New Orleans Evacuees Find New Home in Utah

Utah's Salt City Saints band leads a truck carrying hurricane evacuees in a Mardi Gras-style parade. i

Utah's Salt City Saints band leads a truck carrying newly arrived hurricane evacuees from New Orleans in a Mardi Gras-style procession. Cliff Lyon hide caption

itoggle caption Cliff Lyon
Utah's Salt City Saints band leads a truck carrying hurricane evacuees in a Mardi Gras-style parade.

Utah's Salt City Saints band leads a truck carrying newly arrived hurricane evacuees from New Orleans in a Mardi Gras-style procession.

Cliff Lyon

State officials in Utah closed their Hurricane Katrina evacuation shelter this week after the last of the state's New Orleans evacuees were moved into apartments. Utah couldn't be more different from New Orleans, given snowy winters, dry air and skyscraping mountains. And African-Americans make up less than 1 percent of Utah's population. But many evacuees have decided to stay.

A month ago, close to 600 people, most of them African American, were put on flights to Utah, 1,200 miles from the French Quarter. More than 900 volunteers attended to their needs. About half the group left soon after arriving. Those who stayed say they have been overwhelmed by help and goodwill.

Former New Orleans social worker Ernest Timmons gets settled in his new apartment.

Former New Orleans social worker Ernest Timmons gets settled in his new apartment in a Salt Lake City suburb. Howard Berkes, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Howard Berkes, NPR

"There were a bunch of people when we got off the airplane and they applauded us," says Kenneth Watts, who ran a hauling business in New Orleans. "They clapped... these people are so hospitable... They've definitely impressed me to a point where I want to stay in Utah."

Watts adds: "I'm not sure about the long term... being African American. Being in this particular part of America. And having a Caucasian wife... hopefully the people won't mess with us because of that." But he says he believes the hospitality will last, given the generosity he's seen so far.

Social worker Ernest Timmons says he will miss New Orleans' music and food. But several evacuees are already talking about opening restaurants... and just two weeks after their exodus, about a dozen evacuees with borrowed instruments danced and sang in a Mardi Gras-style procession in Salt Lake City.

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