Story Circle Network

Catastrophe, Survival, and Recovery: Stories from the Storms

The Meaning of Leaving Home for Some Evacuees
Ann Cabot, Austin TX

What Leaving Home Means to Some Katrina Evacuees

Last month I volunteered for a day at the Convention Center's makeshift hurricane shelter. The most useful job I performed was to listen to the unbelievably brave stories of the residents there.

Almost all of those I spoke to had been evacuated by helicopter. And for all of them, it was a first time experience. I remember two stories in particular that show just how resilient the human spirit can be.

One thin, frail-looking woman said she was 87 years old and had lived them all in New Orleans. She told me through a toothless grin that when the helicopter landed on the only dry land in sight, she was rowed by boat and then lifted out and into the plane. There were others with her, she told me, mostly youngsters. As they took off over the water-covered streets that had been her home, she danced. Yes, she said she danced right there is that helicopter. She loved being able to experience something new at her stage of life. And if Austin was to be her new home, well she's just keep on dancing!

The other memorable story came from a stooped, wiry old man who was sitting on his cot. When I asked how he had been evacuated he replied that he had just flown for the first time in his life. His rescuers had transported him by boat to a waiting helicopter. After getting over some initial terror, he found the ride quite pleasant. He was then taken to the New Orleans airport and flown to Austin.

At first, he said, he didn't want to fly. After all, he had vowed never to fly for the ninety-three years he had lived so far. He said he hung on tightly as the plane took off. And then he fell asleep! The ride was so smooth and so quick that he arrived in Austin much too soon. His last statement to me was, "I'm gona save my money and fly to California to see my cousins. Cause now I like to fly!"

Last updated: 10/18/05