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Hurricane Katrina: Refugee Truth or Panic?

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I’ve received several emails today that express concerns about the New Orleans refugee situation here in Houston. I can’t say whether these things are true or simply rumor, but reading between the lines, there is a definite concern, not for the well-being of the displaced Louisianians, but for the well-being of the local Texans. Without speaking to the truth of the email contents, there does seem to be a current of social and racial distrust running through them. After all, the refugees are, for the most part, poor and African American (if not in truth then certainly in perception), and certainly desperate.


A guy I know spoke this morning to his friend that works at the police department and he told him something that he said you probably won’t see on the news – which you will figure out why when reading.

He informed him that everyone needs to be extremely careful right now and to tune in to what is really happening around you. He said that we need to remember that there are thousands of good people that are elderly, children and helpless being housed with people that are criminals and dope addicts going through withdrawals out of no choice.

He said that there has already been a rape in the dome of a woman by two men and they are writing graffiti on the walls and some are going through withdrawals and have been violent to innocent people. He said that these people cannot be contained to the dome and some are desperate and that desperate people do things that they might not ordinarily do.

He said to heighten your awareness and to put your intelligence ahead of your pity. He said to not drive with your doors unlocked because there has been some cases in Louisiana and one in Texas of carjacking. When you pump gas, lock the car doors till you get finished.

Don’t open your doors for solicitation. No one from Red Cross or a reliable organization will go door to door. Do not open your window to speak to people that are on the side of the road. Some might be from the disaster but some may just be taking advantage of the situation and you and you might be in danger to open your window. He said to do your donations to the Red Cross or other reliable source.

He said that we need to remember that there are thousands of good people but they are being housed with the bad out of no choice. They need our help but not to try to go alone to do it for your own safety. Bring donations to the drop off locations or notify someone to pick it up.

I passed this on, because I have been kinda in a trance from the disbelief of the magnitude of this. When he told me this, I just couldn’t believe that people could hurt someone that was trying to help or someone that is in a bad situation the same as you. I thought why is he saying this. Those people are hurting; they surely wouldn’t hurt others that are helping. But, after thinking about it, I realized that there are thousands of people with nothing and nothing to lose; they need help. This is sad but it is realistic.

I just wanted to pass it on to you, because I just wanted you to be alert to what danger could be out there to you and your family which ordinarily might not be because of desperation. Please make your children and friends aware that their sadness for the situation could be taken advantage of.

We need to all pray really hard right now.

Like most emails, it began with a vague reference to a friend of a friend who is in the know. How true this is, in reality, is anyone’s guess but the reference is suspect. No one is named and it is made explicit that the information will probably not make the news, hence it is essentially unverifiable in this form. This being said, the instructions are useful: who could argue against caution?

FYI, we just heard from a policeman that there were some prisoners transported to the Astrodome and some have escaped and are at large in the area and some may come to the Galleria area. Wherever you are, be careful, and keep your car doors and windows locked and beware of anyone collecting donations on the street…

This email, shorter, is clearly a variation on the first one (or vice versa.) Unlike the first, which labels the miscreants only as “people with nothing and nothing to lose”, the second email claims that they are prisoners escaped from custody. Again, we really have no way to verify it. The email was forwarded to me at the end of a fairly long chain of forwards so who knows who, if anyone, actually spoke to a policeman about the incident.

It is worth noting that, as far as I know, no incidents of the types described in the emails have occurred and been reported to the press. An article at the Houston Chronicle describes one Astrodome volunteer’s experiences. He doesn’t mention anything about violence or crime amongst the refugees:

It was an amazing cross section of humanity…young, old, big, little, etc. Nearly all were black, and practically everyone appeared like they’d been through a war zone. Most seemed content with their lot at the moment; I saw no arguing or frustration…I think they were just glad to be inside and settled for a bit. About half were able to sleep amidst the chaos; the others were pretty quiet. Children were everywhere; I was amazed at their resilience…they seemed oblivious to the reality of things, and were just happy being kids…

I think that it is important that we take whatever precautions are necessary to ensure our own safety.However, we should not give in to panic or jaded mistrust. It is all too easy to get caught up in the fervor – spread like a plague through anonymous emails, whispered half-true tales, and sensationalist media – we must remember that this situation that is merely an inconvenience for us is all that is left of the lives of countless New Orleans citizens. They are more than faceless villains of social-morality tales or helpless pawns to overwelming desperation and greed, they’re people. Just like us.

[Article cross-posted at The Errant Fool, here.]


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  • Where ever the crowds of survivors go, crime has risen sharply. The looting going on goes way beyond just surviving. Why would you need a color TV to survive? If somebody is trying to save you, why are you shooting at them?

    The looters are a national disgrace that makes the whole world gasp and wonder “This is America?”

  • Bradley Derby

    I just thought I’d let you know that the displaced americans from New Orleans and area should not be referred to as refugees but instead as displaced americans or katrina survivors. Refugee refers to someone escaping invasion, oppression, or persecution, often to another country. In my opinion Hurricane Katrina did none of these things and I’d be more inclined to use words such as ravaged, battered, smashed or destroyed. Those people are victims not by terrorists, governments or a religious orginization but by mother nature. So please take this into consideration.

    Thank You

  • JEFF

    let the military handle all these criminals. give them a free hand time has come for america to crack down on crime old fashion way marshal law untill future notice.