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September 20, 2005
Yellow police tape and orange cones restricted the entrances into the Convention Center. With our “Katrina Relief” badges hanging around our necks, a policeman acknowledged us and let us inside.
A city within a city. The main conference halls were transformed into living areas; evacuees slept on cots with their few belongings stored underneath. Various halls were designated to different services, each identified by hand written posters. “Food” in this area, “Medical Triage” in that area. “Housing” over here, “Transportation” over there.
“The shelter is closing in 3 days,” we were informed. Thus, I worked as an “escort” to assist evacuees with their “exit” plan, weaving our way through maze of services cluttered around the center.
While waiting in line to register for the Red Cross, I chatted with one of the evacuees about his experiences during Hurricane Katrina.
“The water started rising, but I didn’t leave. Where to? I got nowhere to go. No family out there, no car, no place to go. The military came and knocked on my door.. made me leave. Then they dropped us off at one of the universities temporarily, said they were going to pick us up soon. But were were there for days- no food, no running water, no bathrooms. I couldn’t believe they’d let us live there, like animals. We were stranded and went up to the roof and kept waving for help. Finally after a few days they picked us up. It was horrible…” he described, in a somber voice.
Then he began talking about the crime. The looting. The chaos, on the streets. The lack of police authority. The lack of response. Losing his home. Losing all his belongings. Losing everything. Being disabled. Living on social security. Having nothing. No family. Being alone. No where to go. Nothing to start with. Powerlessness. Lack of control. Depending on people for help. Lack of resources. Unfamiliar surroundings. Pain. Lack of meds. Lack of medical help. Lack of understanding. Hurrying it up to wait. Being lost. Hungry…
After awhile I had to turn away… I knew that if I looked into his eyes, I would start crying. I saw a crowd of people in front
of me, beside me, behind me. The images began to blur together. Like a movie in slow motion, I saw the trails left behind people as they passed by, but I couldn’t catch a glimpse of their faces.
In some sense, I didn’t want to. I couldn’t bear to look straight into them- it was too difficult. Misery, loss, devastation, depression, hopelessness. What could I do for you? What do I have to offer? Not much at all. The merry-go-round continued spinning; I sat there and stared into oblivion.
“15!” the Red Cross representative shouted out the next number in line, waking me out of my trance. We were number 32. It had been over an hour already. But what next? Housing? How could he afford it? Would he go back to New Orleans or stay in Austin?
I buried my hands and sobbed.
Where to from here?
For you, for me?