as told to Yvonne Cooks
[Danielle Metz, of New Orleans, is incarcerated at Dublin, California (see story in The Fire Inside #11.) Her sister, Adrienne Bernard, moved to Stockton to be closer. She went back to New Orleans to try to find her granddaughter. While she was not able to locate the child after the hurricane, she saw such need that she asked her church in Stockton to help. The church sent down three busses. Members of CCWP responded by collecting supplies for the families and publicizing the plight of those 131 people. Here is a story of one of the families brought to Stockton by this modern-day ?underground railroad?.]
Andre Gautreau is a fifty-five year old retired public service worker, born and raised in New Orleans. Andre has bounced back after other hurricanes in his lifetime. Katrina proved to be nothing like any past experience for this family of nine:
We?re a closely-knit family. When Katrina hit we were living together in a beautiful townhouse in Gretna, Louisiana, about 15 minutes from downtown New Orleans. We moved everything we could upstairs anticipating flooding, but the hurricane blew the roof off our townhouse and the upstairs floors collapsed. Water was everywhere, trees were blocking the streets and we were flushing the toilets with water from the swimming pool.
Three days after the flooding (September 3rd) our family decided to leave; our living condition could not go on like that. We gave our remaining food supplies to our neighbor, packed what we could into a few bags, put them into a shopping cart and headed toward the Elevator Expressway.
When we arrived buses were waiting. Only families with children were allowed to board buses at that time. When you got on the bus you didn?t know where you were going, the buses weren?t marked. After driving for several hours the bus stopped next to the interstate in a large grassy field in Jenner Louisiana. It was about 3 o?clock in the morning. There were several hundred buses lined up, as this was the ?staging? area. This stop was very difficult to deal with, there were no toilets, flying insects were everywhere and we had no food. The children were very tired and just fell asleep on the bags we brought with us. We re-boarded the bus after daylight still without any idea where we were going.
When we arrived at the Houston Astrodome there were at least 18,000 people crammed into this temporary shelter. There weren?t any hot meals for the first 2 days.
By the 5th day Adrienne Bernard came through asking if anyone wanted to re-locate to Stockton, California. New Orleans was our home and we didn?t want to leave. We decided to go because the situation at the Astrodome didn?t seem as if it would get any better soon.
A church bus and driver from Stockton, CA. was ready to re-locate us at no charge. The trip from Houston to Stockton was very difficult. We had to ride without stopping in a hotel or other shelter for the entire trip. We arrived in Stockton after several days.
The welcoming in Stockton was very warm and loving. Church members and their friends have been generous and kind. FEMA had agreed to pay for temporary shelter for several families at the Comfort Inn. I tell my family we must be patient while pacing the floor myself trying to figure out the next step. I know you?re never too old to start over.
The holidays are quickly approaching and although we appreciate the Comfort Inn, we want the children to have a house of their own to sleep in at night.
One of the hardest things I?m confronted with is the mountain of paperwork I?ve had to fill out in order to receive any type of services. It is very frustrating. The children are in school now and although we?ll be moving soon, we don?t want to disrupt their lives again so soon. They seem to be bouncing back and adjusting to the new surroundings.
I reflect on the devastation of our city. I just don?t want to believe that more value was placed on property than human lives. Our family is moving into a house of our own soon and we?ve decided not to return to New Orleans. We thank all the good people who have helped us in this most difficult time.
as told to Yvonne Cooks