Local News

Hurricane Evacuees May Make Triangle Permanent Home

Posted September 7, 2005 9:15 a.m. EDT

— Approximately one week after Hurricane Katrina left residents along the Gulf Coast homeless, nearly 400 people from Louisiana -- all concerned about what the future holds for them -- are calling Raleigh home, at least for now.

Gov. Mike Easley visited with the evacuees Tuesday, where he said during a news conference that the state's first priority is to make sure they have a safe place to sleep, clothes on their back and a healthy meal.

"I say to these visitors to North Carolina, you will find the basics of food, water and shelter, but you will also find compassion and caring," Easley said. "We are here to help you through this terrible time."

Two planes carrying a combined 385 evacuees, including 31 children, from New Orleans arrived a couple hours apart Monday night at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. The evacuees were taken to a vacant office complex near the RBC Center in west Raleigh that has been converted into a temporary shelter.

Evacuees were met with food, water, medicine, counselors, a safe place to sleep. After helping provide these basic needs, volunteers will begin the task of helping evacuees move on with their lives, which includes helping them find housing, jobs, schools for their children and reuniting family members.

To help with the latter, the relief center is working to set up phones and computers to help people locate their family members. An information line has also been established for people to call to leave contact information for relatives or loved ones that they believe have been evacuated to Wake County at (919) 858-3174.

"There was no way I was going to drown," said New Orleans resident Bobby Piot. "I saw my friends drown right in front of my eyes, people floating in the water. I'm glad to be here."

While most of the evacuees did not exactly know who Easley was, they said they knew he was somehow responsible for getting them to the relief center and that they were grateful.

"I love being here because I'm safe, you know," Piot said. "Taking a shower, you know, I feel clean. I always say, 'Thank God I made it.'"

Easley said Tuesday that North Carolina has the resources to help provide for the evacuees, reminding everyone that the state is no stranger to natural disasters.

"North Carolinians have lived through the devastation that natural disasters can bring," said Easley. "But we have always had the support of our neighbors from around the country. Now it is our turn to help them."

Easley has applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for disaster aid and hopes to get reimbursed for most of the services North Carolina is providing.

"Right now, these people are in need and we're going to give them whatever they've got to have," Easley said. "We're going to give them the shelter and take whatever we have to take."

In addition to the 385 people housed in Raleigh, 690 are being housed in Charlotte and 85 in Greensboro. The state has agreed to take up to 1,700 evacuees.

"You can tell they've really been through a lot," said Wake County Communications Director Jane Martin. "But I keep seeing big smiles. They're happy to be here. It's a relief."

Everyone has a story to tell. Each evacuee has been through a lot. Helicopters evacuated many of them from rooftops; boats rescued some from flooded homes.

"It's been a long eight days," said evacuee Leevance Williams. "A long eight days, and I never thought I would see something like that in my lifetime."

Many volunteers say they have never seen anything like this in their lifetimes either.

"It's hard," said volunteer Erin Banks, who helped one man locate his wife in Georgia after they became separated. "It's hard. I can't sum it up in words how I feel. It's an overwhelming feeling."

Also overwhelming for New Orleans natives is the thought of never going home again -- a thought most people refuse to accept.

"I wouldn't leave New Orleans for nothing," said 40-year native Catherine Schlessinger. "New Orleans is a great city, let me tell you."