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Former New Orleans Residents Try to Pick up the Pieces
By: George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief
Originally posted 9/7/2005

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The last of the stranded residents and visitors to New Orleans are expected to be rescued by this weekend, allowing them to escape from a harrowing past while facing an uncertain future.

Thousands more – the mayor estimates 10,000 or more – were not as fortunate and counting and recovering their dead bodies could take weeks, officials say.

Dorothy Cloud fears that Hurricane Katrina and the attendant flooding may have destroyed her home and belongings – and she counts herself among the fortunate ones.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she says in a telephone interview from Houston, where she has been living for almost two weeks with her daughter, Enice Temple, and son-in-law, Kenneth.

“I could be there on the expressway. I could be in the Superdome. I could be at the convention center. I could have dead bodies in front of me. We’re just blessed that my family got out and had somewhere to go.”

She and 20 other relatives arrived in Houston two days before Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Now, they are all crowed into the Temple three- bedroom home, where they spend most of the time watching news about New Orleans in particular.

“The bulk of our days and nights are spent watching television because you can’t sleep,” she explains. “You want to know: Have the people been rescued? What’s happening to them? You got to watch it.”
To prepare for his new house resident, the Temples moved furniture to the garage to create additional sleeping space.

“We’ve been trying to keep everybody together and get the kids enrolled in school,” he says. “ There are five kids – two in high school, one in middle school and two young boys – we had to get them registered. People on my job and my church have been really good about giving us money and clothing. That we can’t use, I take to my church so that they can help others.”

Stacey Mays-Douglas and her family fled their home in Kenner, La., near New Orleans, and are the newest residents of Indianapolis. She owns a small advertising business and now has major decisions to make about her business and where she will enroll her school-aged children.

“We lost everything, but each day I wake up with gratitude for God’s grace and mercy,” she says. “To look in the eyes of my neighbors brings so much pain and sorrow. Each person that you make a connection with has a different story. Some of triumph, some of loss, others of confusion and despair.

“I watched a mother united with her only child and simply broke down in tears. The crowd ruptured in cheers and handclaps. It was amazing. It’s hard trying to think about myself when there’s so may people less fortunate than me.”

Rather than focus on that misfortune, the news media has come under criticism for constantly referring to U.S. citizens as refugees. Even worse has been the way African-Americans and Whites have been described when doing the same thing. For example, two photos showed flood victims wading in water up to their chest, dragging a bag or box of food or beverage.

Though the photos were almost identical except for the person’s race, descriptions in the captions were notably different. The Associated Press caption under the photo said the Black person had just finished “looting” a grocery store. By contrast, the AFP/Getty caption described two Whites in the photo as “finding” bread and soda from a grocery store.

The around-the-clock cable coverage and network specials also featured footage of Blacks breaking into stores. The same footage was shown repeatedly.

“I wish they would show not just the rioting and looting, but talk to some of the individuals there on the freeway,” says Enice Temple. “Talk to the people standing on their buildings. Find out what’s going on and show everything – not just one side of it.”

Temple’s mother says that even the negative behavior should be placed in context.

“They’re looting because these people have been raised with a lot of anger,” explains Dorothy Cloud. “They were raised in homes with a lot of fussing and fighting and that’s all they know; they don’t know love. And when they now need love, they don’t get it.
They were abandoned by their families and now they’re abandoned again. That’s all they know – they are not bad people. And when they don’t get any help, the anger builds up more and more. I don’t condone what they did. They did all they could do when nobody was there to help them.”

Cloud says that sense of abandonment is exacerbated when people see their own country failing them.

“We can see that they can take care of all of the other countries, sending our young people to be killed in other countries. And you can’t take care of us down here? It makes us look bad, it makes me feel badly that our government doesn’t think enough of us. Is it our race that you don’t think enough of? That’s who is on I-10 – poor, Black people. Babies are sick and people are watching all those dead bodies float around them. They don’t have anywhere to go and can’t even go to the bathroom.”

Margie Payne, a professor at Delgado Community College in New Orleans, plans to abruptly retire after 45years and move to another city, probably Tucson, Arizona, where a brother lives.

“My family says I’ve been contemplating retirement for the last 10 years,” she says, laughing. “I think God has told me to this time. Besides, I don’t want to go back to New Orleans and face another hurricane season – and the season is just really beginning.”
She has mixed feelings about whether New Orleans will ever recover from Hurricane Katrina and the flooding.
“I’ve been thinking about this,” she says. “I thought about the Great Fire in Chicago and how Chicago looks now. There is a possibility of recovery, but it will take a strong commitment from the federal government.”

When Enice Temple thinks about recovery, she does not focus on the physical losses.

“I think about the years of happiness and memories,” she says. “It’s not just the homes where you found shelter and comfort. This is a place where you raised your family, your children. This is a place where you shared happy times. My daughter, Hunter, was christened there. There were fabulous New Year’s parties, when 100 people or more would come to our house to celebrate. This is what we lost.”

Terry Jones, publisher of the New Orleans Data News Weekly, lost his newspaper and his home.

“I was away in Atlanta when it happened,” he said in a telephone interview from that city. “I had come here for a birthday party. The first reports were that the hurricane was headed for Florida and then it turned and hit New Orleans.”

Jones’ family went to several cities and he remains in Atlanta until he can return to New Orleans to inspect the damage.
In the rebuilding process, he says, some poor people will be ignored.

“Some areas will be salvaged, but others won’t,” he explains. “There are three major housing projects and they may not be replaced. Originally, they wanted to turn them into condos. Now, they’re going to knock them down and not replace them.”

Because of the need to monitor the rebuilding process to make sure African-Americans are not treated unfairly, Jones says he plans to resume publishing his newspaper, which has been distributed for 39 years. After that process ends, he says he will turn his attention to his future.

“Now, there is going to be a lot of money being donated to New Orleans,” Jones explains. “We must make sure that part of that money goes to the people who are the most disenfranchised.”

Sitting in front of a television in Houston, Dorothy Cloud has seen the Six Flags theme park, a short walk from her home, engulfed in water.

“I can’t picture the subdivision that I live in being a subdivision again, with beautiful homes, where you could get in your car, go and come back,” she says. “I can’t even picture that. I tell the children that we have to live one day at a time. We can’t say what we’re going to do tomorrow – because we don’t have one.

“God is good and He is the maker of my tomorrows. But it’s like: Where is tomorrow? If I feel like this and I’m in a house with a roof over my head, you can imagine what they feel like out on I-10 in Louisiana.”

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