaimed. “I guess that prayer worked.”

*Dennis is editor of the Arkansas United Methodist, the newspaper of the United Methodist Church’s Arkansas Area.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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