View Full Version : Refugees' lives in suspension as they wait in Mississippi Coliseum

09-01-2005, 03:08 PM
Posted on Wed, Aug. 31, 2005
Chicago Tribune

JACKSON, Miss. - (KRT) - A patchwork of bedding stretches out across the 25,000 square foot floor of the Mississippi Coliseum.

It's a scene that has been replicated in stadiums, hotels, churches and homes across the South as hundreds of thousands of evacuees pour into shelters in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
At the Coliseum, the nearly 1,300 evacuees - many from the New Orleans area - whiled away the hours sleeping, playing cards or engaging in other activities that they hoped would take their minds off the news and, most importantly, keep fear and uncertainty at bay.
"We're just basically a bunch of scared people right now," said Denise Collins, 38, who arrived at the Coliseum early Monday from New Orleans. "If someone was to stand in the middle of this stadium and scream out from the top of their lungs, we'd all just nod and say, `I understand.'"
By Wednesday, many were resolved that their cell phones and laptops were useless in their efforts to contact loved ones who stayed behind and rode out the storm. Many had no clue whether their homes were still standing.
When Collins and 16 others left New Orleans Sunday afternoon, she grabbed everything immediately within reach. On Wednesday, she feared that all that remained of her possessions was contained in a box in the middle of her pallet.
"Birth certificates, other important documents, canned goods, that's probably all we have left," Collins said. When it occurred to her that she forgot to pack photographs, her eyes welled with tears.
"You almost can't bear to think about the loss," she said. "Sometimes it's just unimaginable."
There are no walls on the floor of the arena. Personal boundaries are makeshift, created by strategically placed chairs or the outer edges of pallets. Everything feels temporary.
By mid-afternoon Wednesday, a stage where televisions had been set up was dismantled and evacuees were asked to move their things to make room for 300 more who were scheduled to arrive from the Louisiana Superdome.
Minutes later plans changed when an announcement was made that the Superdome evacuees were heading to the Houston Astrodome and pallets once again were re-arranged.
"That's how life has been," said American Red Cross volunteer Sheila Henry. "Everything is fluid and you've got to be flexible."
Flexibility has become a matter of necessity. In addition to the volunteers from the Red Cross and Salvation Army, Hinds County inmates from the nearby minimum security prison also have been pressed into service as janitors.
Ordinarily, the Coliseum seats 3,500 and is a venue for basketball games, concerts and conventions. But these days, almost everything has found a use that's anything but ordinary.
Evacuees have been using the backs of bleacher seats to dry laundry. The spaces between portable bleacher stands have become shelving for toiletries, house slippers, diapers, decks of playing cards. Coolers placed between pallets double as nightstands. Folding chairs have become side tables. Evacuees now use the arena's showers and dressing rooms that in the past have been designated for entertainers and athletes.
Throughout the day Wednesday, a local radio station asked residents to drive by the arena with donations. They came in a steady stream with inflatable mattresses, pillows and blankets. They donated so many articles of clothing that piles began to grow in the area surrounding the ticket counter and soon it became tricky to navigate around them.
Residents also had donated so much food that by dinnertime evacuees, who formed two long lines that wrapped around the arena floor, were able to partake of seconds.
"The treatment has been overwhelming," said Ruth Bunch, a New Orleans native who arrived Tuesday with her husband and five other relatives. "I left home without my hypertension medicine and the Red Cross took me to get a two-week supply."
She said her biggest worry now is that her money will run out.
"We don't even know whether the bank is still standing to take my direct deposit," she said. "We'll know by Friday. We'll just have to see. It's hard when you get close to retirement age and your whole life now fits in your car."
Henry Rhodies, another New Orleans evacuee, said it's also hard to know it may take months before anyone returns to New Orleans or towns along the Mississippi gulf.
"But all things considered, we have it easy for right now," said Rhodies, 61. "It's air-conditioned in here. It's comfortable if you try not to think about things too far ahead. I just can't imagine how the people down south (along the gulf) are faring."

09-03-2005, 06:19 PM
Hats off to the Biloxi inmates helping out, seen it on "msnbc" Go inmates!!

09-03-2005, 06:31 PM
I bet they are glad to be helping