Whatever Happened to the Katrina Evacuees? - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

04/29/08--Lufkin

Whatever Happened to the Katrina Evacuees?

by Taylor Hemness

At one time, there were nearly 5,000 FEMA trailers in Texas, each housing a family displaced from the hurricanes of 2005. But that's not the case anymore.

"At one point in Texas, we had over 4600 travel trailers in use. And right now we're down to 72 households in 77 travel trailers," said FEMA public information officer Earl Armstrong.

And those numbers could continue to drop. Time is running out for those who want to get out of those trailers and start new lives elsewhere. The government is offering $4,000 in relocation expenses to those families, but the deadline to apply is April 30th.

"Call FEMA at 800-621-3362, and say hey, I'm living in a trailer, and I'd like to relocate, and they will walk you through the process. They'll ask you where you are and where you want to relocate to, and then we'll try and find housing for you," Armstrong said.

But there are those who don't have any intention of leaving East Texas. Walter Souby lived in New Orleans all of his life. In fact, he says that if he'd known Katrina was going to hit as a Category 3, and not as a Category 5 as was projected, he'd still be there. But his friends talked him into leaving.

"We knew where we were going. We were going to Nacogdoches, Texas, because he had a friend who had called him that morning, and asked him if he wanted to book some rooms in the Fredonia Hotel, " Souby said.

Now, he and his dog live in Burke, a far cry from New Orleans, but he calls it home. He's also found a home with the Red Cross, an organization that gave him so much help when he needed it, that he figured he needed to give some back.

"It's rewarding when you can help people," Souby said. "So many people need so much help. It's limited what you can do sometimes, but it's very rewarding to help people."

He's not the only one that's making a contribution to his new home. Michelle Jones, like Walter, was a lifetime resident of New Orleans. But unlike Walter, the decision to come to Texas wasn't hers.

"Well everyone got on the bus, relieved to have somewhere safe to sleep because sleeping on the interstate with no lights is very dangerous," Jones said.

Michelle says she was welcomed with open arms, hugs, and tears in Texas. She realized she was going to be here for a while, and that she needed to get a job. That's where KTRE came in.

"I have been employed, thanks to KTRE, who interviewed me, prior to all of this going on, and I told the viewers I needed a job. I ended up with two jobs."

Ironically, Michelle's job is also all about helping people. At the Oak Creek Center on Highway 59, she helps mentally and physically challenged adults. Some of them even call her "mom." It's a new family of sorts, because it's been so long since she's seen her actual family.

"I've become attached. They tell me that's wrong, but I've become attached to my clients. I enjoy seeing them improve and grow."

Michelle and Walter both lost practically everything they'd ever known because of a Hurricane. But their loss has become East Texas' gain, as both have found ways to make their new home better than it was when they arrived.

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