A Family Searches for Its Father in Shelters

Robert Siegel talks with Michelle Thompson about her search for Kem Cooper, the father of her 18-month-old daughter. The family was separated during Hurricane Katrina. Kem Cooper spoke with Siegel on Sept. 6, 2005. Michelle and the baby, along with Michelle's mother and sisters, were trapped in an apartment building in eastern New Orleans for four days during the storm and then were taken by boat to the Convention Center.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This week we've been trying to find out what happened to some of the people we heard about early on in the disaster. Ten days ago a young man named Kem Cooper who had been evacuated from New Orleans told us about his search for his 18-month-old daughter Kimtrice(ph) and her mother Michelle Thompson(ph). He had just registered online with the Red Cross at the Houston Astrodome.

Mr. KEM COOPER (Hurricane Evacuee): I went on e-mail. I went up in here; I done left my name on the bulletin board. They got the list of people. I got my name on the list. I done everything that these people in here have you to do.

SIEGEL: For days there was no word. Then Michelle Thompson called the Red Cross from Atlanta and entered her information. Kem saw it online and called her up. We spoke to her today. She and the baby and five other family members could not get out of the city before the hurricane because they had no car. So they went to her sister's apartment in east New Orleans before the flooding and they spent four days there waiting to be rescued.

Ms. MICHELLE THOMPSON (Hurricane Evacuee): Every time, like, the helicopters when they did come they wasn't paying us no mind. So the woman across from us started, like, yelling loud 'cause she saw boats coming. And the boats came and rescued us. But we had to, like, climb out the second-floor window.

SIEGEL: Wow. Were you concerned about your daughter at that time?

Ms. THOMPSON: Yes, she was sick, sweating. They had no air whatsoever. Everybody was just sweating and it was real hot in there. And they have nothing to eat. Everybody was weak, sick.

SIEGEL: Then you were taken out by boat?

Ms. THOMPSON: Yes.

SIEGEL: Where did they take you?

Ms. THOMPSON: By the bridge. When they dropped us off by the bridge--they was like--they rescued other people first so they had a lot of people in the boat with us. Then they put us all by the bridge and they had food and stuff there. So we ate what we could there. And then the Army people, they picked us up and we went to the Convention Center.

SIEGEL: How long did you stay at the Convention Center?

Ms. THOMPSON: Three days.

SIEGEL: Three days at the Convention Center? Now we've heard accounts of what life was like in the Convention Center, and it sounds like it was horrible.

Ms. THOMPSON: Yes, it was. When we first got there it was crowded. They had people everywhere. And it was like--we had to like sleep on floors. We didn't really have nothing. All we had with us was our clothes and stuff. So we had to sleep on the carpet that they already had on the floor at the Convention Center and the carpet was, like, really dirty. Oh, people dead, like, dead bodies upstairs and the second floor was on fire twice. And nobody wasn't really sleeping. Everybody just stood up for hours. People slept outside. The bathrooms were horrible. So everybody was just using the bathroom everywhere else except for the bathroom.

SIEGEL: Well, finally you were evacuated from the Convention Center?

Ms. THOMPSON: Yes. When we got there they told us 7:30 in the morning that the bus was going to come to and take us to Houston, Texas. But it didn't happen like they said it was gonna happen.

SIEGEL: But you didn't go to Texas after all.

Ms. THOMPSON: No, we was--they said it was too crowded, so they took us to Arkansas. When we went to Arkansas, I got in touch with my oldest sister and my other sister and they thought we were, like, dead or whatever. So my sister came down to Arkansas and brought us down here in Atlanta.

SIEGEL: Do you intend to see Kem anytime soon or is that...

Ms. THOMPSON: I don't know how it's going to happen. I don't have no way of--I don't know.

SIEGEL: You can't get to Houston in any way then?

Ms. THOMPSON: No.

SIEGEL: Well, what does the family think? Do you think you're heading back for New Orleans?

Ms. THOMPSON: I'm not, but everybody else seems to want to go back. Well, I don't think I'm going to go back.

SIEGEL: Why do you think differently from the rest of the family? What's the difference?

Ms. THOMPSON: Because I don't see no sense--everything they haven't done--I'm not trying to--I don't want to go back down there.

SIEGEL: That's Michelle Thompson, speaking to us from her sister's home in Atlanta, Georgia, about how she got out of New Orleans and how she learned the whereabouts of her baby's father, Kem Cooper. We talked with Kem Cooper 10 days ago.

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