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By van, by bus, finally leaving New Orleans

Published September 4, 2005

NEW ORLEANS - When deliverance finally came, many were too sick or too scared to feel anything.

The planes, trains and buses rumbled all day, carrying thousands from this ruined city. Hundreds emerged for the first time from their flooded homes. Neighbors rescued neighbors. Police picked up residents in the streets.

Some couldn't wait to leave. Others wanted to be left behind.

Many were reluctant and ambivalent.

For all, it was another day of uncertainty.

It was mostly dry in Uptown New Orleans. But behind the boarded doors and churches, people were scared.

Scared to leave. Scared to stay.

"I'll die here," 77-year-old Cornelius Apffel said, peeking out from behind the green door of his darkened bicycle shop on Oak Street. Apffel sleeps alone in his 30- by 150-foot home with a gun by his bed. "Where am I going to go?"

Down the street on Carrollton Avenue, 30 to 40 indigent and elderly men and women sat alone in the dark of Mater Dolorosa Apartments, a community run by the Catholic archdiocese.

The priest who ran the residence left Tuesday, residents said. This was Saturday. They had been eating the food that was left and calling out on the land-based telephone to try to get help.

But the fact that they were in an area that was dry made them less of an evacuation priority.

"We got in contact with so many organizations, but they said, "There's so many people in worse trouble. Hold on,' " said Barbara Battiest, 65.

Many of the Mater Dolorosa residents left Sunday with family before the storm. Others just didn't have anyone to call.

Even when officers from the New Orleans Police Department arrived with vans to transport the residents, they had to do some convincing to get some of them to go.

"I don't know what to do," a confused 91-year-old Marguerite Lipsey said as an officer with a rifle slung across his back tried to get her to go.

On the fourth floor, Cuban-born Arturo Montero, 71, had to be talked into leaving.

"Sir, I'm begging you to come," Sgt. Kevin Coakley said. "You will die here. If you don't die from starvation, you will die from disease."

Montero stood at the door, sweating and shirtless, and only began to give in when a Spanish-speaking translator began persuading him that Texas might offer a community where he could live.

"Bien, bien," he said.

The English translation of what he said next was, "It's difficult because when you're old you have a certain idea about the way things should be, and it's hard to change. I love these four walls, and if I have to leave, I'm going to feel sad."

"It's better to come here and rescue people'

Andrew Kane, 22, stood hip-deep in water at the end of the streetcar line on Carrollton Avenue, waiting for a sign everything was all right. Ten minutes had passed since his father, Tom Kane, 55, and friend, Don Matherne, 40, had disappeared into waist-deep water of what used to be Neron Place.

They were on a mission to rescue two women they had heard, through a telephone grapevine, were trapped.

The Kanes left Baton Rouge at 7 a.m. to get to New Orleans and make the rescue. They met up with Matherne, an Army reservist, who promised his fatigues and identification badge to get them in and out of a city otherwise on lockdown.

"We figure it's better to come here and rescue people than sending them to shelters," Andrew Kane said.

For five days sisters Lynda and Patty Friedman, 56 and 58 respectively, had been hunkered down in Uptown homes, listening to radio reports of what was happening to the city around them. They had water, plenty of food, and the house they were staying in was fine.

But Lynda, an attorney for Entergy Corp., knew that if emergency officials rescued her, she would be escorted to a shelter and separated from her dogs, Elizabeth and Meg. Patty, a writer who has been working on a novel called Side Effects: A New Orleans Love Story, had never in her life evacuated for a hurricane. She didn't see a need to start now. So they laid low in a hot dog house until they could reach their brother in Ohio by phone Thursday. He got a message to Entergy telling them where Linda was. And Linda's group secretary, Ralynn Kane, talked her husband into going after them.

"We're the stupidest people alive," Lynda said as she came sloshing through the coffee-colored water with Kane and Matherne helping push the pets in plastic bins.

Lynda said she felt embarrassed for staying behind because of the distress she put her loved ones through, but she knew her pains didn't compare with those of others in the city.

"If y'all want to leave, you have to go with us. Now!'

At the corner of St. Charles and Napoleon Avenues, the police officer was barking at a cluster of newly rescued residents slumped outside Copeland's Restaurant.

"Y'all want to stay here?" he said. "There's no food; there's no water; we're not coming back to take care of you. If y'all want to leave, you have to go with us. Now!"

Airboats had plucked them from their homes only hours earlier. And now, just as they reacquainted themselves with dry ground, officers yelled at them to board a waiting bus. Many were confused. Some tired. Some reluctant. An elderly woman in a wheelchair asked where the bus would take her.

One officer cackled, turning to another.

"There's a lady in a wheelchair sitting over there asking where she's going to go?" he said. "F---, I don't know where she's going to go. Out of here, though."

Frankie Clayton, 61, shook her head. All week, she had sat on the third level of her flooded home on Louisiana Avenue with her husband, James. And now, this.

"I haven't had a bath in four days," she said. "Don't be yelling at me. I'm a human being, too. They're treating us like dogs."

The elderly woman in the wheelchair boarded.

Frankie and James Clayton did not. They wanted to get to Baton Rouge, and the bus was headed for the convention center. They had heard about the convention center.

The bus pulled away with a full load. A few minutes later, several more newly rescued arrived at the corner. And a few minutes after that, another bus. A police officer hopped out, yelling.

"Folks, are y'all coming or not?" an officer said. "Because if not, I'm leaving. There are other people who want to be rescued."

"I just want to get away from here'

When she heard yellow school buses were lining up outside the New Orleans convention center on Saturday, she started running, outpacing her 13-year-old son, rushing to tell her husband the news.

Shontel Bartholomew and her husband, Oneal, gathered their five children and walked toward the line.

"They've been telling us for days buses are coming," Oneal said.

Nothing, until now.

Oneal Bartholomew, 28, had gotten his paycheck from his hotel bellhop job the Friday before Katrina. He paid September's rent, his electricity and cell phone bills, and had $100 in his pocket. Not enough to evacuate.

His family lived through the storm, then walked 10 hours to the convention center on Wednesday, pushing plastic bags full of clothing, shoes and diapers in a cart.

They couldn't bear another day at the center, filled with the stench of urine and dead bodies.

"You feel like less than a man. You feel helpless and useless," Bartholomew said.

They arrived at the bus line. It stretched four blocks.

The buses were filling up. Fast.

Would they make it?

"Man, I hope so," Bartholomew said as he walked to the back of the line, pushing his cart.

Standing there, he was still fuming. Angry that all the poor neighborhoods flooded worst. Mad that black churches weren't doing more. Furious at state and federal officials.

The line moved slowly.

Oneal Bartholomew had already decided. He was never coming back to New Orleans.

"I work hard every day that God gives me," said Bartholomew, who drove a forklift for Mississippi River Coastal Cargo on weekends during tourism's off season. "Me and my family don't deserve this."

He waited, hoping and praying his family would make it onto a bus. Every so often, he peered ahead.

He rubbed his 1-year-old daughter, Ariana, with melting ice. His son, 13-year-old Dewayne, fanned himself with a paper plate. His wife shielded herself with an umbrella.

Only a block and a half away.

"We're getting close," Oneal Bartholomew said after a half-hour in line.

Then they stopped.

The last bus disappeared.

Minutes later, another fleet of buses arrived.

After more than an hour, the family got to the barricaded checkpoint, where National Guard troops ordered everyone with weapons to part with them, no questions asked.

Beyond the checkpoint, the convention center behind them, Bartholomew and his family climbed onto bus 1888.

Asked where he was headed, Bartholomew, his man's face too big for the school bus window, said he didn't know.

"I just want to get away from here," he said.

By nightfall, the convention center, which housed 25,000 evacuees, was empty.

Everyone there was finally where they wanted to be: Someplace else.

Staff writer Jamie Thompson contributed to this report, which includes information from the Associated Press.

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