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Katrina survivors in "concentration camp"

by Diane Carman,
Denver Post

Sept. 7, 2005 [Day 10]

If I didn't know better, I'd have thought I was peering through the fence at a concentration camp.

The signs on the buildings say "Community College of Aurora," though for
now they're serving as an impromptu Camp Katrina. About 160 hurricane survivors are being housed in the dorms, surrounded

What's with the fences?

What's with the roadblocks, the guards, and the cops?

These are victims, not criminals.

Are these people less American than we, on the other side of the fence?


Verne Stovall, foreground, and her daughter-in-law, Jacquelyn Augustine, stand at a fence separating them from reporters and others Tuesday at the Community College of Aurora. Stovall recalled how she was rescued Sunday with 23 other people from a flooded house in New Orleans.

Photo by Glenn Asakawa
Denver Post
by fences, roadblocks, security guards and enough armed police officers to invade Grenada.

There's a credentials unit to process every visitor, an intake unit to provide identification tags and a bag of clothes to every evacuee, several Salvation Army food stations, portable toilets, shuttle buses, a green army-tent chapel with church services three times a day and a communications team to keep reporters as far away from actual news as possible.

It probably was easier for a reporter to get inside Gitmo on Tuesday than to penetrate the force field around Lowry.

But survivors occasionally breached the lockdown and came to the fence to tell their stories, each one astonishing.

At a time when it seems ordinary to deliver food and water and provide sanitation to the space station orbiting 200 miles above the Earth, these people watched bodies float past them for days and wondered if help ever would arrive.

Irvin Walker limped toward reporters.

"I'm real glad to be here," he said.

Walker, a 55-year-old disabled Vietnam vet, was trapped in his home when the floodwaters inundated New Orleans. On Aug. 30, rescuers picked him up in a boat and deposited him on an interstate. From there he rode in a truck to the New Orleans Convention Center, where he watched his friend, a diabetic, die for lack of food, water and insulin.

When he arrived here Sunday, it was the first time he'd ever seen Colorado.

"Everybody treats you real nice," he said, smiling. "There's a lotta love up here."

As he slowly walked away, a car pulled up depositing more evacuees. Organizers said a few were coming from Houston and other cities by car. They have been told to prepare for planeloads of survivors over the next few days.

Verne Stovall, 67, landed in Denver on Monday. She had spent a week along with 23 other people in a flooded house in New Orleans before rescuers ordered them to leave. They survived on canned food and water that National Guard troops dropped from helicopters.

On Sunday, police officers came to the door and gave them no choice. Stovall, who has diabetes, ulcers and vision blurred by glaucoma, reluctantly scrambled up onto the roof.

"I didn't want to go in that helicopter," she said. "I was so scared, I dropped my pocketbook into the water."

She arrived in Denver with her son and daughter-in-law, Edward and Jacquelyn Augustine. Her identification swept away in the flood, all she had was the clothes she was wearing.

But after a shower, some food and desperately needed rest, Stovall put on some donated lipstick, took a look around the campus grounds and liked what she saw.

"I've never been out of New Orleans," she said, "but I've decided I want to move here."

Edward, a janitor, and Jacquelyn, who worked for the housing authority, plan to look for jobs. Stovall is retired.

"We lost everything," Edward said. "Our home, our cars."

Like so many survivors of Hurricane Katrina, their needs are complex and immediate. But help is trickling in.

All day Tuesday, people arrived at the Lowry site. A truck from Mountain Man Nut and Fruit Co. pulled in to deliver supplies. Volunteers came to offer counseling and help finding housing, furniture and clothing for evacuees.

Kathy Arford, who owns a small remodeling company, Kateri Homes, arrived offering two jobs at $10 an hour.

"I need help," she said, "and I can teach people how to do the work."

The only problem was she couldn't get near the survivors.

"I've spent two hours trying to find somebody who'll listen to me," she said.

She wants to give a couple of desperate people a chance at a new life. She just needs to get through the fence.

As originally published

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