New Orleans Evacuees Blast Lack of Any Aid or Relief Weeks After Katrina

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A month after hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, displaced New Orleans residents at the Radisson Hotel in New York City speak out about the lack of aid they have received and the continued difficulty of receiving any type of relief from the Red Cross. [includes rush transcript]

New Orleans launched a “repopulation” campaign on Thursday a month after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin invited business owners back into the city, and prepared to allow most residents to return over the next week.

But hundreds of thousand of the city’s residents remain displaced around the country. Some of those evacuees are here in New York City at the Radisson Hotel, near John F Kennedy airport. And some of them have been speaking out about the disaster relief they have received.

  • Displaced New Orleans residents speaking at the Radisson Hotel.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn now to a clip. You could tell us how it was done. It was done by a group of young students. They brought it over last night. They went out to the Radisson Hotel next to Kennedy Airport, where they have found a group of evacuees who are in despair, quite distraught.

GEORGE STONEY: Yes. That was brought to my attention by an old activist friend named Stan Hamilton, with whom I have been working since 1965. And we have been — every time something happens, Stan says, “George, you’ve got to get the cameras out here.” And so, he guided these young people. And he’s running interference for these people in the Radisson Hotel, who are being screwed around by Red Cross.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to go to that clip, and then we will talk to the Red Cross, but this is an example of young students going out with their video cameras and not talking to the big policymakers, but talking to the people in the eye of the storm.

EVACUEE 1: We fled to Grambling, Louisiana, and we went to the Red Cross after being in the residence of a stranger for about a week. And we were not welcome was out. Even though they didn’t say so, we just didn’t want to wear out our welcome. And we knew we had cousins here in the city.

So, basically, I went to the Red Cross and I asked for tickets, you know, to get out of Louisiana and go to where we have some relatives, where we might get some help, you know, find some stability. And they told us that they wouldn’t pay for the tickets. So, I had to pay out of my pocket, have a limited income, $171 one way — one-way tickets for me and my mother. And they were price gouging during a natural disaster, as though it was Carnival.

EVACUEE 2: We are all together, my wife, my two children, my mother-in-law and my brother-in-law. It was six of us. And they rescued us on a paddle boat and brought us to the bridge where we stayed for two nights, one night without food and water. The next night some guys brought us some water and food and helped us out. And we were rescued by some guys from Lafayette, Louisiana, that came in rescue boats and brought us to the terminals, where they were taking the buses to escort us to Houston Astrodome.

EVACUEE 3: I thought we were just going to go to Dallas, but Dallas was full, so that’s why we went to Muskogee. We slept in Camp Gruber, and I went to school for a while. I went to Tahlequah for like a week, then came to New York.

EVACUEE 4: Well, my experience in New York: New York is not showing no love. Nobody — the Red Cross — we had to go catch the bus to find the Red Cross for to get help. They don’t come to us or come pick us up to bring us there. I jumped out the frying pan into the skillet when I come here.

RELIEF WORKER 1: I’m here representing two churches: My church, which is New York Deliverance, and also the New Greater Bethel Church. Pastor Davidson, pastor of New York Deliverance, and Reverend John Boyd, pastor of New Greater Bethel, we have been, you know, very busy for the past week in here trying to see what needs the people have and see how we can fill it. But our churches are not the only churches involved here. You have many, many churches here that’s involved. Just about all of the churches in the Queens and Jamaica area and even outer Brooklyn. Many, many churches and community leaders who want to help. Many ordinary community people who want to help.

But what’s happening, we are just coming up against a whole brick wall. We’re being stonewalled, bureaucracy. We’re being told, well, okay, just about everything. They’re directing us to the Red Cross. In the meantime, these people’s needs, at least those at the Radisson, for sure, aren’t being met. There are items that these people are forced to go out and purchase that they shouldn’t have to, items that churches and organizations have ready that people have in the trunk of their cars, but we have no way of distributing it to these people simply because due to union rules and regulations, we cannot — we are not allowed to just come into the hotel to do distribution.

RELIEF WORKER 2: There were people that were in the meeting with us, as well, that was survivors from Hurricane Katrina, and she said that she was given $100 when she came off the plane, and $30 was used in one meal at the hotel to feed herself and she has small kids. She was only left with $70. You know, so there’s a lot of basic needs that’s not being met, you know, that community organizations and churches — a variety of churches that’s trying to meet those basic needs, but there’s a lot of red tape involved that we have seen, that it’s like preventing them from getting some of the basic needs that they really, really need, you know, desperately.

EVACUE 1: I feel that resources for Katrina victims are basically making poster children of displaced families to make money for another cause, because we have not been helped. The people that I know that are staying in shelters are eating government egg-blends that aren’t being mixed well. They’re being fed stuff that’s making them sick, having to go to the bathroom over and over again, meaning that it’s not being sterilized properly. They are being housed people on top of people. They have to have mass showers, old with young. I mean, if we’re getting $50 billion donations, why aren’t these people having steak and eggs for dinner? We can afford it, obviously.

RADISSON NEIGHBOR: I had another situation where there were some people that had come by and brought some clothing, and you know, some boxes full of — a truck full of things and they wanted to pull up on the side of the hotel and so that everybody came down. They were looking for shoes and baby carriages and all of that kind of stuff. And the hotel — someone from the hotel came out and told them to move it and put it out on the street. And so people were looking through it like they were bums.

RELIEF WORKER 1: But because of all what I call the bureaucracy, it’s very difficult to help these people. So, there are those of us who decide, well, okay, we’re going to do it by any means necessary. So there are people who would come open the trunk of their car with toiletries, socks, etc., and tell them, 'Okay, come on, child, we can't come on the property, but come out to the street and help yourself out the trunk of the car.’

RADISSON NEIGHBOR: In the street looking through boxes and barrels, you know, that kind of stuff. I’ve been kind of depressed. It’s just me, myself, and I went outside and, you know, started to talk. Why do have them looking like they’re bums? Why couldn’t they? They’re guests of the hotel. If someone had a car, they could park. You know, why would you insist, if you have got a hundred people here, you know, survivors, why wouldn’t they be able to look in a crate or something and see if there was something that they might be able to use? You know, and they didn’t like what happened or what I was saying, because sometimes I get very boisterous, but I make my point, and they called the police and had me arrested. I mean, not arrested, they just called the police and sent me to the hospital. And I got the bruises to show. And then they took my blood. They thought I was drunk and all of that stuff.

RELIEF WORKER 1: So, my question is, the word I’m putting out to the authorities, the powers that be. Okay. Yes, you have donation and you have items and all. But it’s bad organization. Tremendous lack of proper distribution, and the sad thing is, I feel that if the American Red Cross can’t handle it or whomever in charge, why is it that the community and the church people who are willing to help, who want to come in and help, why is it that we can’t do it? We don’t have an issue with helping. We are the people, and we are the community, and we are the churches that are saying, yes. Just like the President of the United States did ask organizations, churches, get involved and help. And that’s what we are doing. Why are we frustrated? Why should we have carloads of stuff that people right here, 20 feet away from us, and we can’t get to them to give it to them?

AMY GOODMAN: Voices of evacuees and those trying to help them at the Radisson Hotel just next to Kennedy Airport. Special thanks to Elisa Cundiff, Ethan Goldhammer, and David Riley, students at New York University who went out to speak with those at the hotel and the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. This is Democracy Now!, That, an example of community grassroots television. Also thanks to George Stoney, considered the father of public access.

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