September 7, 2005


Ready For Crowd

By Charlie Brennan And Fernando Quintero, Rocky Mountain News
September 7, 2005

For the second day in a row Tuesday, Colorado volunteers and relief-agency officials waited at the former Lowry Air Force Base to welcome hundreds of hurricane evacuees who did not appear.

About 30 arrived by bus mid-afternoon, bringing to 190 the number of evacuees housed in a vacant dormitory at Lowry, said Dan Hopkins, spokesman for Gov. Bill Owens.

An additional 125 were expected to land at Buckley Air Force Base at 12:45 a.m. today on a Frontier Airlines flight from New Orleans, Hopkins said.

But Colorado officials - who think 1,000 evacuees eventually will arrive - have learned to expect them when they see them.

Whenever they come, Colorado will be prepared, said Hopkins. "The people here are excited, and ready to help them."

'People are great'

Betty Daggs summed it up this way: "I think we've fallen in love with Denver."

She and her husband, Lionell Daggs, said Tuesday they're making the Mile High City home - for good.

The Daggses and 16 others arrived on a Frontier flight from Houston on Saturday. On Tuesday, they were matched with coordinators from Volunteers of America who lined them up with food, medicine, housing and employment.

Local hotels provided the evacuees with a free room for up to two months. Big box retailers donated gift cards. Local organizations and churches provided food, clothing and other items.

The Daggses, both diabetics, asked for medication, clothes, toiletries, a cell phone - and a change-of- address kit.

A Denver apartment owner offered them free rent for year.

"People are great," said Betty Daggs. "People keep saying to us, 'We'd love to have you join our community.' "

The couple left New Orleans with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. "We knew that as long as we had each other, we would be fine," said Betty Daggs, who worked in the human resources department of a public utilities company in New Orleans. Her husband is a retired postal worker. They both volunteered at a local veterans' hospital in New Orleans, working with patients with mental health problems, and asked about donating their time at a VA hospital in Denver.

Tuesday, evacuees exchanged stories of survival over lunch at the VOA offices on Larimer Street. The Daggses said they survived by swimming up to their attic. At one point, they said they had about one foot of air space left to breathe.

Eventually, they were plucked off the roof of a neighbor's two-story home.

Haunting sight in street

Chester Shelton and his girlfriend, Tammy Jones, both 45, are prepared to embrace Colorado as their new home.

"I know Colorado has a warm heart," said Jones.

"I don't ever want to go back there" to New Orleans, she added. "I don't want to relive that nightmare."

That nightmare included the sight of a dead woman floating by in the street, still clutching the hands of two children, also dead.

"We couldn't stand the stench anymore," said Shelton.

Shelton doesn't know if he'll ever return to what's left of the house built by his great-grandfather in 1903, the house where Shelton has lived his entire life.

"If I do, it would be just to knock the rest of it down and start over," he said.

Shelton and Jones didn't choose Colorado as a refuge, be it temporary or permanent. It seems as if it chose them.

They didn't know that's where they were headed until the pilot of the Frontier Airlines flight that brought them here Sunday announced their destination.

A mile above sea level sounded pretty good to them, after their harrowing experience of waiting four days on the second floor of Shelton's cousin's home before being rescued by the Coast Guard.

For Jones, it was a return trip. Colorado was her home from 1981 to 1984, when she was based at Fort Carson as a member of the Army.

"I was pleased" to be back, she said. "I wouldn't have any problem staying here."

But Jones' two daughters, aged 19 and 17, live with her mother in New Orleans' 9th Ward. Or, used to.

Now, "They're somewhere in the United States" with her mother, Jones said, confident that her mother and children would have evacuated ahead of the storm.

But she has heard nothing from them. And she has no idea how to get word to them.

"I know in my heart and my mind that they're OK," she said. "I'm not going to let the devil tell me that I lost them."

Tent houses revival service

State Rep. Debbie Stafford, R-Arapahoe County, helped organize an afternoon church service for evacuees on the former Lowry Air Force Base Tuesday.

A pastor by profession, Stafford decided to put her skills to work.

"I wanted to help," she said. "I don't have a lot to give, but I can give my heart."

She spoke at the lively revival service under a green tent, where ministers outnumbered evacuees.

"People are coming together to serve those without," aid Rev. Ralph Hanna, of House of Hope Christian Fellowship. "The people who are here from Louisiana - they get hope today."

Other churches at the service were Living Hope Baptist Church, Greater Apostolic Community Church, For His Glory, and Temple of Praise.

At one point, Stafford started to tap her feet as the Temple of Praise band began to play.

"You're going to get a white girl to dance here," she joked.

Soon, everyone in the tent was dancing and clapping, with Temple of Praise Minister Franklin Alexander leading the way with fancy footwork.

At the end of the service, the ministers invited evacuees to attend services at their respective churches Sunday, and will send vans to Lowry to pick the evacuees up.

Alice Zanders, 45, of New Orleans was grateful for the service.

"I go to every service I can attend," she said. "He (God) didn't bring me this far to abandon me."

She and a friend, Louis Verrett, were rescued by boat from an apartment rooftop Sunday and flown to Denver the same day.

"I love it here," she said. "I have nothing to complain about."

However, Zanders wants to find her sister, Delores Magee, 46, her niece, Tashica Brown, 26, and four grandnieces, whom she last saw before the hurricane. They live near Verrett in the lower 9th Ward, which was flooded.

"Once I find my family, then I can figure out what to do next," she said.

Helping find homes

Like most who viewed the destruction and human suffering caused by Katrina, Todd Clevenger felt a need to help.

So Friday, Clevenger grabbed a friend, hopped into his Lincoln Navigator and drove to Alexandria, La.

Clevenger and his friend set up headquarters at a Holiday Inn, temporary home for 100 to 150 evacuees, and started taking names.

His idea was to match up some of the thousands of people needing homes with the Good Samaritans spread across the country offering to put them up.

In just a few days Clevenger and his friend had helped place nearly 100 families at homes from Atlanta to Austin, Texas.

By Monday, having already delayed his trip back to his Denver home by a day, Clevenger knew he had to get back to his home, his family, his job and a brief bit of sanity.

"At times is has been very hard, but it's OK, it's OK," Clevenger said Tuesday while driving back to Denver. "It's not as bad for me as the people we helped; they went through 100 times worse."

Before leaving Louisiana, Clevenger asked to see if anyone wanted to come back to Colorado with him.

Monday morning he left with a caravan of vehicles loaded with about 30 people, all headed to new homes in different parts of Colorado.

Two families of six people were placed in new, side-by-side homes in La Junta. In Pueblo, three to five families were placed in new homes. In Denver, four families were placed in homes with other families.

While Clevenger, the president of GBSynergy, plans to continue to help by trying to connect donor families with evacuees, he doubts he will return to Louisiana.

"It really is overwhelming, it's very emotional," he said. "These people have had their houses destroyed, they are missing people and they have no money. There are not enough supplies to help everyone. It certainly feels good whenever you help people, but there are so many families and faces that you can't help.

"It could be more, it could always be more."



Publish Date Thursday, September 7, 2005
1996-2005 The pueblo Chieftain Online



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