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'They Treated Us Like Dogs'

by staff |
September 10, 2005
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Evacuees waiting in line
Above:
Sign reads "No debit cards here today", as people wait outside Houston's George R Brown Convention Center. (Fight Back! News)
Headshot of Celesta Johnson, outside the Astrodome in Houston.
Celesta Johnson, and a child outside the Astrodome in Houston
Woman dragging trash bag along sidewalk
Women wait outside the Reliant Center / Astrodome in Houston.
Upper right:
Celesta Johnson, outside the Astrodome in Houston. (Fight Back! News)
Upper left:
Celesta Johnson, outside the Astrodome in Houston. (Fight Back! News)
Lower right:
People wait outside the George R Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. (Fight Back! News)
Lower left:
People wait outside the Reliant Center / Astrodome in Houston. (Fight Back! News)

Houston, TX - The fight for survival goes on in Houston. Families spent all day traveling miles back and forth across the city, looking for opportunities to register for aid that may or may not be there. Many picked up food, water, clothes and toys for their children; walking with awkward loads to wherever they are stuck sleeping for the night.

At the Astrodome/Reliant Center, the fury is spilling over and the repression is building. This morning, the number of police at the barricades was five times what is was yesterday. One outraged resident, Celesta Johnson, of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, exploded, “They have us with bands on our wrists. They make you wear bands when you’re in prison.” She was outside the Astrodome with her friend Felicia Mudro, also of Jefferson, and Felicia’s daughter Curston. The women explained that if the children lost their wristbands, or if a person’s wristband appeared too large, the police would take the band and they would not be allowed back in to the Astrodome at all. “We saw a three-month old baby and her mom sleep out on the street because the baby lost his wristband.” There were many others sleeping out last night because of the curfew, according to the pair.

Many are outraged at what they have been seeing from the time they left New Orleans and are suspicious of what will happen to their city. According to Mark Hooktin, 33, staying in a hotel with his two and one-year old sons and fiancé, “Everyone should have been evacuated 50 hours, 60 hours or more before the hurricane come. I think that dam broke on purpose, that’s what I think. I think they wanted to clear New Orleans, and get all of the Black people from out there. I don’t think they want nobody to come back. But I am going back.”

Hootkins’s feelings about the future of the city were echoed by Roy Camry, a tenth-grade student at Mcdonogh Senior High in New Orleans, “It’s not going to be really for Black people. To tell you the truth, I think they’re going to make it all a big suburb.”

Ms. Mudro and Ms. Johnson also spoke of their harrowing trip out of Jefferson Parish and into Houston. Felicia Mudro recounted her experience; “They treated us like dogs, the military police. They wouldn’t give us water, wouldn’t give us food, passed us up for three days on the highway with our children. The whole world needs to know they are screwing us over.” Both women said they had no choice about coming to Houston. “We didn’t ask to come to Texas, they loaded us up and made us come here.”

A man who worked at Tulane University, who wandered with his wife and three children from Mississippi to Arkansas and then to Houston in search of help, said, “I’m from Bangladesh and there they do a damn good job [of disaster relief], but here…I was just joking that they should send them [FEMA] over there, to train them. Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world, and they do a better job.”

Today at the Astrodome, many people continued to arrive. FEMA showed up in force for the first time. FEMA agents, wearing dark blue uniforms were handing out flyers under signs that said, “No debit cards here today.”

For the past few days, people have been scrambling to get emergency debit cards worth $2,000 to meet buy necessities, move into apartments or leave town. Late yesterday afternoon, people were told to show up for their cards by 8:00 a.m. this morning. Last night it was announced around 9:00 p.m. that FEMA had cancelled the card program. FEMA spokesman Tom Costello was quoted in today’s Houston Chronicle: “We regret the late announcement.” FEMA said they ‘ran out’ of plastic needed to make the cards. Instead, FEMA will direct deposit money to those who have bank accounts or mail checks to those who have mailing addresses.

Besides lining up for hours a day at the Astrodome, people also lined up at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston, to continue to chase after FEMA and other aid. One woman, who got sick of getting nowhere on the telephone said, “I called FEMA at 2:30 a.m. in the morning. I put the speaker on and said if she [the operator] came on, I’ll wake up. I did three families in one phone call. I said, ‘Baby don’t hang up cuz I got three families staying in this place and everybody lost everything.”

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