Evacuees bring stories to Selma

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 5, 2005

The Selma Times-Journal

Stories of tragedy and triumph, of being strong the face of disaster, continue to be told by the Gulf Coast evacuees who have come to Selma seeking shelter and help from local non-profit agencies.

There are similarities in each of the stories – of driving for hours to only go a few miles, of not being able to reach close family members and friends, of not knowing what to do and wondering if they can ever go home again.

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The evacuees also talk of their resilience, their determination and the bonds that tie them together.

Sitting at the Selma Red Cross office on Saturday, evacuees Steve Hampton and Stephen Waddell, who have each lived in New Orleans for the past 15 years, said they left their city last Sunday morning with the hope that they would soon be back.

“Where I live is only 10 minutes from the Superdome,” Waddell said. “It very rarely floods there.”

Waddell, whose mother lives in Linden, said it was shocking to see the images of his neighborhood underwater and the nearby mall go up in flames.

“I teach at the local community college (in New Orleans),” Waddell said. “I heard they were putting sandbags around it, but then the chancellor had to be rescued by boat.”

Hampton said he has not been able to communicate with many of his friends, but “most of the people I know have lost everything.”

“The hardest part is not knowing when we can go back,” Hampton said.

Robert Dees, another New Orleans evacuee who visited the local Red Cross, arrived in Alabama with 25 members of this family.

“Everything (we own) is underwater. We tired to save as much as possible. We’ve been carpooling to keep expenses down,” Dees said. “We stayed in a hotel in Tuskegee, where my daughter goes to school, then we came to Camden. We are trying to find to plant our feet.”

Dees said he and his family have decided to travel to Houston to meet up with his parents staying at the Astrodome.

Dees said his parents were transported there after spending several stays stranded in the Superdome in New Orleans.

“I’ve talked with them, but I haven’t heard their stories (about being in the Superdome). I can’t wait to see my mom and give her a hug,” Dees said. “It’s been tough, but we’ve been fortunate our family came through living and breathing.”

Dees said the full reality of his family’s situation has not hit him yet, but he is trying to cope “with a lot of prayer. We are all together and we made it out. So now we have to start thinking about the next step.”

Both Dees and Hampton said they believe that the City of New Orleans will recover from the tragedy.

“People keep asking ‘will you go back?” Hampton said. “Of course. It’s my home.”