Wednesday, September 28, 2005

In Rita's Path

My name is John Lancaster and I am an evacuee from Orange, Texas. For those of ya'll who don't know where that is, it is right next door to Port Arthur where the eye of Rita hit. Wednesday afternoon during school we were told that we were on a voluntary evacuation. Well, it didn't take long before we were told we HAD to get out. Rita quickly moved up the scale to a catagory 5 hurricane. My mom and I quickly packed up and headed out Thursday morning towards Longview. What was supposed to be a three and half hour drive turned into an extensive nine hours. Going from town to town, having to stop every 30 min because of traffic build-ups untill we finally start moving at a steady pace. For hours and hours all we had for sights were slow moving cars, red brake lights, and hot roads that reached 100 degrees. Finally we arrived at my aunt's house to rest and relax, if only we could stop thinking about how bad it would be. The next few days were very nervewracking. We watched the news channels and weather channels all throughout the day, praying it would just turn north. Unfortunately we were not so lucky. The day came where the hurricane hit and there was nothing but silence and worry in the room as we watched the news stations cover the horrifying storm. We saw buildings blown down and cars thrown off the street. When the storm had passed, we didn't know what to do. We badly wanted to drive down there and check on our house, but we knew that if we did that there might not be anything there or a way to get back. A day after the hurricane, I kept getting these calls from friends asking if I knew anything. I couldn't help but feel bad when I knew that I could not help them one little bit. Then the tragedy of the storm hit. On Monday I had a phone call from one of my friends that was crying. Her house was totally destroyed, and she and her family would now have to move from that town into a different state. Not only was her house destroyed but her boyfriend's as well. Now they are moving off in separate directions to where they don't know if they will ever see each other again, a couple who has been together for three years will now be forced to go different ways. Now I'm not only worried about them but also not knowing what has happened to my house. Still we don't know and have no way of knowing untill we finally make a trip down there. My mom worked as the principal's secretary for Little Cypress-Mauriceville High School and now probably won't get paid because she has no work. For now we are helpless and can't do anything for at least a month or longer. But we have to show strength because we know that we are lucky to have each other and that we are safe to where we can rebuild what might be lost some day.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Willie's Story

I met Willie on Sunday. three weeks after Katrina and two days after Rita. Willie's story about his three-week trip that landed him 10 hours from his home was almost like a television drama. He fled not one, but two hurricanes, endured a 30-hour bus ride and is still looking for his 13-year-old granddaughter who got separated from him in Lufkin. Willie said he didn't really want to leave his home in New Orleans, but his granddaughter came in a boat to get him. When she got to the house, Willie was lying on his loveseat, covered in ceiling tiles. "Everything was covered except my head," he said. After getting him out of his house and to safety, he and Tenika traveled on their first bus journey to Port Arthur where everything seemed to be going fine until Rita made an eastward turn away from Houston and Galveston to decimate the Golden Triangle area of Port Arthur, Beaumont and Orange. Post-Katrina, state officials made sure that everyone left that area to prevent fatalities. What they couldn't predict was how many people left at once and the major traffic jam it would cause. They also couldn't predict how traumatic a second move would be on a 75-year-old Korean War veteran and his family. If we as individuals don't help someone in this tragedy either personally or through the Red Cross, shame on us.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Katrina's volunteers

Disaster chairperson, Brenda Campbell, says "This disaster for them will last a while."

Friday, September 09, 2005

Trina of New Orleans

Parents seek security for their children, but what happens when the only security and boundaries they have set are swept away? Upon entering the convention center, I met Trina, a mother of 7, who was looking for directions in a new place. From her face a story could be told… this was the hardest experience of her life. “It was a 13-hour trip,” Trina said. “We went to Marshall first then came here.” Even though in her new temporary home she finds comfort, she still feels the loss of her days in Louisiana, but feels she will not return. “I can’t go back; I can’t face it right now,” Trina said. “It will never be the same; we lost neighbors, family, and friends. How can you live knowing they're gone.”

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Keeping the pets safe

One of the major considerations for residents who refused to leave New Orleans has been not leaving their pets behind. Some evacuees to Longview got out of the city in time to bring their pets with them. We went to the exhibition center at the Gregg County Fair Grounds where animals were being cared for. There were 27 dogs, 31 cats, six birds and two fish. In a small room there were many cages that held 20 cats. Some of the dogs were held in separate kennels while others were doubled up. In the corner of the center were donations from East Texas people and businesses. There were six to eight volunteers moving donated supplies in and out of the somewhat smelly facility. While most of the refugees were being housed at the convention center, approximately 50 chose to stay at the smaller exhibition center with their pets. One couple we talked to was Pat and Robert from Harvey, LA. The couple shared their belief that the time until they could go back home would be difficult, "It's going to be trying times. I don't think the city is ever going to recover; they have been predicting it [a big disaster] for years." As we see New Orleans suffer from the great disaster of Katrina, we feel for them. "There are so many heartbroken people," Pat said.

Wanda of La Place

"School students are here to interview some people here," Wanda said to her mother as she pointed at a few of the Pine Tree kids looking for someone to interview.

Immediately I asked "May I interview you?"

"I'’ll tell you anything you want to know," she said.

Wanda had most of her belongings with her at Maude Cobb except one very special one, her son."My son had no other choice,"” she said, "Through word of mouth I hear that he is okay."” Unlike most visitors I spoke with, Wanda and her husband had wanted out of their home town, La Place, for quite a while. Unfortunately the worst natural disaster in America, Katrina, was their way out. "Louisiana doesn'’t have anything to offer,"” Wanda said.

After having a "“grand tour"” through Longview, Wanda said she might just stay. "“I love it, I feel a sense of purpose here in Longview,"” she said. I assured her that Longview is a great town and that I hope she enjoys it if she decides to stay.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Children still play.
PIne Tree HS Yearbook, Longview TX

Community members donated large supplies of clothes, food and hygiene items. According to the Red Cross, the biggest needs now are cash donations and volunteer support.
PIne Tree HS Yearbook, Longview TX

Tia, 17

I think about the times I would tell myself, "If only I could start over again." Those times of insecurity make me feel selfish when I compare myself to people like Tia. They are, unwillingly, having to completely "start over" in a place so foreign to them. With nothing of her former life around her, she sits in a convention center 384 miles from her former home, awaiting plans on what to do next.
"Go with the flow," is what this 11th grader said, but within her heart she cried out differently. She knew the situation at her school would never be the same. "Next year, I wanted to be queen...but now I don't have a choice."

Michael, 18, Chalmette

The person we first were able to speak with was Michael. I think the thing that hit most in my heart was he's our age. Just living a normal life at 18 years old is hard enough, but Michael has lost everything. Since I am from Texas, I'm not familiar with these French names, but I do know that he lived below New Orleans in a town that sounds like Charletrain..or something. He said that he got on the internet and saw his school completely underwater. The Wal Mart that they went to is completely submerged. He's not able to hear from his friends, he doesn't have the pictures to remember them by, and all of his plans for after his senior year are gone. While he went to Texas, his girlfriend went to Mississippi, and her family has decided to stay there. So in total, he's lost everything except clothes. There had been warnings of other hurricanes before, but everything had been would still go on in a few days. Michael didn't realize that his life would be completely changed forever...what was supposed to be the greatest year of his life is now gone. His reality went from having everything in the world, to now living in a shelter. The good thing is that he ended up here. I remember the one thing he said we could do to help him was "be there for me." It's good that we are willing to make that commitment.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Hurricane victims register for aid with the Red Cross at Maude Cobb Convention Center in Longview, TX.
PIne Tree HS Yearbook, Longview TX

Jack and Jr.

I met this 6 year old girl today. Her name is Krysta. She has only been in Longview for two days and staying at the Maude Cobb Center. She didn't really know the name of the town she came from. All she knows is that it was a long drive to Longview. I asked her some interview questions, like, if she was worried about anyone in particular. All she said was, "I hope Jack and Jr. are ok." Jack and Jr. are her two fish.
It sometimes surprises me how small children can have such innocence, but are still world-conscious enough to know that there is a natural disaster happening.... I don't think, though, that she knew it was directly affecting her. All she said was that Katrina is evil, as if she were talking about a person. She said those words with more intensity than I have ever heard a 6 year old, let alone any older person, speak with before.