Katrina Evacuees in Big Bend

by Julie Montanaro
August 29, 7pm

We want to take you back to this time last year. Tallahassee was inundated with Katrina evacuees, some estimates as high as 10,000 of them.

Shelters were open. Families were inviting evacuees into their homes and evacuees were desperate to find out what happened to their homes and their family members.

When the floodwaters receded, many of those evacuees went home, but FEMA estimates nearly 1,000 Katrina survivors are still living in Tallahassee and surrounding counties.

Martha Granger is peeling shrimp, slicing sausage and dicing onions, cooking up a big pot of gumbo, a spicy reminder of her life in east New Orleans, a life washed away by Katrina.

"After a couple of days you realize you don't have anything and you don't know how you're going to make it," said Granger as she fought back tears.

Granger fled to Tallahassee in the days before Katrina. A month after the storm, she went back to see what was left of her home and had to sneak by the National Guard to do it.

Granger says she knew then she wasn't going back.

"I will always want to go home, but will I go? No, I don't think so, because there's nothing to go back to," she said

"A lot of things I used to take for granted, I don't take for granted anymore," reflected Bronson Dunnam, a Katrina evacuee who now lives in Crawfordville.

Dunnam and his family spent 12 days without power, without water and without any way of communicating with the outside world.

"Only thing we got to save was the clothes on our backs and whatever we could fit in that car I've got outside, but thank God, I've got my wife and my kids and the rest were material things, you know."

Dunnam works as a spotter at the Leon County Landfill now, a far cry from St. Bernard Parish and his life as a commercial fisherman. He says he'll go back to Louisiana to visit, but not to start over.

"We went back down there but it's not like it used to be. I don't think it'll ever be like it used to be. Why go rebuild when it can happen again and again and again?"

Martha Granger says she's cried a lot lately and has had trouble sleeping as the images of Katrina splash across the TV screen on this one year anniversary, but more important than what she lost, she says, is what she found in Tallahassee: a welcome mat and a lot of help getting back on her feet.

Granger says from her first day in a shelter here, she was overwhelmed with people's generosity.

"Anything they could do, from the richest of the rich to the poorest of the poor, they were just helping us. I can't even describe in words what they have done for us."

Martha Granger volunteers at the Red Cross now, hoping she will have the opportunity to prove to others in crisis that even if you've lost everything, you can make it.