Monday, September 12, 2005

Finding Family in a Place Called Homa

Thursday, September 08, 2005 — Little Rock, Ark. – As Hurricane Katrina raged through the Gulf Coast last week, New Orleans resident Elaine Pittman, 36, chose to remain in the city with her landlord of many years – a 76-year-old man who could not get around on his own. Pittman was afraid to leave him when her own family evacuated.
Pittman’s last contact with family was shortly before the storm caused her roof to collapse. Water was rising, and she was sure that they would become victims of the flooding. A stranger with a boat managed to get them to a school, where the three of them waited several days on the roof without water or food, before making their way to the Civic Center. There, she was separated from her charge due his medical needs.
Pittman waited in the Civic Center hoping for news of her family, fearing they perished in the storm. Eventually a call came to load the buses and depart for Houston, and so she continued her journey without her friend or family.
With only the clothes on her back, she traveled toward Houston. But, the convoy of buses was diverted to Ft. Chaffee, Ark. With more than 100 buses waiting to unload, her bus was again redirected – this time to Little Rock. Upon arriving there, the passengers were finally able to disembark at the hangers of the Central Flying Service at Little Rock National Airport.
The lack of food, water and rest took a toll on Pittman. She was taken by ambulance to the University of Arkansas Medical Center, where she was treated and released before heading to the Red Cross shelter at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds. Arriving with two busloads of evacuees, Elaine entered the shelter quite distraught – afraid of what life had in store for her.
Elaine Pittman and a Red Cross shelter volunteer view the Red Cross national Web site which they used to access the “Family Links Registry” to locate Pittman’s family after she was evacuated to Little Rock, Ark., while her family was diverted to Homa, La., to escape the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Sept. 6, 2005. (Photo Source: Alan Gibson/American Red Cross)
Using an internet connection provided by SBC Communications at the shelter, Pittman visited to the national Red Cross Web site to access the Red Cross "Family Links Registry." She was searching for her father, brother, sister and grandmother as well as her three children. Red Cross shelter volunteers assisted her in registering and checking the online list, which did, in fact, contain a family name registered in Homa (a.k.a. Houma), La. Pittman has an uncle there. Further checking confirmed that the "Family Links" entry was her father.
Shelter staff facilitated a call between Pittman and her father, and she was able to reunite with her entire family by phone. Pittman is meeting up with her family in Baton Rouge and will go back to Homa with them.
"I have never felt love -- other than from my family -- as strong as what I have felt from Red Cross volunteers," she said during a recent media interview.
With tears flowing, Elaine began her goodbyes at the shelter and indicated that she plans to settle in Arkansas after she re-establishes her life.


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