Far From Home
Louisiana evacuees keep spirits up while waiting out aftermath of storm

Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

Dawn Powell, right, takes comfort in knowing that her children (left to right) Jasmine, 12, Marcel, 10, and Angelique, 18, are safe from Hurricane Katrina as they get ready to play a card game Wednesday at Wesley United Methodist Church.
Staff Photo By Angela Pitts

Aug. 31, 2005 -- When evacuation orders were issued in southeastern Louisiana, many people did not take time to pack -- they just simply got out of town to escape the death and destruction that accompanied Hurricane Katrina.

Hotels and motels in East Texas rapidly were filled to capacity, and refugees continued west searching for places to stay -- including Sulphur Springs.

By Tuesday evening, as many as 50 refugees were being housed in an emergency shelter opened at Wesley United Methodist Church. 

Those who attempted to return to their homes were turned back at the state line and told it might be as long as two weeks -- or more -- before they would be allowed back.

Despite tragedy and disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina, this family, who escaped from New Orleans just in time on Sunday, manages to keep its spirits high Wednesday while camping out at Wesley United Methodist Church and receiving help and support from many people. Thankful to all be together and safe, the family will remain at the church until they make their way back home, praying that there is still a home to go back to. Pictured (clockwise from left) are Maisha and Britianella Washington, Isabella Young, Adoria Darby, Jessica Edmond, Terry Young, Ralph, Ralshella, Freddie and Viola Washington, and Shannon and Stephen Moore.
Staff Photo By Angela Pitts

Many of those displaced by the storm were not prepared to be away from home for the extended length of time. Others were financially unable to afford the cost of a place to stay and turned to the Salvation Army, according to Jo Marie Neal, Hopkins County Salvation Army chairman

�Some of them could not continue staying in motels,� said Neal. �Right now, I don�t even have a count, and we have got more people coming.�

Neal said she expected to have more than 250 people in the shelter at Wesley United Methodist Church Wednesday night.

The Salvation Army spokesman said the center would remain open for at least 21 days and then the situation would be evaluated to see how long the shelter would need to remain open.

For those that arrived Tuesday, a full breakfast was prepared by community volunteers Wednesday morning. First Baptist Church was already at work at mid-morning preparing a noon meal, and Boy Scouts are scheduled to prepare at least one meal. 

Early Wednesday morning, Hopkins County EMS paramedics visited the shelter to check blood pressures and to see if any of the refugees might have medical problems. Later in the morning, doctors were checking with people regarding medical needs and prescriptions that might need filling. Others were providing transportation to pharmacies and other stores.

Among the refugees was Viola Washington, 78, who lived in a “very old part of Louisiana,” just outside of New Orleans, who came to Sulphur Springs with 15 family members after being told to evacuate in advance of the storm.

She said that while there were other family members they could not contact and did not know where they might be, she did have a little good news.

�I am very happy. I was told that my house is not under water. We may have wind damage, I don�t know, but we don�t have any lights and no water or gas,�� Mrs. Washington said. �But I am so grateful to be alive.�

The long-time New Orleans resident said she has dodged a number of storms and did not want to leave this time, but her husband Freddie insisted.

�I tried running every time we have a hurricane and we went right back home and nothing has happened. I was not going,� she said. �My husband made me do it, and I am so grateful for him.�

Freddie told his wife Hurricane Katrina was going to be the worst storm to ever hit New Orleans.

Mr. Washington said he had no information about other family members and hoped they were able to escape the storm.

�We hope they got out just like we did,� Mr. Washington said. �We don�t know if they came to Texas or went over to Alabama or somewhere around -- we hope that they all got out.�

With most of their family together, the Washington family headed west, arriving in Sulphur Springs Sunday night.

With no vacancy signs out at most motels between their home and Sulphur Springs, the family was relieved to find shelter and much more at Wesley United Methodist Church.

�I am so grateful I am here in this shelter,� said Mrs. Washington. �It is a church shelter and I feel so very much at home and all of the people are so very nice to us.�

Terry Young, a certified welder, said he and his family were not given any choice about leaving New Orleans and were told  they might have to be gone as long as two weeks. He said he owned his home in New Orleans along with some rental property and was building a new home. He did not want to think about what the storm may have done to it.

�I just thank God that I am alive and my family is doing fine,� he said.�

Young said he brought all his credentials with him and was hoping to get some work while in Sulphur Springs.

While the Washington and Young families had plenty of clothing, others at the shelter arrived with only the clothes on their backs. Some brought their pets.

�We have cats and dogs people have brought with them, and Dr. [David] Black has offered his services to take care of these animals,� Neal said.

But Jo Marie Neal said donations of supplies and money are still needed.    

�Quilts, blankets and sleeping bags are needed to help these people while they are in Sulphur Springs,� Neal said.

Donations may be taken to Wesley United Methodist Church at Texas and Bellview streets, or items will be picked up by calling the church at 903-885-3383 or Jo Marie Neal at 903-335-1032.

Checks should be made payable to Salvation Army Relief Fund.

Older Archives

Looking for News-Telegram Sports and News Archives for January 2004 - November 2008