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Friday, September 2, 2005 - Page updated at 08:56 AM

Complete hurricane coverage

Complete hurricane coverage

A special section

Louisiana offers shelter to refugees

The Dallas Morning News

NEW IBERIA, La. — In the midst of what could be the nation's worst natural disaster, and horrifying news of shooting, fighting and looting, some human hearts find time to do good. Tricia Aucoin was just doing what comes naturally.

Wearing jeans and a Wal-Mart vest, Aucoin, 20, made a quick stop to help the small army of the dislocated that has poured into the communities surrounding the destruction that is New Orleans.

"I hope you can use these," she said to a startled refugee couple standing outside the Days Inn in New Iberia, 132 miles west miles of New Orleans. She handed them six bags of nonperishable groceries and two gallons of apple juice, and hugged them.

"My husband and I just felt we had to do something. Watching those people on TV, all I could think was it could be us," she said, jumping into her pickup. "Bye now," she said, "I gotta run, I'm late for work."

Aucoin's single act of generosity is being replicated a thousand times each day across southern Louisiana as families relatively untouched by Katrina's wrath reach out to help those who've lost everything.

Hotels have become mini-refugee camps where the lucky ones get a room with electricity and running water. But everyone gets coffee, a place to sit and a few kind words. And help.

Monday, as refugees began to filter in from the storm's path, a group of eight women from New Iberia cooked 50 meals for those who had no money or food.

Dozens of residents have offered up truck campers and travel trailers to refugees for free. Others have inundated hotels with donations of food and clothing.

"It's heartbreaking to see all these people come in with nothing. You wouldn't be human if you didn't help," said Jenny Carvallos, day clerk at the Days Inn.

"You try to do what you can."

Carvallos gave up her apartment in New Iberia to a family of four from New Orleans who found there were no hotels available in much of southern Louisiana. She now drives in to work from Lafayette 30 miles away where she's staying with family.

"I just couldn't let them stay on the street or send them off to some shelter," she said.

It's a common response, one that is an antidote to the misery and bursts of violence left in Katrina's wake. In New Orleans, chaos and lawlessness reign as the city slips toward anarchy.

"There's terrible things going on and things are much worse than they show on TV," said Christopher Lytle, 44, a New Orleans businessman who left his Algiers-area home after a broken levee sent water coursing toward his neighborhood. "There's no law, no order. It's like civilization gave up and moved away."

Escaping with his brother and his brother's girlfriend, Lytle describes a trip through a new circle of hell. "The police said they couldn't protect us and we'd better get the hell out."

They drove out of the city past scenes of immeasurable damage and images of people breaking into shops or siphoning gas from abandoned cars. He saw people attempt to leave New Orleans in a stolen postal vehicle.

"I love New Orleans and we'll rebuild. We're not giving up on New Orleans," he said. "But no one's going to return until they can feel safe. And that will take awhile."

For a while, Lytle — like other refugees — will depend on the kindness of strangers. He also has learned that disasters strike the rich and the poor with equal ferocity.

"People have been wonderful. It doesn't matter your race or your economic standing, they reach out with hearts and hands to help," Lytle said. "This is something you can't buy your way out of and you can't do it alone."

In New Orleans, Andrew Savage and Joanna Boyd walked down the Highway 90 overpass by the Superdome handing out water bottles.

They rolled a garbage can and a catering cart full of water, a sleeping bag, Snickers bars, candles and — most valuable of all — their 3-week-old nephew, Matthew, in a cradle.

"We're in this together," Savage said. "We've got to help."

Dallas Morning News reporter Michael Grabell contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company




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