Favorite

Wading into the Springs 

Katrina survivors begin coming to town

click to enlarge Mary Tillman, a Katrina survivor who has made her way - to Colorado Springs. - KATHY CONARRO
  • Kathy Conarro
  • Mary Tillman, a Katrina survivor who has made her way to Colorado Springs.

When the glass shattered on Mary Tillman's bed, she rolled out and hid under a table.

She could hear Hurricane Katrina's powerful gusts peel the tiles off her roof and crack trees in half outside. She made her way to the bathtub.

"The walls were shaking," the 60-year-old says. "The toilet was coming unbolted from the floor."

Tillman had decided to stay in New Orleans because she had weathered big storms before. When she heard it would be bad, it was too late. She doesn't have a car, and there was nobody around to drive her out.

After the battering, it became eerily quiet. She went to her second-story balcony and saw water everywhere. Bodies were floating.

She was alone and scared.

click to enlarge Mary Tillman, a Katrina survivor who has made her way - to Colorado Springs. - KATHY CONARRO
  • Kathy Conarro
  • Mary Tillman, a Katrina survivor who has made her way to Colorado Springs.

Then came nightfall and sunrise, nightfall and sunrise, nightfall and sunrise.

Katrina hit on Monday, Aug. 29. But help didn't come until Thursday, Sept. 1, in the form of two fishermen trolling the mucky, disease-ridden waters in their boat, calling out for survivors.

"I ran to the door and went, 'Woo-ooo! Who-ooo!'" says Tillman, who survived on peanut butter and jelly.

But her ordeal didn't end there. The fishermen brought her to a helicopter, which brought her to drier ground and the company of more than 100 other ragged survivors. There, she got some water and food, but had to sleep on a piece of cardboard.

On Sunday, Tillman, who has diabetes, became gravely ill and was flown to a hospital in Atlanta. Her weight had dropped from more than 100 pounds to just 88 pounds in a matter of days, but she was OK. She contacted her daughter, Darleen Daniels, who lives in Colorado Springs. Soon she was here, joining 19 other relatives, most of them Katrina survivors.

Denver times three

It is the first sign that roughly 1,250 miles from New Orleans, where hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless, Coloradans will play a humanitarian role.

click to enlarge Mary Tillman, a Katrina survivor who has made her way - to Colorado Springs. - KATHY CONARRO
  • Kathy Conarro
  • Mary Tillman, a Katrina survivor who has made her way to Colorado Springs.

In Denver, the state community college system has allocated dorm space in the Lowry area. Hundreds of people now have arrived, and up to 1,000 people could be housed there for an indefinite time period, says Mark Salley, a spokesman for Gov. Bill Owens.

Colorado Springs could see three times the number of survivors expected in Denver. City Councilmen Jerry Heimlicher and Richard Skorman say 1,000 to 3,000 Katrina victims will come here via buses from cities in Texas.

"People want to help, and the support has been absolutely outstanding," Heimlicher says.

Skorman, who owns Poor Richard's Restaurant downtown, has dedicated an empty storefront to helping hurricane survivors. There, in just a few days, 500 people have donated $20,000 in cash and offered places for survivors to live, as well as anything else that may help.

Skorman and Heimlicher are calling the effort the Katrina Hospitality Partnership of Colorado Springs. It will be run as long as needed by Bob Holmes, who coordinates the agencies in the region that help the city's homeless people, Skorman says.

Numerous companies also are raising money for food and donating it as the survivors arrive. School District 11 already has enrolled a handful of students displaced by Katrina.

To no avail

click to enlarge Kevin Lopez, a Katrina survivor who has - made his way to Colorado Springs. - KATHY CONARRO
  • Kathy Conarro
  • Kevin Lopez, a Katrina survivor who has made his way to Colorado Springs.

Meanwhile, the fact that a large group of survivors huddled like Third World refugees for several days last week, without aid, at the New Orleans Convention Center continues to stir outrage. Louisiana's largest newspaper, the Times-Picayune, which long had warned that levees needed to be strengthened and heightened -- but to no avail -- opined earlier this week that the Federal Emergency Management Agency's top officials ought to be fired for their slow response.

Kevin Lopez joined his brothers and friends in a long trudge through stagnant water after being caught in New Orleans because a family member refused to leave. He slept at the convention center for a night and says conditions there were horrible, but that people stayed because they assumed the government was coming to help them.

"It was chaos, total chaos," says the 44-year-old letter carrier. He now is in Colorado Springs with family.

Not yet talking about blame

U.S. Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base is providing or coordinating the following in the relief effort: 15,900 active-duty soldiers, 38,146 Army and Air National Guard members, 26 ships and myriad supplies.

Many of those resources were dispatched a full week after the storm.

Northern Command can't respond to natural disasters on its own, but instead awaits requests from FEMA. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in turn, approves those requests.

Michael Kucharek, Northern Command's chief spokesman, says commanders have not yet had the time to determine whether the bureaucracy was to blame for delays.

"To be honest with you, we're not even talking about that stuff right now," he says, adding that there are lives to be saved.

Meanwhile, Tillman says she probably never will return to New Orleans, where she worked for three decades as a volunteer teacher.

"I hope there is something here for me," she says.

  • Katrina survivors begin coming to town

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Latest in Cover Story

Popular Events

Most Commented On

Top Viewed Stories

All content © Copyright 2014, The Colorado Springs Independent   |   Website powered by Foundation