New Orleans Residents Unknowingly Land in Utah, Part III
I returned to Camp Williams in Draper, Utah today to interview a few more evacuees and check in with the people I met on Wednesday. Last week, 583 people were unknowingly flown to Utah. Many left the base almost immediately and many more took buses to Texas to reunite with loved ones. As of today, 299 people remain at the shelter. Troylynn Wilson, one of the people I met on Wednesday, found her 11-year-old son Derek Wilson. I also heard cries of joy from another woman who, after a week of searching, found her son in Texas.
I met a lively bunch of people today, including Jacqueline Gordon and Ronald Herbert, a couple who met at the convention center in New Orleans two weeks ago and plan to get married on September 23 at Camp Williams. They just rented an apartment in Salt Lake City and plan to move in on Tuesday or Wednesday. Email me if you'd like to send them a gift to help them rebuild their lives and I'll send you their address.
Jacqueline Gordon, 50
Ronald Herbert, 48
Walter Favoroth, 49
Ronald Herbert, Jacqueline Gordon
Tell me about your experience.
Jacqueline Gordon: My kids left the day before (the hurricane hit). I decided to stay and ride the storm out. About a quarter to six that morning, the water started coming in. It came in so fast, all you could do was go up. Once I got up, I watched the water rising. I heard something and I decided to flick a light and see what was happening. Turns out it was gas, so when the fire went flying through, the water put it out. I said, Lord show me a way out of here. I crawled to the back of my house and punched the ceiling out and I dove down in the water. I said, when I go this time, I'm coming back out. When I dove in a second time, I swam through the furniture and when I looked up I saw a house that had floated up from another street and knocked a hole on the top of my house, so I was able to come out from there.
I got up on the roof and was up there from 7:30 that morning to 2:00 that evening, so I was in the midst of the storm up there on the roof, but I had a long talk with God and I found God again up on that roof. I just thank God that my daddy taught me to swim when I was eight years old. I didn't panic. I was glad my youngest daughter was gone because I didn't have to worry about getting her and her baby out of the house. I just had to think for me. My cousin's husband came by and rescued me and brought me to another house where I stayed upstairs for two days. I then got rescued in a boat where they brought me to the St. Cloud bridge. I crossed over there and stayed with a friend. From there, we walked up to the convention center, which is another horror story.
Ronald Herbert: That's where we met.
You met in the convention center?
Jacqueline Gordon: Yes, that's where we met, but let me tell you something and I want to set the record straight about them talking about the people looting. They looted to survive. They wouldn't give us no water and no food out there. We didn't have clothes. All we had were the clothes on our back. I met them and they took me in as family.
Ronald Herbert: I was supposed to go with the ministry I was in, Deeper Life out of Florida, but I chose to stay home because I wanted to be with my family. My brother's house was covered with water. He was on the roof for two days. I told my brother I was gonna go get some help. So I put my life vest on. I had to swim at least a good six miles going into the current, not from the current. I got to a place on Franklin Avenue where a boat picked me up. I went back and got my brother. From there, they picked all of us up and brought us to the convention center. The convention center was hell. Dead bodies. People's throats cut. Heads off bodies.
You saw that?
Ronald Herbert: Yes.
The New Orleans police chief said they found no instances of rape and murder.
Ronald Herbert: Yeah, there was rape. I was putting bodies in the freezer. We were right where it happened.
Jacqueline Gordon: We dealt with the bodies. They wouldn't know. They weren't in there. We were eyewitnesses.
Were there any law enforcement in there at that time?
Jacqueline Gordon: At night we had no law enforcement.
Ronald Herbert: They had people in there who didn't take baths for six, seven days. If you went into the bathroom, the odor hit you. All on the walls, in the corners, cracks, crevices. They were letting it out.
Jacqueline Gordon: Oh, it was toxic. If you went in the bathroom, the toilets were so filled up, you couldn't use them, so you didn't have a choice because there was no running water. None. The smell was so strong.
Ronald Herbert: The odor knocked you out.
Walter Favoroth: As soon as you get to the door, the odor knocked you out.
Ronald Herbert: I felt bad for the elderly people. They weren't bringing food for the old folks.
Jacqueline Gordon: Then they opened up a restaurant in the Marriott and fed everybody. Everything they found, they cooked. He and I were bringing food to the old folks.
Ronald Herbert: He saved his wife's life and his wife saved his life.
Walter Favoroth: I'm in water up to here and I had her on my neck. I had to walk like that for five miles. She doesn't know how to swim. It's too hard for her to talk about. In our house, we were watching the storm. We saw water coming under the door fast. I went to go get a sheet to put under the door and the water just came in. It filled our bathtub and our toilet and water rushed up to the ceiling. In a matter of five minutes, the whole house was full of water.
Ronald Herbert: I had to open my door and went to go save a guy in his attic. I fell through the attic and cut my leg. They were supposed to send me to the convention center to get treatment. I ain't got treatment until I got to Utah.
Walter Favoroth: What we went through, I thought was in the movies, but it was real.
What do you think of the government's response?
Ronald Herbert: They should have gotten the elderly people out.
Walter Favoroth: People died for nothing.
Ronald Herbert: I watched an 86-year-old lady die in her wheelchair.
Have you been watching the news at all since you've been here?
Jacqueline Gordon: Yeah, I just start crying every time I look at the water. When they rescued me on the boat, they went to rescue other people and I got to ride down in the ninth ward and I'm looking at the disaster and all I could do is sit there and cry. I'm not worried about losing everything because I know that can be replaced. My life can't be replaced. Just to see people's houses floating and sitting in the middle of the street.
Ronald Herbert: Bodies floating in the water. Alligators eating people.
Walter Favoroth: Trees coming out of the ground. Roots and all.
Jacqueline Gordon: We're so glad to be here. We love it.
What are your plans?
Ronald Herbert: We live here. We're getting married right here.
Jacqueline Gordon: A guy from a newspaper did an interview with us and they're throwing the whole wedding for us. They're paying for everything. We're going to get married at the chapel here on the 23rd. They're throwing us a huge reception and they're paying for my wedding dress. I went yesterday and picked out all of my flowers and bouquets.
Is your daughter planning to join you?
Jacqueline Gordon: She's in Texas. They have an apartment. I know eventually she'll get up here. She'll be 20 on the 18th of this month and she has a two-year-old. Like I said, I thank God they left the day before.
Ronald Herbert: I took my little niece who was two-months-old through water up to here. I had to hold her in the air and go three houses down where we could get up on a three-story house until somebody came, but nobody ever came, so they had to move again. The water was climbing. I'm not talking about hours. I'm talking minutes.
What do you think of the opinion that race played a role in all of this?
Ronald Herbert: Race had nothing to do with it. People had old white people hugging them and loving them.
Walter Favoroth: What I saw was unity with everybody cause everybody was trying to help everybody.
Ronald Herbert: That was unity down there. God brought people together down there.
Jacqueline Gordon: White people grabbed me and gave me food. We were glad to get something to eat.
Walter Favoroth: I didn't even know her and I took her as my family and we're here together.
And you're all going to stay in Utah?
Jacqueline Gordon: Yeah, we're in the same apartment complex. They're in the back and we're in the front.
Ronald Herbert: When we got here the only thing they didn't do was throw the red carpet out.
Walter Favoroth: I never seen so much love. That's why I'm staying here because I never seen so much love.
Did you know much about the state of Utah before you got here?
Walter Favoroth: No, I didn't know a thing about Utah.
Ronald Herbert: We didn't know anything about Utah.
Walter Favoroth: As a matter of fact, I never got on an airplane in my life. It was an experience. I was hugging my wife saying, baby, are we gonna be alright? (laughs)
Utah and Louisiana are very different states.
Ronald Herbert: Yeah, totally different from Louisiana.
How do you feel about that?
Ronald Herbert: I love it. I love this state. I thought I was going to come down here to crazy stuff like, "We don't want you niggers here." Man, they brought us here and showed us so much love. It's not about racial things. It's about love. God wants people to come together. God don't want all this crazy stuff. That's why he took that away cause there was so much crime and killing. God said, I'm goin' wipe it out.
Do you have any opinions about the way Bush responded?
Ronald Herbert: There are a lot of things I see wrong about Bush, but I think he did pretty good. I really think so and I give 100 percent to our mayor. Our mayor was crying about how the government treated us. The government treated us real bad. We're human beings.
Walter Favoroth: We're human beings. Everybody is equal. Just because you got a little more than me don't mean nothing. Just because you have more than me, God could swipe it away and take your life. The material things don't matter, but our lives do matter.
Ronald Herbert: They didn't look at that.
Walter Favoroth: They were just worried about themselves. They say, 'I told them to get out.' What about the people that don't have no money? What about the people that don't have no cars?
What did you do in New Orleans?
Walter Favoroth: I just opened up a detail shop two days before the flood. We invested about $2500 in that. I lost everything in my house. All kinds of suits and stuff. My wife had all kinds of clothes. I always got her everything she wanted.
Ronald Herbert: I used to work offshore.
Jacqueline Gordon: I wasn't employed at the time. Earlier in the year, I was working for a collections agency.
What are you hoping to do here?
Jacqueline Gordon: I have a degree in accounting, so I have a computer background. I was working on my second degree in computer information systems, so that's what I want to do.
Did you know anything about Utah before you landed here?
Jacqueline Gordon: Not a thing. Nothing. This is God's country. That's all I can say. I'm glad I'm here. I was a homeowner down there. I had my own home. I see my home. My home is still underwater, so what is there to go back to? Everything is gone and I don't feel bad about that because they have made me so welcome here. There's so much love here. People want to be where they're loved.