Accessibility links

Breaking News

Louisiana Residents Open Hearts, Homes to Evacuees

As rescue efforts continue in the flood-stricken city of New Orleans, people displaced by the disaster are seeking help in nearby areas of Louisiana and in neighboring states. VOA's Greg Flakus has been roaming some of the backroads of southwestern Louisiana, where he has found extraordinary examples of charity and compassion.

One of the most famous lines from the late U.S. playwright Tennessee Williams was in his play, "A Street Car Named Desire," which was set in New Orleans. "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers," says the character, Blanche Dubois.

These days, hundreds-of-thousands of displaced people from New Orleans are relying on the kindness of strangers and it can be found in abundance all over this region.

In the small southwestern, local residents established a shelter for evacuees at the American Legion hall, but very few can be found there, because hundreds of people in the town, with a population of about five-thousand have opened their homes to Katrina's victims.

One of them is local nurse Barbara Touchet.

Touchet: "I have been watching since the day of the storm, and I have cried the whole time, thinking that these people have no home to go to, and I have a big house, and have room. I would take them all in, if I could, but I cannot. So, I wanted to help by taking families in, and giving them what they need."

Flakus: "How long do you think this might last, and [how long do you think] you will have them here with you?"

Touchet: "They are welcome to stay here as long as they have to. As a matter of fact, they could live here, if they have to. There is no hurry for them to go on."

Even though the volunteers down at the American Legion shelter are cooking big meals for all the displaced, Barbara Touchet prefers to feed her guests at her own expense in her own kitchen. She prepares chickens for roasting with the help of her grandchildren.

Three of the five people in the family from New Orleans she took in have medical ailments, and need special attention, which she, as a nurse, can provide. Local doctors also visit the house from time to time to check on them.

Doctor Padmini Gupta, a native of India, who has lived here for more than 20 years, says most evacuees suffer from stress and from pre-existing conditions, for which they need medicine and treatment. "Some of them are without medication, because they left their medications at home. Some of them have lost their medical cards, because they did not bring it with them. Some of them do not have much insurance information, and they come to see me. I have told them that I am not going to charge them, and I have done my best to do what I can to provide them with medications that I have," he says.

When she is finished making her rounds here in Kaplan, Doctor Gupta drives to Lafayette, about 50 kilometers away, to help the several thousand evacuees who are housed in a stadium there.

says the natural tendency toward charity and compassion in this small city is enhanced by the fact that, here, too, people live with the threat of hurricanes and tropical storms. "This could have happened to us. We would hope that people outside our parish [county-local political unit in Louisiana] would have come to our call, to help us. It is just like we are helping others [knowing that], it may happen to us one day," she says.

Indeed, this area has been struck in the past by storms, and many people here have suffered losses. But this is a place where people pull together and help each other through whatever difficulty arises. They say they will do as much as they can for Katrina's victims here, and then look around to see if there is some way they can do more.