New Orleans Evacuees Unknowingly Land in Utah
Over 63,000 New Orleans residents have been flown to shelters in nine states throughout the country, including Texas, Arizona, Georgia and Utah. Many have no idea where they're going or when they'll return to New Orleans, if they return at all. The evacuees we met yesterday at Camp Williams in Draper, Utah said they didn't know they were being flown here until the plane took off from New Orleans. "Before we boarded the plane, they told us we were going to San Antonio," said 41-year-old Troy London. "When we were on the plane, they told us Utah."
Everyone we met said the experience has been surreal, especially those who've never left New Orleans, but most are simply thankful they are safe. Camp Williams is housing over 500 evacuees, many of whom say they plan to start a new life in Utah. In addition to phone and computer services, the local Red Cross is offering doctors appointments, prescriptions, basic necessities, free bus passes and information on employment and housing.
Here are exceprts from a few interviews:
John Tucker, 26
Searching for his mother Patricia Tucker
Tell me about the process involved in getting here.
The storm hit on Sunday and I was at home with my mother who has heart failure and uses a pacemaker. On Tuesday she didn't have any medicine, so I had to get her to a hospital. The police came on a boat and took her to the hospital. I stayed at the house without food until Sunday when it was mandatory for us to leave. Then I got on a plane and here I am.
Were you able to choose where to go?
No. They didn't say anything until we got on the plane. On the plane, we said, 'Can you tell us where we're going?' And they said, "Uh, we don't know." I think they knew because if we had a choice, we'd say, 'We ain't going to Utah.' This was my first time flying so it was a big experience.
What did the local New Orleans officials tell you? Did they tell you to evacuate in time? Did they tell you to prepare?
They helped for most of it, but there was a lot of looting going on. They came and said we had to leave because the water was contaminated.
Is your mom with you here?
No, I don't know where she is. I'm here by myself. She left Tuesday and I left Sunday. I'm guessing she's in Houston. I'm kinda messed up because I'm here by myself.
And there's no way you can reach her?
I went over there and called the hotline.
Do you have any other family members?
How long do you plan to stay here?
I don't have anything right now. I don't have anything. No clothes. This is all new to me. Everyone has been nice, but I feel that since I'm out here, I need to do something because I don't have anything. My mother's house is destroyed. I want to get a job. I was a cook in New Orleans, so if I can get a job and make some money, I'll stay out here until I find my mother.
Troylynn Wilson, 34
Searching for her 11-year-old son Derek Wilson
Tell me about your experience in New Orleans.
The water was rising up near our housing projects so a boat came and rescued us. From the boat, we got on a helicopter. From the helicopter, we got on an airplane and were told we were entering Utah. I love it here, but I don't have my little boy with me. I hope he's alive. I got on the computer, but we haven't found him.
How did you get separated?
He was with his auntie. When I last spoke to her, she said she was going to Alaska. That was the last time I talked to her. We got trapped and didn't know this was going to happen. We saw dead bodies floating around. I ain't never seen anything like that in my life. I saw it on Titanic, but not in real life. My friends had nasty sores on them and cuts. I just can't believe it. I just thank the lord that I'm alive. When I find my child, I'm going out there to live with my sister.
What is your child's name and how old is he?
His name is Derek Wilson and he's 11.
So you think he's with your aunt, but you're not positive?
When you boarded the plane, did they tell you you were going to Utah?
No, we didn't have a choice.
Before the hurricane hit, did the local officials prepare you at all?
All we knew was there was gonna be a storm, but when the levee broke, the water was rising and I don't know how to swim. The water was full of dead people. I ain't seen nothing like that in my life. Is this a dream or what? This is real. This is real. What am I gonna do?
What did you think about the government's response?
I was listening on the radio and Mayor Nagin was asking for Bush. He was mad. Mayor Nagin was pissed. Bush messed up, but he did come back and I thank him for that.
Tell me about your life in New Orleans.
I love New Orleans. I want to go back and find me a house and put my children back in school. This is a wake up call. This is a test. You have to get up off your butt and go find yourself a job. You gotta do what you gotta do to take care of your children.
Do you want to go back to New Orleans?
Yes, as soon as they rebuild, I'm going back to my home.
Troy London, 41
Tell me about your experience.
We were rescued from our home in a boat. They took us to the I-10. From there we got on the Army truck and then to the airport.
Did you have any idea you where you were going?
Before we boarded the plane, they told us we were going to San Antonio. When we were on the plane, they told us Utah.
What do you think of Utah so far?
I love Utah. The people have been so nice.
Tell me about your accommodations here.
We have a room. I have two kids. I'm a single parent.
How were you able to keep your kids with you? I've met several people who were separated from their kids.
I know. They had helicopters flying. They were taking some people and said they would come back, but never did. That's why I didn't want to get in the helicopter. If all of us weren't going, none of us were going.
Tell me about what went on during the days before the levee broke. Did local officials do enough to prepare you?
I don't think they did. I don't think anyone was expecting that to happen. I know I wasn't. I knew we were going to get some flooding, but I didn't think it would be so bad.
The federal government has been criticized for not responding in time. Do you agree with that?
I do agree with that. The people here were more ready than the federal government. It was chaos getting people out.
What are your plans from here on out?
I think we're going to stay because we lost everything. We're going to have to start over. It's very nice here, so I wouldn't mind starting over here.
What did you do in New Orleans?
I was a cook in the French Quarters.
Do you plan on looking for work as a cook here?
Maybe. I can do various things. I just need a job. I have my two kids to take care of.