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Vietnamese-American Katrina Victims Pull Together


It's estimated that 250,000 evacuees from New Orleans, Louisiana are now living in nearby Baton Rouge. Many of them hope to go back home. Among them is a sizeable Vietnamese-American population, who lost their homes and businesses from Hurricane Katrina.

At this former elementary school, which is part of St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Baton Rouge, some 250 Vietnamese evacuees have a place stay. Kayla Tran says her house is damaged and the small grocery store she and her husband own was destroyed by flooding. The shelter has been a welcome relief.

"It's more like a family get-together. It's more like everybody helping each other," she said.

Donations of food, clothing and medical supplies keep the shelter going. People sleep in former classrooms and take turns cooking. They keep themselves occupied by playing games. Three-quarters of them are Catholic. Father Tam Pham is a Catholic priest and also a medical doctor who is helping the people at the shelter.

"People are struggling a lot and are very delicate now," he said. "Some people cry easily. Some people are very emotional. And so we understand what people are going through. They have lost a lot and they feel very concerned about their future."

Many among the hurricane victims have lost everything. A number of store or restaurant owners say their buildings will have to be torn down. Others are fishermen whose boats and houses were destroyed.

The elderly are especially hard-hit. Hien Ho left his country with nothing after the Vietnam War ended 30 years ago. Once again, he has nothing except his optimism.

"It can be sad for some time," he said.

But he is lucky he can start over again.

About 700 people have come to the shelter, including Catholic Sister Hong Tran, an evacuee who has been there for three weeks. She tries to raise their spirits, especially those who came from Vietnam many years ago.

"I would tell them maybe it will be better now, at least you know English. Or [for] some men who ran away from Vietnam who were single, now they have a family, children, who are ok, a wife who is ok. So I help them look for the positive," she said.

Most of these people hope they can return to New Orleans. Dr. Luu Pham and other health workers are giving them vaccinations to protect them from contaminated water.

"There's a lot of waste, sewage, dead bodies, and that gets the water supply contaminated," he said. "With water contamination Hepatitis-A can be rampant. So getting that vaccination is the best way to prevent that from happening."

Officials at the shelter say it will remain open for as long as it's needed, which could stretch into months.

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