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'To Me, It Just Seems Like Black People Are Marked'

Refugees Keyera Winston, 8, Ernest Washington, 9, and Zuri Franklin, 11,  dry off their feet  at a gas stop near Baton Rouge, La.
Refugees Keyera Winston, 8, Ernest Washington, 9, and Zuri Franklin, 11, dry off their feet at a gas stop near Baton Rouge, La. (Carol Guzy - Twp)

"And," Thomas continued, "I stood there, thinking. I said, 'Okay, it's 50-50 if the water will get through.' "

Within hours the water rose, and it kept rising.

"But then I said, 'If we do take the car, some of us would be sitting on one another's laps.' And the state troopers were talking about making arrests."

Instead, he pushed the kids out a window. They scooted to the roof, some pulling themselves up with an extension cord.

"The rain was pouring down so hard," Washington said. "And we had a 3-month-old and a 2-year-old."

The 3-month-old, Nadirah, was sleeping in her mother's arms. "All I had was water to give her," said Washington, her voice breaking, her other children sitting on the concrete putting talcum power inside their soaked sneakers. "She's premature," she went on, about the 3-month-old. "She came May 22. Was supposed to be here July 11. I had her early because I have high blood pressure. Had to have her by C-section."

Bernadette Washington was suddenly worried about her blood pressure medicine. She reached inside her purse. "Look," she said. "All the pills are stuck together."

Both parents had been thinking about the hurricane, the aftermath, the looting, the politicians who might come to Louisiana and who might not. And their own holding-on lives, now jangly like bedsprings suddenly snapped.

"It says there'll come a time you can't hide. I'm talking about people. From each other," Bernadette Washington said.

Thomas, the philosopher, waved his bandaged hand. He had a theory: "God's angry with New Orleans. It's an evil city. The worst school system anywhere. Rampant crime. Corrupt politicians. Here, baby, have a potato chip for daddy."

The 2-year-old, Qadriyyah, took a chip from her daddy and gobbled it up. Her face was covered with mosquito bites. But she smiled just to be in daddy's arms.

Thomas continued: "A predominantly black city -- and they're killing each other. God had to get their attention with a calamity. New Orleans ain't seen an earthquake yet. You can get away from a hurricane but not an earthquake. Next time, nobody may get out."


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