Taking Shelter at the D.C. Armory

Hundreds of Storm Survivors Arrive in Capital

An unidentified hurricane survivor from New Orleans, carrying a box of meals under his arm, is welcomed to the D.C. Armory.
An unidentified hurricane survivor from New Orleans, carrying a box of meals under his arm, is welcomed to the D.C. Armory. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
By Theola S. Labbe and Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 7, 2005

He was the first person to step inside the D.C. Armory yesterday, the tall elderly man who carried all his belongings in a plastic grocery bag and walked with a slight limp. Behind him was a woman in a plaid dress who pushed a walker, a girl with a pink barrette in her hair and a small boy in a lime-green T-shirt who was scooped up into a hug by a D.C. official.

One by one, the New Orleans survivors of Hurricane Katrina arrived in Washington yesterday, welcomed with smiles and applause from emergency workers and District leaders. Some came on stretchers or makeshift wheelchairs. Others could move on their own but looked tired and dazed.

Along with the clothes on their backs and the scraps of their lives stuffed into trash bags, the evacuees brought tales of fear and survival -- and were grateful to finally be able to call someplace home.

"I feel very warm," said Jameila Anderson, 19, until last week a sophomore at Dillard University in New Orleans, who arrived at the shelter with her boyfriend and his mother. "I feel relieved. I feel like everything is going to be all right."

A total of 295 evacuees were flown from New Orleans to Dulles International Airport on two commercial aircraft, and more may arrive here over the next several days. They were taken to the armory on Metrobuses and fed a hearty lunch of meatballs, egg noodles and mixed vegetables with a garden salad.

Workers with the American Red Cross, which is managing the shelter, planned to issue identification cards and assess whether evacuees needed such services as medical treatment, mental health counseling, job referrals or help with school enrollment. They will be able to stay at the armory 30 days, perhaps longer.

"This is Step 1. They're here," said Linda Cropp, chairman of the D.C. Council, who stood with Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and other city officials shortly before the evacuees arrived. "We now must get them involved in our community."

Although District officials initially had planned to receive a group of hurricane survivors being housed in Arkansas, the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Monday night instead arranged the airlift from the New Orleans airport.

City Administrator Robert C. Bobb, who met the first plane at Dulles, said that although many people were relieved to reach a well-equipped shelter, others were astonished and dismayed to find themselves in the nation's capital, "thousands of miles from home."

"People were real irritated. 'Why am I in Washington when I wanted to go to Texas?' I heard that on two or three occasions," Bobb said. "No one told them where they were going until they got on the plane."

Three people arrived at the armory only to demand a ride back to the airport so they could travel at their own expense to Texas, Bobb said. Another man asked to go to Alabama.

Other jurisdictions in the region also were making plans to put up evacuees in shelters if needed.

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