By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published September 8, 2005
North Georgia Catholics are pulling together, opening their homes and taking action to help those evacuated from New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast slammed by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
Immaculate Heart of Mary parishioner Marion Orr picked up her sister, Lisa Moran, a nurse in the intensive care unit at Tulane University Hospital in New Orleans, her niece, Nicole Moran, her parents, Bunny and Ernie Conzelmann, and her brother, Rusty, at the Atlanta airport at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 3, where the bewildered family members awaited her wearing hospital scrubs and flip-flops.
They immediately went to buy clothes at JC Penney and hit Wal-Mart at midnight for necessities they no longer had. The next day the family managed to come to Sunday Mass at IHM, where the pastor, Father James Schillinger, spoke to them and gave the exhausted nurse a hug.
“We didn’t know if they had food and water for a week. We had no way to reach them,” said Orr, standing in front of IHM on this fresh, sunny afternoon.
Lisa Moran, who wore her sister’s loose fitting sundress and looked dazed and fatigued, explained that her family stayed in a hotel just a block away from the Tulane hospital while she worked as a nurse in the pediatric ICU. They didn’t leave earlier because of her critical hospital job.
She said the hospital staff continued working until all the emergency generators went out, and she eventually assisted with evacuations and had to manually operate babies’ ventilators until they were rescued. The Columbia HCA Health System, over four days, sent helicopters to Tulane to airlift out over 200 patients and over 1,200 employees and staff, also dropping 750 pounds of food, water and medical supplies at the hospital.
“We treated patients until it got to where the generators went out,” Moran said.
On Wednesday, Aug. 31, she waded in water up to her chest over to get her parents at the hotel, which later was burned, looted, and vandalized. The nurse brought her family to the hospital, and they all then spent one night in the hospital and the next in an upper level of a parking garage outside the hospital. They ate snacks like pudding, Saltines, Vienna sausages and water. On Friday, Sept. 2, HCA airlifted them out to Lafayette, La., where they took a bus to a clean shelter site and on Saturday rode in a charter plane to Atlanta to stay with Orr and her husband, Jim. The family was impressed by how the health system swiftly responded to employees, noting that it also got to the non-HCA Charity Hospital downtown to evacuate it before the government did.
“If it hadn’t been for Columbia, we would probably be sitting outside the Superdome waiting for rescue,” said Bunny Conzelmann.
Moran, wearing a ruby cross, was still processing the ordeal.
“We didn’t have any bath for five days—the city water was so contaminated even to bathe in,” she said.
“I can’t believe I have nothing left, that I don’t have a house. We don’t know what we’ll try to do. We’ll just wait to see what can be done and when we can go back,” she continued. “We were better off than most.”
Suzanne and Scott Childs of New Orleans, who are staying at Suzanne’s sister’s home near IHM Church, also feel fortunate, having fled to Baton Rouge on Saturday, Aug. 27, before Katrina hit and then heading on to Atlanta.
They believe that people like Lisa Moran, and other generous residents who took their boats out to rescue people, acted heroically, and that the media should focus more on those positive, uplifting stories and less on the looting and chaos.
A New Orleans native, Suzanne Childs also said politicians may now finally realize the economic importance of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, with their train routes, ports and oil refineries, as the region has often been overlooked, particularly in regard to getting funding for levee reconstruction.
She said images they have seen through the Internet show that their neighborhood seems mainly to have had trees knocked down everywhere, although a relative’s house in Mississippi is “just a shell.”
“The city is drowning, and the Gulf Coast is just wiped off,” Childs said. But “it’s our home. Clean up will take a long time. We’ve got to pull together and get it done. Our mayor, I think, can actually accomplish it.”
The couple has “ their moments, ups and downs” but is grateful their children seem to be fine, and they’re enrolling their daughters at Immaculate Heart of Mary School. They hope to be able to return to their house to salvage needed items and then return to Georgia, realizing they may have to be in Atlanta for the entire school year. Fortunately, Scott Childs is a traveling computer consultant and can continue his work.
“I think they’re going to let our kids in school. The church is doing a phenomenal job. They’re very gracious,” he said.
Doris Mosby, her husband, Alvin, and her family from New Orleans are also forgetting what lies behind and pressing on to build new lives. She and 14 other relatives are staying in the three-bedroom home of her son, Kevin, a member of Blessed Sacrament Church in Atlanta. Ten more are staying in Stone Mountain.
They tried the day before the storm hit to make hotel reservations in Baton Rouge, but when motels were booked up they decided to ignore travel warnings against heading east in the storm’s predicted path and to head for Atlanta in a car and two rented vans. The family caravan included Mosby’s aunt who is in her 90s.
“We took a chance and that’s what we did,” said Doris Mosby, whose home is about four blocks from where the flooding started. She knows that coming weeks will require patience and love.
“We really don’t know the damage. When you think you’ve lost anything you worked for in one day, it’s stressful. We have to think about our families. We have kids who need to be in school. We can’t focus on what’s left behind but what the future will bring us,” she said.
“We have to stick together as a family … We are very strong people, and we’ve had a lot of encouragement from different people. We are awfully blessed. We might have lost material things, but that’s not important. These are stone and sticks we can easily replace.”
Mosby is concerned about her aunt, who is very depressed, and said she needs a wheelchair, which in the hurry to leave they forgot. They divide up household chores.
“We are family and do what it takes and try to cause as little stress as we can. There’re a lot of personalities, and we deal with each one of them. We love each other,” she said.
They are leaning on their faith, which is always a rock of strength for the Mosbys, who are active in the Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver.
“All of us are Catholic and we are church-going people … I think God is leading us in the right direction and so far he has, and I feel blessed that God is with us in all things when asking for his help. We have faith. Faith sustains you in all problems.”
She has a niece and nephew who will begin classes at Solid Rock Academy in Atlanta, a 16-year-old niece is starting at Our Lady of Mercy High School in Fairburn, and adult relatives are looking for work.
“If we all start working, maybe we’ll get together and rent a place and work from there,” Mosby said.
Shirley Ellsworth and her family also fled to Atlanta that ominous Saturday, Aug. 27, traveling with several family members, including her 96-year-old mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease, to stay with her daughter, Rhonda Haney, a member of Blessed Sacrament Church.
Ellsworth said her daughter also received a middle-of-the-night call from a relative working in the New Orleans police department, who had worked straight since Katrina hit and was exhausted and very stressed over the devastation there.
“He talked to her for two to three hours. He said he was so stressed out he had to talk to somebody,” Ellsworth said. “He said … ‘These people are desperate, they have had nothing to eat, the toilets are overflowing, they can’t take a bath.’”
Haney has been trying to help her family members to get adjusted and settled in Atlanta.
“She’s been on the phone for about three days trying to find help. We left with next to nothing,” Ellsworth said Sept. 1. “I brought enough (medicines) for my mother and me for about a week and a half … We just don’t know how long it’s going to go on that we have to be here, we can’t get money from the bank.”
“Thank God we have our lives and people willing to take us and do for us,” she continued. “I’ve been praying a lot. We’re loving each other, trying to comfort each other. That’s all you can do.”
In Smyrna, Tracee Williams, a member of St. Thomas the Apostle Church, is housing about eight family members from New Orleans, while they try to get in touch with her missing uncle and her brother.
“I’m just hoping and praying (my brother) is OK and will get in contact with me,” Williams said Sept. 1.
She is trying to get support through the archdiocese for her family and an appeal went out through an informal network of friends and e-mails for toiletries and clothes. One brother has taken a job at Walgreens, a company he worked for in Louisiana, and a sister is also trying to find work and has enrolled her 7-year-old in school “so they can get some time to think what they need to do.”
“It’s going to be a long process,” Williams said. “My brother’s an attorney. He is just trying to tap into some of the resources here in Atlanta to get them on their feet … We’re trying to conserve as much money as possible. I’m just thankful my family got out and for those people who were there that it was not a direct hit.”