September 14, 2005

Evacuees settle in across the state
A family here, a group there - and a lot of readjustments to be made
Katrina evacuee Diante Small, 8, left, plays with new friend Ellie Jay, 9, at the Smalls new home in Pueblo on Monday. Throughout Colorado, evacuees are settling in and figuring out what to do next. (Post / Chuck Bigger)

By Nancy Lofholm
Denver Post Staff Writer

Grand Junction - Through the fragrant smoke curling from a backyard barbecue grill, Bernie Anderson watches his grandsons romping in the grass, his daughter Robin jiggling her newborn, and his wife, Barbara, cuddling their nervous terrier.

This is a family celebration, he says with a sad half-smile. It's Barbara's birthday. So even though they are 1,300 miles away from their home just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans - a home that may no longer exist - the Andersons are trying to carry on. It's as close as they can get to normalcy right now.

"I can smile because I've got my family here," Bernie says as he points his barbecue tongs around the yard at the six people who fled the hurricane and an urban Southern lifestyle for Colorado's Western Slope.

The Andersons are among the untold number of people who have made an often difficult and disorienting odyssey from the watery devastation of the Gulf Coast to the relative peace of Colorado's rural mountains, farming valleys and smaller cities.

These new arrivals came from the colorful streets of New Orleans and the swamplands of more rural gulf towns and are now waking up in varying degrees of shell-shock to strange, vertical angles and twisting roads, alfalfa fields and dry, dry air.

No official estimates are available on the number of evacuees who have arrived outside of the Denver metro area. But they have come - by the carload, the busload, the vanful - with little idea of what's in store and no idea of what has become of their old homes.

Nearly 150 families have landed in the southeastern plains around Trinidad and Walsenberg as the guests of church groups. Seven families now call Montrose home. Five families are settling into Pueblo. Thirteen members of one family are crowded in with relatives in Olathe and the desert burg of Bondad, south of Durango.

They are having to get used to hearing "you guys" instead of "y'all." They are pining for mufaletta sandwiches, favorite easy chairs, familiar worn church pews, street musicians and Gameboys.

They are job hunting and registering at schools. They are learning to identify new trees and flowers. They are struggling to master the Native American-based names of their new towns and streets. They are marveling over blue skies. And they are giving thanks for clean water.

"This is a perfect place for healing and getting through this whole mess," said Eric Julien, a professional photographer who fled an apartment in a crumbling downtown New Orleans mansion for a townhome belonging to his wife's family in the San Juan Mountains town of Ouray. Like 

many visitors, Julien still pronounces his new home "Oo-ray."

He longs for the eclectic characters who populated his street one block off the Mardi Gras parade route. He says the mountains crowding to the edges of town make him feel like he is in a cave.

Diante Small, 8, and brother Selby, 7, unload cushions from donated furniture into their new home in Pueblo on Monday afternoon. The children, two other siblings and their mother fled New Orleans to a relative s overcrowded home, then signed up for relocation to Colorado. (Post / Chuck Bigger)

Across the mountains in Pueblo, Rolita Small and her four children are living in a new house on a tree-lined street.

The Smalls fled New Orleans and initially packed into a relative's two-bedroom house in Alexandria, La., with 23 other family evacuees before Rolita saw a sign-up sheet in a Salvation Army office for relocation to Colorado.

After 20 hours on a bus, they were moving into a dream world and a new home where their rent will be paid for six months and where friendly new neighbors and church members showered them with clothing and groceries.

Small said she talked to her children about 

 

Volunteer Ron Greenwell sorts through a sea of donated clothes at the Katrina Store at the state fairgrounds in Pueblo on Monday. No more clothes are needed, but furniture, bedding and appliances are still being sought for relocated evacuees. (Post / Chuck Bigger) the cross-country trip to Colorado, worried that they would face big challenges adjusting to their new environment. She is planning to enroll her children in school, look for a job and go to college. If the Smalls join the church that helped them settle in Pueblo, they will be the first black family in the congregation.

 In southwestern Colorado, eight members of the Ladner family from Gulfport, Miss., are living with relatives who drove into the storm's wake to rescue them.

"They are going to try and make a go of it here," said Millie Rowse, who brought her parents and brothers and their extended families to the small town of Bondad.

 She said they are struggling with the weather (nighttime temperatures have been dipping to near 50 degrees): "They're saying 'Oh, my God, it's cold here."'

 They are also troubled by needing to take donations from their new neighbors.

"They have pride. They are people who are not used to taking handouts," Rowse said.

 Freelance writer Beth Potter contributed to this report.

 

Staff writer Nancy Lofholm can be reached at 970-256-1957 or nlofholm@denverpost.com.

 

Publish Date Wednesday, September 14, 2005
1996-2005 The Denver Post

 

 

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