By Brian Morris
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Hurricane Katrina evacuees from New Orleans have now been at Camp Edwards for
over two weeks. Some have left, but others are hoping to make a fresh start here on
Cape Cod. As they adjust to their new home and begin looking for housing and
employment, help is coming from many directions.
Constance Essex was a sheriff's deputy from New Orleans at work outside the city
the day before Katrina struck, and wasn't allowed to return home. William and her
mother, who were there, both eventually had to evacuate, and Constance was reunited
with them last Friday at Camp Edwards. She wants to make a new life here and find a job
in a correctional facility.
: "The people here are wonderful. And we were in Homer,
Louisiana, and I don't know which one's better - the people here or the
people in Homer, Louisiana. Everybody's been givin' us love, and it's
Since arriving at Camp Edwards, she's received help from the many volunteer relief
agencies who meet the daily needs of the displaced hurricane survivors. It's an
unprecedented effort, and coordination can be difficult. Each day, they provide meals,
clothing, medical assistance, rides for people looking for jobs and housing, and support
for those separated from family members. Thousands of citizen volunteers have come
forward to offer their help, and evacuee Gloria Perry says all the guests appreciate the
: "Anybody can offer you help and give you a check, give you
clothes. But here, the people opened up their hearts. And that's what made the
difference. Their heart was in it, and that made all the difference in the world to me."
The American Red Cross estimates that the total amount of money needed to meet the
needs of Katrina survivors - about 2 billion dollars - is twenty times greater that
the relief provided for all hurricanes in 2004. Red Cross volunteer Cheryl Young has
lived on the Cape for nineteen years. She's originally from New Orleans, and
understands why some evacuees feel compelled to return there, even if it means going
home to nothing.
: "Businesses are lost. Homes are lost. Family members are
lost or missing. They still wanna go back. That's all they know, a lotta them."
On a recent rainy day, the dining hall at Camp Edwards hums with activity. Evacuees
filter in from nearby barracks. Some sit at long tables at one end of the hall, eating lunch
alongside the National Guardsmen whom they've now gotten to know. Others check
out the job fair at the other end of the hall, filling out applications after speaking with
prospective employers. Dawn Macilheny is with the Massachusetts Division of Career
: "We've worked with six individuals - two who
have jobs, three who start on Monday, and one who should be starting in approximately
An information bulletin board by the main entrance displays notices for child care, shuttle
buses, a linen exchange, and religious services. Nearby, a Salvation Army table is
spread out with brochures, books, Bibles, and maps of the base. Boxes of toys and other
donated items sit on the floor. And today there's a raffle.
Recently, some have expressed frustration over what they say is a lack of communication
and coordination among relief agencies at the base. But Salvation Army Major Donna
Hansen says that considering the scope of the task, things are running smoothly.
: "So all the services are represented out here. I know a lot of
people feel that it's kinda disorganized, but it really isn't."
Salvation Army Volunteer Penny Dupuis says it feels especially satisfying to clothe
someone who arrived here with no more than what they were wearing at the time.
: "But like this lady that we met Doris today, we gave her
everything from socks to underwear to bras to a hat. And we made this woman's world,
her day. She had nothing. And she's here tonight all dressed up for a party, and she has
a lovely attitude. And to make somebody's day like that, it's a wonderful feeling.
The party is a barbecue for the evacuees hosted by Governor and Mrs. Romney under a
large white tent outside the barracks.
The tent is decked out with multi-colored balloons, mardi gras beads, and welcome
drawings by local schoolchildren. A local band plays, fronted by Cajun Bob, formerly of
New Orleans and now a Cape resident.
Just outside the tent, New Orleans photographer Don Vavasseur talks about making a
new start on Cape Cod. He's found a job, and is optimistic about his future here.
: "It's fine, you know, I'm rarin' to get out into
the world. I looked at an apartment Monday, and I think I'll take it. Can't wait to
say 'I've been here a year now,
you know, I live here.'"
For Don and the rest of the Katrina evacuees, the evening barbecue offers a temporary
break from filling out job applications and searching for housing. In the coming days and
weeks, those who choose to stay will begin the slow process of building new lives and
settling into the local community. And the Cape's volunteer relief agencies will
continue the work of helping to help ease the difficult transition.
To help, see our listing of ways to assist the Katrina
Broadcast September 22, 2005
Brian Morris reports for the Cape and Islands NPR Stations.