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Louisiana Evacuees: Still Standing in Line

by staff |
September 16, 2005
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Houston , TX – Today was one of the hottest, stickiest days in Houston since the evacuees arrived last week. Despite that, thousands converged on a Red Cross Center set up at Saint Agnes Baptist church, in far southeast Houston. Many exhausted families came in cars, the parking lot was filled up early, and vehicles with Louisiana plates were parked on the streets as far as the eye could see in all directions around the church. Cars were lined up in rows on the grass in the power line right-of-way and along Sims Bayou. The one city bus that runs to the area, the 52, was standing-room only with shell shocked individuals and families.

The Red Cross had chosen that location to hand out checks and debit cards with emergency funds up to $1500 for Katrina survivors. The people converging there had been chasing after the cards for days – from the Astrodome, to the George R Brown Convention Center, and now, to the far edge of Houston.

People who arrived saw thousands waiting outside the church. At some points, the barricades snaked the people towards the outer edge of the winding maze of fencing. When asked what time she arrived, one woman said, “4:30 this morning.” It was 11:00. She was about three quarters of the way to the door of the building. Everyone around her had come at the same time. Doors had opened at 9:00.

An elderly woman who was waiting in the shade of an ambulance while the rest of her family was in line said, “This is worse than being in a hurricane. It’s the worst time of everybody’s lives and everybody’s depressed. They don’t know what to do next – and then to have come over here and sit out here like this. They have ladies out here heavy pregnant, with one baby on their arm and a baby in their stomach. And they can’t hardly make it.”

Volunteers scurried about, hauling ice, handing out water, snacks and kind words. A few beleaguered nurses tried to assess how people were handling the heat. Some evacuees – a very few – were brought to wait in the shade of one of the many ambulances parked in the lot. Police officers were everywhere – on the road to the church, standing back watching the line, and clopping about on horses.

People in line, mostly Black, Chicano and Vietnamese, were resigned and exhausted – hoping this, finally would be the last line they would have to stand in for a while. Most were staying in private homes – packed in with relatives, already nervous about wearing out their welcomes – or in hotels or small shelters around the area. Most were eager to talk, to tell their stories and to express strong opinions about the fiasco that is passing for the U.S. government’s response to the disaster.

John Curtis and his partner Shirl and four children just arrived at a Houston hotel. They had a harrowing journey from Louisiana and were originally sent to Arkansas, where they tried and tried to reach the Red Cross and FEMA. They finally took a Greyhound to Houston, where they heard they could get services from those groups. Mr. Curtis said of his experience with the Red Cross and FEMA up to now: “Don’t beat around the bush and tell a person lies – just come out straight forward. Don’t tell me to call this number and that number and when I call you hang up on me.” He went on to say that he would rather be told they couldn’t help him for three weeks than to be lied to for three weeks.

People expressed cynicism over what the future would bring. They agreed that once the mainstream media got bored with the story, things could be even worse for them. They were happy to hear that there is growing movement to stand up for the rights and for reparations for evacuees.

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