Father, Son Look for New Start After Flood

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The Armory in Washington, D.C., is housing more than 300 evacuees from New Orleans. Many lost everything in the flood. The story of a father and a son illustrates the fate of many from the city's lower Ninth Ward.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, salutations for the South from around the nation.

But first, Hurricane Katrina scattered her survivors all across this country. Nearly 300 of them were evacuated by air to Washington, DC. NPR's Libby Lewis spoke with one father and son from New Orleans who lived through the storm.

LIBBY LEWIS reporting:

It's late afternoon, and you can smell autumn coming. Reginald Walker(ph) is here, outside the concrete complex of the DC Armory. He's in a clean T-shirt and trousers that have been around.

Mr. REGINALD WALKER: Yes, I brought these from my hometown in Louisiana pants.

LEWIS: His son Gerard(ph) is nearby. Gerard's grandfather is inside the armory resting. Gerard's mother and some of the women in the family evacuated to Houston before the storm. Others are scattered in Louisiana. Gerard is 18; he just enrolled in 12th grade at DC's Eastern High School nearby. The day before he'd cried from missing his mom. Today's his eyes are sparkling.

GERARD WALKER: I was born from my mama healthy; I'm going to stay healthy.

LEWIS: His dad, Reginald, is 47. He's already looking for work here. He's a certified welder. They've explored the neighborhood near the armory and met some folks.

Mr. WALKER: We're trying to make the best, you know. We've lost everything. We lost everything.

LEWIS: Everything was in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, that low-lying neighborhood inundated by Katrina.

Mr. WALKER: And my sister--she's right round the corner, right next to the Clayborn Briar(ph), and that whole block right there. Her house, my two neighbors' house and the house on the corner.

LEWIS: Reginald Walker was born and raised in New Orleans. He remembers his family riding out Hurricane Betsy when he was seven years old.

Mr. WALKER: We got caught in this one 'cause we don't like to leave. Not our style to, no. Some of us are hard-headed and I'm basically one like my dad.

LEWIS: Hard-headed?

Mr. WALKER: Yeah. We don't run from it. It's going to do what it's going to do. You know? That's nature.

LEWIS: They spent days in the water. When it rose to their knees they climbed to the attic. When the water kept rising, they tore a hole in the roof. Back at the armory, Walker breaks from his memories.

Mr. WALKER: One minute. One minute.

LEWIS: He runs over to help a hot-dog vendor lift his cart over the curb.

Mr. WALKER: We do things and we like to help. We try and help people.

LEWIS: In New Orleans, when the people on his block ran out of food and water, Walker says they went and got it. He wouldn't call that looting.

Mr. WALKER: I call it survival. We had no other choice. Our backs was up against the wall. You want to live you gotta do what you gotta do. You ever seen that movie where they was in the show and people on the mountain--people were dying. They had to eat them people to survive.

LEWIS: Walker said it never got that bad. Anyway, it's all in the past, and the past makes the present, this dry city filled with strangers, look pretty smooth. He spots Renee Hill(ph) with her mom, Gloria, and a slew of nieces and nephews. They live nearby. Walker met them the day before. He'd asked them for directions.

Mr. WALKER: I told ya I was going to see y'all again here, huh?

Unidentified Woman: Did you find it?

Mr. WALKER: Yeah, I found it, right up the street here.

Unidentified Woman: OK. Well, tomorrow we're going to have a cookout. We're going to...

Mr. WALKER: Where?

Unidentified Woman: Up the street. We're going to bring flyers down and bring everybody up there.

Mr. WALKER: Up the street. We're going.

Unidentified Woman: In the neighborhood.


LEWIS: Reginald Walker will be there. He knows he's going to be here for a while. Libby Lewis, NPR News, Washington.

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