Casino Functions as Shelter Through Katrina, Rita
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
For the last month, the Paragon Casino Resort, in Marksville, Louisiana, has been an evacuation center. It's in the central part of the state on the Tunica-Biloxi Indian Reservation. Just as the victims of Hurricane Katrina were preparing to head home to New Orleans this week, a new round of evacuees from Houston arrived a couple of days ago fleeing Hurricane Rita. Linda Bordelon works for Paragon Casino and she joins us by phone.
Hello, Ms. Bordelon.
Ms. LINDA BORDELON (Paragon Casino Employee): How are you?
ELLIOTT: I'm fine. How are you?
Ms. BORDELON: Pretty good.
ELLIOTT: How many people do you have staying there?
Ms. BORDELON: We have, I would say, about 6,000 people within our hotel resort facility.
ELLIOTT: Are they staying in the hotel part or do...
Ms. BORDELON: Yes.
ELLIOTT: ...you have people, you know, sleeping between the slot machines and whatnot?
Ms. BORDELON: We have evacuees from New Orleans who have been with us for three weeks in our hotel. We have the evacuees from Hurricane Rita in our convention center. We have evacuees in hallways, in restaurants, in lounges, literally in every nook and cranny of our facility.
ELLIOTT: Now how did you end up being a shelter in the first place?
Ms. BORDELON: We are in a small, rural area of 6,000 people on a main highway and we are the largest employer in the area and have the largest physical facility. We have six restaurants. We have generators. We have security, so actually all of our resources can be used to help these people.
ELLIOTT: I'm trying to picture in my mind. You say this is a small community of about 6,000 people, and yet you have about 6,000 people living in your facility right now. So the town has almost doubled?
Ms. BORDELON: Yes, absolutely. Yes. But people were desperate, so we were like the casino or the shelter of last resort.
ELLIOTT: Are you also accommodating tribesmen who are evacuees?
Ms. BORDELON: Yes. The Tunica-Biloxi had to leave the reservation in the '50s and the '40s because there was no employment on the reservation. So we have a large number of tribal members in the Houston-Orange, Texas, area and they fled to our property.
ELLIOTT: Now have any of these storms affected you in any way that you had any kind of power flickers or anything like that?
Ms. BORDELON: Yeah, this is the first one that did. We have lost power on and off and we've had some challenges. Our employees were not able to come to work at full scale, so we've really had to keep the ones that were able to come here on a 24-hour basis.
ELLIOTT: Have you had to turn anyone away?
Ms. BORDELON: Not--well, we may have wanted to, but we have not, because these people are desperate. A lot of people left without their medications. They left in a hurry and, certainly, don't have prescriptions. So you have the challenge of meeting the medical needs of people as well as the fact that they left without clothes, toothbrush, shampoo.
ELLIOTT: Who's paying for all of this?
Ms. BORDELON: At this point and time the tribe has extended their financial hand forward as well as a helping hand. And I wanted to mention one interesting thing. This morning a gentleman offered to pay for breakfast for 500 evacuees and he took out a roll of bills and paid for 500 people.
ELLIOTT: How did he have so much money?
Ms. BORDELON: I don't know. Maybe he hit it lucky on a slot machine.
ELLIOTT: So are the slot machines still running?
Ms. BORDELON: When we have power, yes.
ELLIOTT: Even with people camped right next door?
Ms. BORDELON: Yeah. Yeah, I guess there are some people that had a little extra change. It's nowhere near the normal capacity that it is on a weekend, you know, because the evacuees have come first. They're are number one priority; the safety of our guests and the safety of our employees.
ELLIOTT: Linda Bordelon works at the Paragon Casino in Marksville, Louisiana.
Thanks for joining us.
Ms. BORDELON: Thank you.
ELLIOTT: To recap what we know about Hurricane Rita, it's been downgraded to a tropical storm and it's moving northeast toward Arkansas. Rita made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane in the early morning hours, passing over the extreme southwest corner of Louisiana. Federal officials say damage was less than feared, but search and rescue teams are now fanning out.
Officials are also assessing the state of oil production facilities along the Texas and Louisiana coasts. Rita's rains and storm surges flooded areas of New Orleans just recovering from Hurricane Katrina. Its winds blew off roofs and millions of homes and businesses across the Gulf Coast are without power. President Bush has declared a major disaster in Texas and Louisiana, making residents eligible for federal aid. The president urged evacuees to refrain from returning home until local authorities tell them it's safe.
That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.
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