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By ERICA HALL
A New Orleans-area man and his mother arrived in the Federal Way area earlier this month, where they plan to get their feet under them and start over after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and destroyed their home.
DaVincent Rogers, 38, and his mother, Barbara Rogers, 56, flew into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Sept. 9, where they were picked up by members of what has become a remarkable support network.
The 2,000 evacuees expected to come to Washington aren't coming after all, but, so far, 408 Hurricane Katrina victims have found their way to the Red Cross of King and Kitsap County chapter headquarters. The majority have come to Washington because they have friends or family here.
"Most came up to stay with family and friends, and that'll get old soon, so they'll need a whole array of services," spokesman Mike Eagan said.
Seated on the sole piece of furniture in the new apartment he and his mother will share, DaVincent said the hurricane was a terrifying and awe-inspiring experience.
He and his mother, who suffers from asthma and uses an oxygen machine to help her breathe, used to live on Cohern Street in Marrero, Jefferson Parish, about five miles north of New Orleans. They got the call to evacuate, but didn't have the money to go anywhere, DaVincent said.
But DaVincent is his mother's caretaker, and as Hurricane Katrina moved closer to the coast, he thought she'd better get to a shelter that had been set up at a high school, just in case the power went out. Without electricity, she wouldn't be able to use her oxygen machine.
It turned out to be a wise decision, and good timing. As the car that came to pick Barbara up drove away that evening, the power box that provided electricity to their home exploded on top of the power pole, DaVincent said. That night, Katrina made landfall.
DaVincent stayed home that night, sleeping by himself on the couch. About 1:30 or 2 in the morning, he said, he woke up to the wind. He described sitting transfixed, watching the forces of nature blowing debris and buffeting his neighborhood outside.
He went back to the couch, where he listened to the building squeaking under the strain of holding together. Before long, the wind tore the roof off the kitchen. It went on for six or seven hours, he said.
Animated, gesturing with big, sweeping arm motions, he described the force of the wind and the noise in the street outside. "I could hear trees cracking and light poles snapping," he said. "The wind was blowing so hard it had a noise behind it. I've never seen it rain that hard."
Seven hours later, the rain had stopped. The wind was still blustering, but the storm was beginning to lose steam.
"At 8 or 9 in the morning, the sun was shining," he said. He went outside and surveyed the mess Hurricane Katrina had left behind.
"After that, mama came home from the shelter," DaVincent said. "We had nowhere to go. There was no food, no light, no water."
People began dropping off bottled water and ice, but the suburb was devastated.
"The roof came off my building. The inside was worse than outside," Barbara said. "We were warned not to drink the water."
They estimated the temperatures were in the high 80s. "It was hot," DaVincent said. "And (at night) it was completely dark. The mosquitoes got worse, they just tore you up."
They stayed about two days, until some relatives who were leaving town stopped by. After looking around the remnants of the neighborhood, "they said, 'You can't stay here,'" DaVincent said. So, DaVincent and his mother grabbed a few things and set out with their family members to Baton Rouge, to stay at a shelter at Louisiana State University.
Louisiana State is where fortune began making connections for DaVincent and Barbara.
DaVincent said the shelter was nice and they were well-cared for. Barbara was directed to medical staff to receive oxygen treatment.
Shelter organizers were working to cover airfare up to 1,000 miles for people who had other places to go. Unfortunately, DaVincent and Barbara needed to get to Washington, where they planned to stay with Barbara's sister, Mary Rogers. They ended up staying a week in the shelter, waiting for something to come through.
And something did. For reasons that remain unclear, Barbara McCann, a member of the Wallingford United Methodist Church in Seattle, called Louisiana State's shelter and spoke with a woman named D.D. Breaux, who Barbara and DaVincent remember fondly.
Connections were made and McCann offered to get them to Seattle through the church. "She booked our ticket and we were on our way," DaVincent said, beaming. "She was a lifesaver."
He and his mother arrived in Seattle at 11:30 p.m. Sept. 9. Barbara's sister and McCann both were there to greet them.
Working through the Wallingford United Methodist Church, DaVincent and Barbara were connected with other local human service agencies. Mike Ballinger, pastor of Our Savior Baptist church in Federal Way, told Wallingford Methodist member Nancy Speer to direct them to the Multi-Service Center of South King County, where could get additional assistance.
"Then, someone gave us a number for a guy named Roy, with another organization that might want to help," DaVincent said. There are so many people he wants to remember, he has to riffle through papers and consult a notepad to find the right names.
The other organization was Love In the Name of Christ, a non-denominational social service network of churches that provides furniture, clothes and other household items to displaced families. Roy Endresen is the main coordinator working with DaVincent and Barbara.
"(Roy) said, 'Let me know when you get to your place ... I'll come over and take a look,'" DaVincent said.
On Thursday, DaVincent and Barbara moved into their own apartment in the same complex where Barbara's sister lives. True to his word, Endresen stopped by.
"We got a sofa, a TV ... and he's not finished with us yet," DaVincent said, beaming. "It's overwhelming. I've never had anything like this before, where people just give and don't expect to get anything back. It's amazing how much help we got here. So many people have been so good and so caring and sharing. It's overwhelming."
He said that before the hurricane struck, he never would have imagined people would be so compassionate. "It's overwhelming. We got this apartment so fast. Others have offered food, clothing. It's amazing," he said.
Now that they're here and beginning to get settled, DaVincent is interested in finding a job. He was a chef before, and is hoping to find similar work in King County. He and his mother both like the area, in spite of the differences between the Pacific Northwest and the South.
"It's pleasant here," Barbara said.
"I'm not saying I won't ever go back. I have friends there," DaVincent said, but added the weather is nice here, and it's pretty. "I'd like to stay awhile, " he said. "It depends on where I get work."
There are other things they'd like to do, too, now that they're here. "They say there's a restaurant that's in the air and it spins," he said, meaning the Space Needle, and he added he'd like to eat there sometime. He also heard about the Seattle Underground tour and wants to see that, too.
While they're optimistic and doing well, all things considered, there are stressors.
They have just lost everything. DaVincent doesn't have work yet, though he's ready to start looking. Pieces of their assistance is still up in the air as things are processed and phone calls are made. At a check-up Thursday morning, the doctor told DaVincent his blood pressure is too high.
And there are squabbles among family members who stayed behind, but DaVincent said he had to get his mother to safety. Now that they're here, he believes they're going to be OK. "As long as she's OK, I'm OK," he said. "Because she's all I have."
Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, firstname.lastname@example.org