Some fleeing Katrina meet with kindness, generosity

September 17, 2005|By Gregory Kane

WHERE ARE we going?" a tired and thirsty Barbara Fields May wanted to know as she boarded a bus with her family on the first day of September. "I'm not happy not knowing where I'm going."

The bus driver had no answer for her. It was one of many unanswered questions the mass of people who sought refuge in the New Orleans Superdome had for officials in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina's devastation.

It had been three days since May -- along with her two sisters, three nieces and others -- had been rescued by Coast Guard personnel from the roof of a building in flooded New Orleans. They spent early Tuesday, Aug. 30, and part of Wednesday, Aug. 31, in the Superdome, which had become a hell-hole because of unsanitary conditions and a shortage of food and water.

On Aug. 31, May said, occupants of the Superdome were told they had to leave and wait outside for buses. They weren't allowed back in the Superdome, but they weren't given other shelter, either. When rain poured from the sky in sheets about 4 p.m., those desperately waiting to be evacuated had to tough it out.

Once on the bus, May and the others learned their destination was the Reunion Center in Dallas. Once they arrived, it seemed like heaven compared to what they had faced in the Superdome.

"We got food," May recalled. "And cold water."

Sitting this week on the steps of the home of Vanessa and Darryl Bass near Milford Mill High School, May took in a breath, closed her eyes, and repeated those last two words.

"Cold water," she said, clasping herself and almost gasping the words.

You can bet that Barbara May and everyone else who had to spend days in the Superdome will never take cold water for granted again.

There were other things available in Dallas, items that might seem commonplace to most of us but absolutely essential for those whose city had been flooded. May especially appreciated the Gatorade and bananas, which provided potassium to help alleviate her hypertension.

May also received new clothes and shoes to replace the one set of muddied apparel she had worn since the rescue. Her nephew from Kansas City, Kan., had learned of the plight of his aunts and cousins. He came to fetch them.

Their journey to Kansas City found them spending one night in Oklahoma City and one night in Wichita, Kan., before they arrived in Kansas City. May is still astounded by -- and grateful for -- the donations of food and clothing she, her sisters and her nieces received at every stop of their trip.

"Everywhere, people just opened up their hearts," May said.

But as May -- and her younger sisters Theresa Mary Fields and Veronica Fields Bolden -- were making their way from city to city, her friend Vanessa Bass was urging her to bring her family to Baltimore County and stay with her and her husband, Darryl.

May and Vanessa Bass first met in 1977 at a teachers convention in California. They became friends and visited each other often. May would stay at the Bass home whenever she attended teachers conferences in nearby Washington. Vanessa visited New Orleans to attend Mardi Gras and the city's jazz festival.

The Fields family accepted the hospitality of Vanessa and Darryl Bass. They arrived in Baltimore County on Thursday, Sept. 8. It took three cars to move all six women and the donations of food and clothing they had accumulated in every city along the way.

The first order of business once May and her sisters were in the Bass household was to see that Theresa's daughters enrolled in school.

"We didn't want their education interrupted," May said.

So Cornell Bass, Darryl Bass' brother, started making some phone calls. Soon, 25-year-old Lumani Fields was enrolled at Coppin State University. Alicia Fields, 19, attends the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and, Cornell Bass said, lives on campus. Christen Fields, 16, is now at McDonogh School. She also lives on campus.

May soon learned that hearts in the Baltimore area were as open as the ones in Oklahoma City, Wichita and Kansas City. She wants to thank everyone, but especially the Knights of Columbus and New Antioch Baptist Church. Cornell Bass said the Coco Brown Beauty Salon also extended a helping hand.

"In church they walked up and said, `Whatever you need,'" May said. "This is a marvelous outpouring of love and care."

Now that her nieces are in school, May wants to return to work. She retired from her job in staff development for New Orleans public schools in 1998. Before that, she was a reading specialist.

If offers of jobs are as generous as the offers of clothing, food and other necessities, May probably won't have to wait very long.

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