Normally, I do not post anything on this BLOG that does not pertain to Terri. However, this story is another example of the sad situations that occur in this country.
Written by Cheryl Ford RN
September 21, 2005
"We will not perish in this house, we will survive." Those were the words that were shared with me yesterday after having a long telephone conversation with Rechell Carter, a 41 year old single mother who survived for three days in an attic with her 14 year old daughter Brianna, her elderly parents, and six other people after their home was flooded in Violet, Louisiana.
In the last few weeks, while volunteering my time with the Katrina Caravan, I have encountered many sad stories. Rechell's courageous, yet tragic experiences inspired me to write about her families survival.
The worst of Hurricane Katrina had passed. The streets were dry, and the sun was shining again. Rechell Carter, recalled how she was standing in her kitchen relieved that her home had only suffered one broken bedroom window as a result of the storm. It was 9:00 AM, the morning after Katrina's winds had shaken the old wooden frame home all during the night. Rechell Carter was preparing breakfast for her daughter. The comfort of knowing they had survived the hurricane without much damage was interrupted by the sound of a woman's voice on a megaphone coming down the street. The voice had yelled,"Mandatory evacuation, expect 15 to 20 feet of water."
Rechell recalls how the woman's voice echoed in the distance as she traveled in a police vehicle with the lights flashing up and down the other streets in her neighborhood. She said, the police car never returned again after the one announcement. Not clearly understanding why there was an announcement for them to evacuate, knowing the storm was already over and the sun was shining, Rechell panicked after hearing that 15 to 20 feet of water was coming.
Rechell explained, that they did not have any extra money to evacuate. Disabled herself, she lives on a very limited income of $700.00 a month. She didn't know what to do. There were still no buses running as a result of Hurricane Katrina, and she is not an owner of a vehicle. Not certain when to expect the 15 to 20 feet of flood waters, or, knowing how long they had to prepare, she immediately called to her daughter Brianna. She and Brianna decided to flee to her parents home, located one block away. Rechell's home did not have an attic, however, her parents home did.
When she arrived at her parents home, she had found her parents and other family members still in bed. She called to her family and told them to get
dressed right away, yelling, "There were supposed to be flood waters coming."
She said, about 40 minutes had gone by since first hearing the lady on the megaphone in the police car, when all of a sudden she heard a very loud explosion. "It sounded like a big boom, like something had been blown up." Rechell explained that she and her family did not know what had caused the explosion.
Hurrying to pack some food and water for her family, not knowing what they were going to do, or where they would go, her mother had come into the kitchen and shouted, "Rechell, what is that water on the kitchen floor!" Before Rechell could grab for a towel, the water was already up to their ankles. She frantically ran for her elderly and obese father, helping to push him up into the attic. Rechell cried as she told me how within 15 minutes after hearing the loud explosion, the water had already reached the ceiling in their house. Rechell shared how she and her family had barely made it into the attic before the house was overcome with dark, oily water.
Rechell continued, "After hearing the explosion, it all happened so fast, it was like someone had opened the entire river and poured it on us. There was no time for any of us to do anything after that woman had come down our street telling us there would be 15 to 20 feet of water." In between Rechell's tearful gasps for breath, she told me how their family cat had just had kittens, and how there was no time at all to save them.
Balancing and holding each other up on the attic beams, they each prayed for three long days that they would not fall asleep and fall backwards through the ceiling into the 20 feet of murky dark waters that had filled their home. They had managed to knock out 5 holes in different sections of the roof, so two heads could poke out of each of the holes and wave their shirts for help. All the time, hoping that the beams in the attic would not collapse. During the three days, they had witnessed one red helicopter come and rescue three neighbors from their roof. After that, every time they would hear a helicopter fly over, Brianna, 14 years old, would look at her Mom and say, "Listen Mommy, they are coming back to save us, please don't cry." However, the helicopters would pass them by. She said, there were many other families who were also stranded on the rooftops. Neighbors would often yell from one roof top to another asking, "how everyone was doing?"
With only a bag of chips, a few pieces of bread and a bottle of water that was sparingly shared amongst ten people, the three days ended when they heard a voice calling to them, "Are you in there?" The voice was Brianna's father who had swam through the murky and foul waters pulling a boat on a rope to their home. "My daughter's Daddy saved our lives," said Rechell. They all slid from the rooftop into the boat.
Their nightmare was long from over. Brianna's father managed to bring them in the boat to the top of a dry levee. There, the family remained surrounded by the dirty flood waters. Hundreds of others who had escaped the flooding in their homes had tiredly made it up the levee as well. Rechell continued, "it was horrible, we all felt like it was the end of the world, we had nothing but each other. We were all dirty, wet, tired, thirsty and hungry. Children were crying and parents were upset not knowing how to help them."
Rechell recalled how the men who she would have normally referred to as the "thugs" in her neighborhood, ended up being the "unsung heroes;" the people who had helped to save the adults and children on the levee from thirst and hunger. She said she witnessed them leave the levee and wade out into the dark, dirty waters and push their fist and arms threw panes of the local store windows, often cutting their arms up badly, in an effort to bring the people and crying children food, water, diapers and juice. Another two nights had gone by according to Rechell, and there were still no signs of helicopters or rescue people coming to help the people stranded on the levee.
Mid morning day three, Rechell recalls how a local man had driven into the water in a huge dump truck. She said the people were so desperate for help and medicine by that time, they jammed as many as they could into the back of the truck. She said, "I thought the truck was going to fall over, there were so many people in there." The man drove them out of the water to dry land. From there, they had walked about three miles before they saw a large barge where hundreds, if not thousands of people, were sitting closely together. There were police officers surrounding the barge. She said they gave them life vests. They sat in the hot sun on the barge for another day, or so. She said after three days in the attic, and two nights on the levee, she began losing track of time. She did recall how they were told not to move around on the barge because it had no side rails and they did not want the people to fall over board. She remembered that from the barge they were transported to Algiers and then escorted to buses where they were driven for 9 hours to the Astrodome in Houston.
Rechell explained, "the people from Houston certainly tried, they gave us water, food and juice, but being at the Astrodome, was just like reliving a different kind of nightmare." She said, when in the Astrodome, they could not help but to feel like animals being herded into an overcrowded pasture. Rechell explained, "It was incredibly loud all of the time, and it was obvious that no consideration was given to the kind of people who were allowed in the Dome, or, who were being placed next to us on cots. There were people from all walks of life."
After 12 long days living in what Rechell describes as another...
"frightening and inhumane experience," she explained how her fears were heightened when she and her daughter Brianna had gone to the showers stalls, to find they had been roped off with tape. A man had told them to go away because the showers were being isolated as a crime scene. She learned that a young girl had just been raped in the showers.
Rechell conveyed how 12 days of living in the Dome was about all she could take before finally breaking down into uncontrollable hysterics. Her uncontrollable tears had brought a volunteer to her side, who then had made arrangements for the family of four to be taken to a smaller shelter in what used to be a boys home.
Rechell told me that she was still not sure where her parents, or other family members were. She said, they had all been separated in Louisiana when they boarded the buses to Houston.
Rechell said FEMA had given them some money, but it wasn't enough for the four of them to relocate into another home in an unknown city, to find transportation, or to eat while waiting on new jobs. She said they have nothing, all is gone, but they are very grateful to God that they have each other. She ended by saying.......... "once we locate a home, my main worry will be to find my Brianna counseling." She said, Brianna is afraid to leave her side, ........."Every little noise is a memory of the loud explosion she heard before the waters came and rapidly filled her Grandma's home."
Needless to say, Rechell's story took my breath away. To think, there are thousands of devastated and homeless families right now in America as a result of a city who did not pay attention to the potential levee problems they were warned about many times over, is beyond belief!
After hearing Rechell's story, I, as a concerned citizen and taxpayer, have many questions ringing through my mind. What was the explosion the family heard right before the flooding had rapidly filled their home? Why did the police woman appear to know exactly how much water would be flooding into Rechell's neighborhood, if there was supposedly only an initial leak (as the news had reported) in the levee? Would a leak actually cause a barrage of 15 to 20 feet of water to pour into the neighborhoods so quickly? Why did the police woman with her megaphone appear to know she could safely drive up and down the streets giving warning to the neighborhoods and then leave, before the water would flood the people out? Why did there appear to be some sections of the city that were flooded, and others, such as the French Quarters, that were spared massive flooding? After all, isn't the entire city in a bowl? I am not certain what actually happened in New Orleans, however, after hearing Rechell's story, it seems to me there are situations that occurred with regard to levees that should be of major concern to all people in America. Many people are now homeless and destitute. Besides those who have lost their lives as a result of an engineering nightmare that should have been dealt with many years ago.
If the Mayor of New Orleans, the Governor of Louisiana and the Congressional Representatives from Louisiana are now demanding that the United States citizens pick up a 250 billion dollar tab, that they alone have determined to be the cost for what happened to the thousands who have lost their jobs, homes, neighborhoods and lives in Louisiana, it seems appropriate that the citizens of America be allowed to investigate what actually happened with regard to the breaks in the levees.
I have taken Rechell's phone number and address, and I have given her mine. Somehow, someway, with the help of God, I will find a way to help Rechell's family. They have nothing but each other, and, whatever donations they receive from the generosity of people. They have no identification with them, because there was no time to retrieve anything. Therefore, until they can obtain picture ID, they are unable to cash checks, or money orders.
They were able to use some of the funds provided to them from FEMA to buy some new undergarments. They also purchased a cell phone so they could try and find other family members, and to hopefully, help them to make the necessary contacts in order to rebuild a new life somewhere.
If you are wishing to help Rechell and her family, please contact:
Cheryl Ford RN by email at: Fight4Terri@aol.com or, you can forward donations directly to: Rechell Carter, PO Box 6833019.. Houston, Texas 77268
Any thing you can give to help Rechell and her 14 year old daughter Brianna rebuild their lives, I know, would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
About the Author: Cheryl Ford, RN (www.Fight4Terri.com) is not affiliated with any other group and works to protect the rights of the disabled community.