Katrina's Refugees: Facing Life Far From Home
Gulf Coasters Deal With Health, Emotions at an Atlanta Recreation Center
Sept. 2, 2005 -- Hurricane Katrina raced ashore hundreds of miles from Atlanta, but Georgia's capital city is now home -- at least temporarily -- for countless of Katrina's refugees.
WebMD spoke with three of them at Atlanta's Adamsville Recreation Center. The center is a hive of activity, with hundreds of Gulf Coast residents (mostly from New Orleans) tending to their abruptly interrupted lives.
A Red Cross staffer showed WebMD a list of more than 100 people who had already registered to spend the night at the center. The previous night, perhaps eight times as many people were there, many leaving before dawn (and thus not part of the overnight count).
Though some of their concerns mirror those of people nationwide -- health, family, jobs, finances -- they're on very shaky footing. Most told WebMD they have lost everything. Many don't know where family and friends are. Some fled with little or none of must-have medications for their health problems.
Their tears flow and emotions are raw. They also voiced deep faith, dreams of future homecomings, and hopes that loved ones survived.
Theresa Mamon, 34, New Orleans
Mamon, a mother of six children, arrived at the center on Sept. 1. She hadn't been able to get her family out of New Orleans before Katrina struck. Before Katrina, she had just found work at Wal-Mart.
Hurricane Katrina was "horrible, real horrible," Mamon tells WebMD in the center's makeshift health clinic. The stress and anxiety of the situation had been getting to her, setting off panic attacks. Plus, Mamon says she had had been having chest pains before the storm.
When the winds died, the floods swept in. Mamon made the lifesaving choice to brave the waters and walk east to drier ground with four of her children, including sons who can't swim. Somehow, she got them lifejackets and marched them through the water to safe ground.
Mamon says faith and God got her through it. "I knew I was going to be all right. I knew! Even when I was walking through the water, I knew me and my family was going to be all right because of the power of prayer. It helps."
Mamon points to her chest to show how high the water was. "That was over my sons' head," she says.
"Our house was under water. We couldn't get out. We didn't have any food, any water. That's understandable due to the storm, but there were Army trucks that was passing us by. We walked from New Orleans east to across the river in order get transportation to leave out of the city of New Orleans," she says.
"My sons have blisters on their feet. They have rashes between their legs from their clothes being wet. It's just ... I mean, it was horrible, horrible. I haven't been able to locate my family," she says, speaking of her sister, who has five children who also didn't know how to swim. "I don't know if she's alive."