Hurricane Katrina survivors in Los Angeles

On my first visit to New Orleans, I was so overtaken by the architecture, food and music, that I didn’t notice how fragile the city was to rising waters and flooding.  During a second visit, I took a little more time to explore the city and it was then I realized how easily it could all go away. As Hurricane Isaac now pounds the Gulf Coast, we can’t help but be reminded of the horrors of Hurricane Katrina. I remember speaking to survivors who had been bussed to Los Angeles a few days after Katrina, and they were so shaken by the experience. Here is my story: (Daily News, Sept. 7, 2005)

ECHO PARK – The doors cracked open to sunlight in the City of Angels on Tuesday for a small group of survivors of Hurricane Katrina who couldn’t help but smile as if they had just stepped off a bus ride to heaven. There were cheers and applause and photographs. A grandmother rushed to greet a granddaughter whom she feared she had lost after floodwaters swallowed whole homes and lives in New Orleans.
All around, volunteers had open arms, eager to usher in the latest group of evacuees who arrived at the Los Angeles Dream Center on Tuesday by jets and buses. Inside awaited clothes, food, and more importantly, dry ground and the opportunity to begin rebuilding their lives. “This is more than just about the Hollywood dream or fame,” said Jocelyn Cash, searching for words as she held on tightly to her granddaughter Sarah, who had just come off the bus with her mother. “This is about being your brother’s keeper. I can only say this is beautiful.”

 Since Monday, the Dream Center has taken in dozens of evacuees from a temporary shelter in Baton Rouge, La. More than 250 beds will be filled by Thursday, organizers said. Evacuees were flown in on Lear jets paid for by an anonymous donor.

 Local donations of clothes and toys sat in piles in front of the building, where volunteers used wheelbarrows to move them.

 The evacuees will be housed in the building – formerly Queen of the Angels Hospital – for up to six months, allowing them the opportunity to secure jobs, homes and decide whether they want to plant their roots in Los Angeles, said staff member Clint Carlton.

Stephen Graves, 22, stepped off the white bus with one suitcase and a photograph of his 2-year-old daughter who lives in San Diego with her mother. The picture frame had been damaged, the glass that protected the photo broken. But it was the one possession he held tightly as the hurricane tore off the copper roof of his home.

 “It was terrifying,” he said. “The bodies that I saw … I thought I washed up in some kind of science-fiction movie.”

 Standing outside the Dream Center, where the usual summer smog stayed away so that visitors could see the Hollywood sign on a nearby hill, Denard and Kreshonda Alonzo said the flood took away their homes and jobs, but in a twisted way, paved a new path for them.

 “This is the best help we’ve gotten so far,” Denard Alonzo, 32, said. “Our first goal is to get the kids in school. If our kids can adapt to the situation, then we’ll relocate here. We just want to make a better life for ourselves.”

 The couple had been working in a nursing home in New Orleans, and stayed on until the residents were safe. But when they and their four young boys tried to take refuge in a nearby hotel, they were told to pay or leave. They then found themselves in a Baton Rouge shelter.

 “It’s a blessing to be with my kids and wife because there’s a lot of people who don’t know where their family is,” Alonzo said. “This may be the best opportunity for us. We came here and we saw the light.”

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