Carol Y., Homemaker, Mid-City New Orleans
Carol Y. was interviewed in Austin, Texas on December, 2005 by Kristen Carlisle.
My name is Carol Y., and I come from a family of ten children. Five girls, five boys. I was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, born on Dec 20, 1957. I come from all over New Orleans. When I was staying with my grandmother, Ms. Amelia, it was 2256 1/2 Trevor Street.
When Hurricane Katrina hit I was living at 1806 Danville, two blocks from Canal Street, one block and a half from North Claiborne. I was living with my husband. I rented, for $535 a month. It sure was high but I managed to pay it. I had a three-bedroom house. I turned one room into a dining room. I turned another room into a den. I had a bedroom. I had a large kitchen. I had a large living room. I lived comfortably!
It was my husband and I lived there together. I wasn't fortunate to have children. I lost my baby. My baby was in my tubes and then I had to have a hysterectomy, a partial hysterectomy.
I didn't have renter's insurance. I had insurance on me and my husband. I was just about to get some insurance that covers theft and all, but Katrina came in and ran everybody away from there.
I wasn't working. My husband had just started on another job and he was there like about a couple of weeks before the storm blew in, so he never did get paid for that week because he had to leave New Orleans, so we still haven't gotten that check yet.
He was working for Park Plaza in New Orleans at the Canal Street Hotel. He was the groundsman. He never did get paid for that because we had to evacuate New Orleans and then I didn't know where he was because he got lost so I just prayed that I find him. So I went on the Internet and they showed me how to do it because I don't know nothing about computers and they put my name and they put his name and our father and mother's name so that they know just in case his niece is looking for him get on the Internet she can know that I'm looking for my husband, I'm looking for the uncle. And that's how he come up to find me. He was in Atlanta by his nephew.
I was at the [New Orleans] Convention Center. Now this Convention Center wasn't nothing nice, I kid you not. Every night and every day the military people was throwing down on us like we was a bunch of wild animals. They was on a hunt to kill. They killed one guy right there in front of us, run over him with a police car and then they shot the man and left him there. They didn't cover him up or nothing and the next day, it was so hot out there, when they did come to pick him up, his body was stuck to the ground.
We was in the Convention Center, running off the generator. They turned that off on us. We didn't have no food or water for five days. Babies crying. Newborn babies. They hollering and screaming because they want to take a bath, but there's no water. The water's contaminated. We had no drinking water. We had no food.
[New Orleans Mayor] Ray Nagin sat on his ass, excuse my expression. Then he called Bush, the President. I don't have nothing good to say about him because he didn't give a damn about New Orleans, no way. We was black, some white. He got all them people that was staying in the big houses and condominiums.
What I say is "Well, yeah, get the children and the old folks out first, us young folks, we can wait," but they left us there, in the dark. After the lights went out they put us out the Convention Center in New Orleans, so we had to take the chairs out and sit out in front of the Convention Center. So when we did that, the people started drawing guns on us just about every night. Babies hollering and screaming, children hungry. So the people went to breaking in stores to help these children.
I can sit up here and tell you what happened in New Orleans at the Convention Center, what me and my sister went through at the Convention Center, but if you weren't there, you really don't understand it. You have no idea of being treated like an animal. Like you're not even human. Like you have no feelings. No thoughts.
I repeat myself, we was left there to die at that Convention Center. If we would have stood there any longer, that thing would have broke behind us and we all would have died, right there at the Convention Center. So like I said, Bush, I don't feel nothing for him because he sit his hands just like Ray Nagin did and left us there. Then when the media caught a hold of what was going on with us, that's when he sent the troops out there and was bringing us the food that the army people eat. I don't eat that. And I didn't eat that. So me and my sister went hungry. She has two sons, one was in the Marines and one is still out there serving. He's out there in New Orleans now. I don't eat no army food. So we didn't eat anything for five days. We had a little water, but it ain't like getting the nourishment from food. I didn't sleep. I watched her sleep. I watched over her while she slept at night. I stayed up on guard to watch our life. I didn't sleep. I had to be on guard duty.
Every day the sun rise, they had someone dropping dead out there by the Convention Center. They had bodies up in there, but they had them dragged through the back of the Convention Center and them bodies was stinking so bad. They didn't have no way we could flush the toilets, so the stuff just sit there, and that made it more worser because you was smelling body fluids and stuff. So you couldn't go in because of the dead, decomposing bodies was in there, and you couldn't go in, so people started urinating and passing their stool anywhere they can, so that made it even worser.
After awhile, some of the young people that was on their stuff [drugs], and drunk, and they went to terrorizing people. We was already in terror as it is.
It was hard, hard, hard out there in New Orleans because even the police got their families out ahead of time. The mayor got his family out ahead of time. Bush wasn't there so he don't know what the hell went on in New Orleans. The only thing he did was give the orders to shoot to kill. We not no animals. So I can understand you want to keep control of the people, but why have those people draw guns on children? Women with babies in their stomachs. Every time you look around we breaking and running, trying to get into the Convention Center and they're drawing guns on people like that. I mean, it don't make no kinda sense. It didn't, it really didn't.
They wouldn't let you leave. You had to stay there. Once they brought you there, it was like you was in a prison camp at the Convention Center. You couldn't leave there. No ma'm. They had the authority to "Shoot to kill" from Bush, from the President.
Before we got there, my sister had came and got me and my husband. I told them we couldn't stay there because the house was an old house. And I said "We can't stay here." He wanted to stay and I said "No, you're not" and he said "I'm staying" and I said "No, you're not, because this house is old and it has withstood all the stormy weather that it can. And it's not going to hold up because looking at this storm, it's going to do some damage here." And like I told him, I said "It's going to be more than one that is going to hit New Orleans."
God has a hand in everything. See, he was trying to wake New Orleans' people up. He got tired of the devastation. He got tired of the killing. He got tired of the killing of babies. The babies dying left and right. The elderly getting raped and killed in their houses, left and right. The drugs is overwhelming the streets so you're too scared to tell who killed who because they're scared people are going to come retaliate on them and their families.
My sister brought me to her job. She was working at Touro [hospital] uptown. My husband didn't want to go with her so we brought him-- we was living down the street-- she was living in Iberville [housing] project on Bienville, right down the street, so we dropped my husband off at her house and he stayed there. Something happened, I don't know, because I weren't there. Anyway, he left. And she brought me to her job.
They were evacuating the sick and elderly people out of the hospital up there. The next day came and that's when we left. Her car made it to Loyola, right there by the Greyhound Bus station, that's where she parked her car. I had my wedding pictures in her car and the book of my wedding pictures and some other personal stuff I had. We had to walk back to her house so she could get her some clothes. We had to walk through all that contaminated water.
You see how short I am? The water would have went over my head, but I was trying to be aware of where the lower water was so I could get through there. I held on to her friend that worked with her at Touro. There was dead dogs, dead rodents, you had to push all that kind of mess out of the way, hoping that it didn't touch you. They had so many dead bodies coming from the Ninth Ward up our way and they had people that was drowned up my way, [I was] pushing them out the way.... [Falls into silence]
Like I say, you just don't know because you wasn't there. [Silence]
Nobody knows what we went through but God himself and us. That's going to be embedded in my heart and in my mind until the day I die. I'm quite sure we'll be with all of my other New Orleans families.
We going through something as I speak. Some of them haven't faced and came to reality yet. People still crying and begging to go home. There's nothing there. You have no running water. You have no lights. The place stinks. It's contaminated. I've been there twice.
There's no hotels. Now FEMA is trying to get the people out of the hotels. Where they going to go? I mean, it's sad, it's really sad but on the other hand, I look at it like this: now, I'm not saying that this is everybody FEMA paid money to... but it's been on the news where they put people in jail because they doing wrong by the money that FEMA gave them, buying high priced purses and shoes and this kind of stuff.
In New Orleans, you be lucky if you had money to go to Payless Shoes and get you some shoes and find something cheap to dress up in, and it look more better than a $200 or $300 dress. And the shoes look more better than a $300 or $400 pair of shoes. That's where I went and did my shopping at. Payless and this other little store they had out there, because they took all our dollar stores and ten cent stores off of Canal Street to build all those damn hotels. I don't know why. They got too many hotels up on one end of Canal Street, cause sooner or later that son-of-a-bitch is going to sink in the Mississippi River because there are too many hotels! It don't make no sense. They have property in New Orleans. Those people knew something was wrong with their levee and they didn't do nothing about it. They sit on their hands and they didn't do nothing about it. Nothing. They just sit and sit and sit.
They said to the people of New Orleans, let [the levee] break on them. That's just like when Schiro [Victor Hugo Schiro, the mayor of New Orleans during Hurricane Betsey in 1965] was living, he opened all the floodgates on us when we was living on Treasure Street, across the overpass. And let our people die, drowning out there. So I mean, it's just history just repeating itself. It just goes on and on and on until somebody stop it. These people ain't thinking about nothing but themselves and the almighty dollar. Damn the people, damn the nation. They got it all!
In the Convention Center, the buses came in. Every night. Every day they was telling us "The buses is coming, the buses is coming." The buses passed right there in front of us and kept going! The people was there to see the buses so everybody run, rushing the buses to get on the damn buses and get out of there. So they kept going. We used to look up at the bridge and see all the buses going that way to the Superdome, or to the hospital, or to the people in those condos, getting them all out of there and going back. Buses going back again, buses leaving out New Orleans again. That's how it was. The last day, that's when the buses finally came up and got us out of there.
They brought some to Houston, some to Dallas. We was fortunate enough to come to Austin. And I cannot appreciate and thank Austin, Texas enough because they have been tremendous. They have been good to us. They have given us respect. They didn't look down on us like we was some kind of animal. They welcomed us in their city. The people have really been tremendous. They have been beautiful. I have to say that about Texas. They have been beautiful and I thank God for that. So God did put my sister and myself in this apartment complex, in a good place.
When we first got to Austin, he only thing we was trying to do, ma'am, was take those funky clothes off. 'Cause we smelled like-I'm serious-because everybody was smelling the same way-- smelling like sewer, like shit, piss. And we had to have that on us because we ain't had no water, we ain't had no sewer. We were smelling just like the sewer and the only thing we wanted to do when we got to the Convention Center here in Austin was to get a shower, and that's exactly what we did. They gave us clothing, underclothes, shoes, and women's personal hygiene. We washed, we showered.
There wasn't no limit on it because you had to scrub yourself just to get the scent out of your skin because when you've been in one place, and you've been walking in all that contaminated water and all the sewer is on you and it went in your skin, so yeah, you got clothes on for five days, you got to scrub yourself. When I took my shoes off, the bottom of my feet looked like you could just take my skin and just peel it from underneath it-- it was just peeling. My sister had a bad rash on her body from that contaminated water. It wasn't nothing nice.
I was with my sister the whole time?
All the way. I also had two brothers out there [in the New Orleans Convention Center]. I got one brother here and I got one that was out there in New Orleans in Houston. My husband was in Atlanta. He finally met up with his siblings.
The bus brought him there. He was at the Superdome.
We were at the Austin Convention Center a month before we got an apartment.
We found out about this apartment complex at the [Austin] Convention Center. They was helping out with housing for people that wanted to get housing. I wanted to come the hell up out of that damn Convention Center. I got tired of Convention Centers! I wanted to get up out of there so me and my sister applied for these apartments. I told the manager that was there at the Convention Center to give me one right away because I want to get out of here! They went to fighting and drinking and all the kind of mess. They had the alcohol and even if they didn't have it on the premises, they went and drank. I didn't want to be around all that.
We received a FEMA voucher for $2,000. From my understanding, the City of Austin is paying for our utilities and the rent. FEMA is supposed to come back and pay for six months. I think the City paid for six months and FEMA is supposed to pick up for six months. Then they said that some people got it for the next 18 months, rent free. Now, I don't know if this is true or not but we still need some help because we can't afford to pay this high rent.
Now, some people went out there and jumped in these big-ass houses and carrying on and no wonder people stop all these funds and stop all this free stuff! They're not going to be able to pay their rent. So I don't know why they would go jump in these big ol' houses and thinking that the people is going to pay it for the rest of their life. They're not. They're not obligated to pay for the rest of your life, while you're here. This is just a step up so you can help yourself. That is why they was telling people, "When you get your money, go find your housing. Find something that is in your living range that you can afford to pay," because once they cut it off, that's it! That's it.
My rent here will be $599 a month. And that's not even including utilities. You pay your own utilities. You damn skippy it do make me nervous, because after I pay $599, I got my utilities to worry about. I can't work nowhere because I'm disabled.
I liked my house in New Orleans. I fixed it up nice. Every piece of furniture I had, it came from the rental. The man I was renting from was Aaron's on South Broad Street in New Orleans. My agent was Greg. A tall, slender, bald fellow with a Jerry Curl, I'll never forget him. He said "Oh, Ms. Carol I know you're gonna want something else," and I said "Hell, no. I'm trying to pay what I got off first. Well, you can still get a few months and I'll pay for it then, huh Greg?" And we laugh it off. But I paid out for everything I got. I rented furniture and I paid for it. I ain't owe nobody nothing after the storm, before the storm, during the storm, I ain't owe nobody Jack nothing because I paid for my furniture. Paid it out and that's why they liked me so much, because I kept adding different things on. I didn't buy a piece at a time, I bought the whole living room suite. The table and the lamps go to that brown living room set you see in the pictures [pictures of Carol's damaged house]. I had this TV, that's my microwave I brought back from New Orleans.
I had a nice yard to myself and I could sit back there in my backyard and have me a party, or I could sit back there and just reminisce and think about things and thank God for all my blessings I got.
My [bed] frame was still good so I cleaned it up, polished it up, and my old box spring and I brought it back here because the ceiling had done fell on my mattress. I had to leave that there. A lot of stuff I had to leave there that I didn't want to leave.
I feel at home here in Austin. I fit. Like I said, God put my feet on solid, new ground now. So he's giving me another chance at life. Now it's up to me how I use that and how I go about doing that. I want to try to find me a house rent-to-own.
I will have my own backyard and I wont have to worry about nobody next door or underneath me, talking about turning the music down or "you're too loud" and blah, blah, blah, blah and calling the police. I don't have to go through that.
I don't know if they do it [rent-to-own] out here, but even if they don't, I still would rather live in my own house. In a house of my own with my fence around my yard. To keep the children out and get me a nice dog to keep their butts out. This is my dream. I been dreaming of that all my life. Of having my own house with a fence around it. And with me a dog in there.
I want me a nice, big dog. I don't want nothing short like me. I wasn't allowed to have a dog when I was living on Cleaver Street because it was a four apartment complex and it didn't have a fence around it so I had to give my little puppy back. I named him Dallas. He was a pretty, fat little thing.
To make me welcome here, people can just acknowledge that I'm here. That's all. Just acknowledge that I'm here, because like I said, they have been tremendous. Just to go get some of the evacuees, put them on TV, let them tell their story, let them express how they feel, you know, so all the people could here what we went through-- what people went through. You know. We want to testify too. We just don't want to be here and then after everything is all over, they cut everything off, push us to the side like we trash and we forgotten about. No. I want to keep it going because I want to be recognized.
I just been through a storm and without God we wouldn't have made it. That's a fact. Ever since I been here, I been crying, I couldn't sleep. You keep hearing a sound like rushing water coming in the Convention Center. I couldn't sleep and I still can't sleep because I keep hearing that sound of rushing water. [After the hurricane] the sky turned red. It wasn't no smoke, it was just red. People said "When they coming to get us, when they coming to get us?" and I said "Where's your faith?" I was getting ready to lose my faith, so I had to stand up and I had to tell my people, "Keep your faith. God is right here in the midst of everything, He ain't going to let nothing happen to us because he ain't brought us all the way here in this Convention Center for us to drown in New Orleans or for us to be shot down like animals on a hunt. Just keep your faith." This is the time you need to come together and hold hands and ask God to forgive you for all your sins that you done did, even with your mind and your heart. Because a lot of people commit sins with their minds and their hearts. They don't got to speak it, they can think it, they can feel it against another human being.
We bleed red just like you do. We have feelings just like you do. We shed tears just like you do. We all do the same thing, just in a different tone of skin. I don't see why skin should make a goddamn difference because we all are human. We come from the same cloth. When God created man, he took a rib from man and created woman. So we all come from the same person. The same person.
I went to church Sunday and I was talking to a person one-on-one who belongs to the church, and after church was over-- she prayed for me and my sister, you know-- and I was dreaming that I was up there preaching and I said: "God said, not let your heart be troubled, neither let it fear. For I am with you. God also says, I am thy father and thy mother. Now there are a lot of young ones out there, beat their mothers, beat their parents, parents scared of their own kids. But I'll break them up. I brought you here, I'll take you out."
See, in the old days, it wasn't like that, you ain't heard about no children on no drugs, man, toting no big old guns in school and knives and all this kind of stuff when I was coming up. There wasn't none of that. We ain't the people that's toting no drugs in the United States. We don't have no planes. We don't have no boats. Now how do you think it's getting in here? The president can't say he don't know nothing about it because he's a damn liar. All these elected officials, they know how this shit coming through here. They're lying. They can't say they don't know, they know. Even the police in New Orleans, they was taking people out of jail, putting them on the streets to sell their dope. You think it ain't happening here? It's happening.
They want people to think that black folks don't have the understanding or the knowledge to think for themselves. They call us "monkeys." We gorillas. Or, "Look at the black nigger run!" It's sad, but that's the way they brought us. They came and stole us from out of Africa. We didn't ask to come here. They stole us as slaves and brought us here.
People right here in this apartment complex [are racist]. The Latinos, you know you try to speak to them and they look at you like you're throwed off, like you're crazy. They don't speak back because they don't know no English. Well, if you can say no English, come on now, you have to know some kind of English! You had to know some kind of English because you had to learn it before you came here!
I just want them to not judge all of New Orleans' people for what some of them have did. If they get to know you--see, you can't judge a book by its cover, but just looking at it or flipping the pages, you got to go in there and read it. If they could just take a group of people and put them on nationwide TV, interview them, let them tell their stories-people needs to be heard. That's the only way this stuff is going to get out. It's the only way it's going to get out. So that way people of Austin, Texas can understand where we coming from, how we feel as evacuees from a city that was flourishing and now all that has been taken away from us. I mean, people have lost a lot. Everything. Come here with nothing but the clothes on their back or what they managed to get out of their house.
My husband got a job, he works for Goodwill. That's temporary work, but at least he got him a job. He been working for two-- well, it's his third week.
I really have no idea how long this job will last. I guess once FEMA shut everything down they will dismiss a lot of people. He works full-time. He makes a little more here than he did in New Orleans.
He works in a warehouse.
He wants to go home, himself. We was discussing that the other day and he made a statement saying that he want to go back to New Orleans. But I keep trying to tell him that there is no more New Orleans. Once those people get done what they're got to do, it's going to be like ten years because they got to bring in soil from somewhere else to help diminish the bacteria that's in that ground. They got to turn all that soil over in that city and bring fresh soil and treat that soil before they can do anything.
Like I said, [my husband] has a sibling, his brother Ricky stays in Harahan [Louisiana, Jefferson Parish] and he may go out there and see if he can get him a job out there and buy him a place. But like I tell him, "I'm not going back. This is where God brought me at. He ain't bring me here to turn his back on me or foresake me, so this is where I'm going to stay."
We learning the buses. We walk right up here to the highway, right up here at Fiskville and Rundberg.
My sister lives next door. She had heart surgery a couple of weeks ago, about two weeks ago, they had to put a pacemaker in her. They didn't like the way her heart was. She went in there for one thing and they found out that she could die from this disorder with her heart. They gave her Medicaid.
I have Medicaid, but my husband doesn't. He need glasses because he a diabetic and he need glasses because he had surgery on his eyes when we was in New Orleans so I'm trying to find where we could go at to get him some free eye exam or some glasses. He does need glasses. When he came here I had to pay for his medicine because he didn't have no insurance and that was killing me right there.
When I came here, I didn't have a dime. [FEMA] turned around and gave us a $2300 check. The first two thousand [from the Red Cross] was for you to buy your personal hygiene, get you some clothes and stuff-- get started with that-- and the $2300 was for paying your rent or utilities.
It can never be enough because even though you get this money, buy everything, it is high out here. Money don't have no value anymore because as soon as you get it, you go through it like it ain't nothing, like its just a $20 bill. Once you bust it, that's it. If you don't know how to manage your money, its going to get away from you more quickly than you can imagine.
When it comes that [needing counseling] to where I think I need to sit down and talk to one-on-one with a human being then I'll make up my mind and make an appointment and go see somebody. Like I said, I have God and he has been my strong part, I been focusing on him, he been focusing on me, he been leading me straight. I just wait on him to let me know what he want me to do. That's basically it. Whenever I feel, I just go crawl on my knees and cry, cry, cry and I talk to him. He already know what's going on, because he don't sleep. Confessing what is on your soul is good for your soul too, when you confess. So yeah, I talks to God, I talks to him because I know there is a living God. We would have never made it out of New Orleans without him. Would have never made it.