Katrina evacuees ‘started from scratch’ in Troy

Published 12:09 am Saturday, August 28, 2010

Five years ago, the warnings came of the impending hurricane called Katrina.

During the 60 years they had lived in New Orleans, Yolande and Bill Davis had heard more hurricane warnings than either could count.

Evacuation was nothing new to them.

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They would grab a few things, drive over to Mississippi and stay with family until the threat had passed. Then, they would go back home to life as usual.

So, when they decided to take the “evacuation’ route on Aug. 28, 2005, they grabbed a change of clothes and a few necessary items and walked out of the house without even looking back.

“But, for some reason, and I don’t know what it was, I took a couple of pictures and threw them on the bed,” Yolande Davis said.

One of the pictures was of the “just married” couple and the other was of her parents.

Although they had ridden out a few storms, to do so was not an option this time.

“Bill’s knees had given out on him and he couldn’t walk, but we wouldn’t have stayed anyway,” Davis said. “Evacuation was just a way of life. We thought it would be like so many other times. We’d evacuate, nothing would happen, and we’d go back home and it would be just like we’d left it.”

If Davis had known that she and her husband would never go home again, she would have taken time to gather some of the things that held great meaning for them. And, she would have looked back.

“The 17th Street Canal levee broke and didn’t protect us from Hurricane Katrina,” Davis said. “We were told that our house was standing in 11 feet of water. Three weeks later, we were told that there was nothing left. Everything was gone.”

Everything except the two pictures that Davis had tossed on the bed.

A cousin had found the pictures, cleaned them up and saved them for the couple.

“We didn’t go back,” Davis said. “There was no reason to go back. All we had left of our life there was the two pictures. I was so thankful for them.”

In their 80s, Yolande and Bill Davis found themselves “homeless.”

“But we were fortunate,” she said. “I had worked for years in insurance and knew what had to be done. So many people didn’t know and then there were so many, many that didn’t have insurance at all. We were the fortunate ones.”

The Davises lived in Georgia for a while but Bill Davis wanted to go back home to Troy.

He was from Troy and she had grown up in New Orleans. They had met when she was working at the USO in New Orleans.

“Oh, we had such a good time at the USO,” Davis said with a smile. “Some of us ‘girls’ organized the Dixie Debs and we had bands on Saturday and Sunday nights and we all danced and it was so much fun. Over in one corner was this little café but you had to pay over at the cashier’s. I was the cashier.”

When Bill Davis came to “check out,” they both did a little checkin’ out.

“I guess you could say that it was love at first sight,” Davis said with a smile. “We dated three months and then he went overseas. When he came home in two years, we got married and we thought he’d be in the states. But, in six weeks, he was back overseas. Bill had thought he would be in the military for a career but that changed his mind.”

The couple lived in New Orleans and never gave thought to living anywhere else, until Katrina.

“Bill loved Troy and, after we lost our home, after we lost everything, that’s where he wanted to be,” Davis said.

“I wanted to be where he was.”

The couple moved “home” to Troy three and a half years ago and started housekeeping from scratch.

“When you start from nothing …” Davis said but didn’t finish the sentence. “But Bill’s family was wonderful to us. They helped us in every way. Bill wasn’t able to get out so we stayed close to home. His family and our neighbors were so good to us and they are so good to me now.”

It has been 10 months since her husband’s death, and Davis said she is coping.

“I’ve haven’t had a chance to meet many people but Rhonda (Flowers) took me to the library the other day, and I really enjoyed that,” Davis said. “And, they are trying to talk me into going to the senior center and I think I’d like to do that. It can get lonesome sitting here with nobody to talk to, so I keep the television or the radio on to make some noise.”

Davis said she sometimes talks to friends back in New Orleans but that doesn’t make her homesick.

“This is home to me now,” she said. “Bill’s family is my family and they make me feel wanted. We all need to feel wanted.”

Davis said that is the real tragedy wrought by Katrina – that there are so many people who still have no place to call home and no place where they really feel wanted.

“I’m fortunate,” she said. “I have a home and a family. I miss Bill terribly. I make it all right during the day but when I go to bed at night is when it’s the hardest.

“I had to help him in bed and we’d talk and pray together and we were so thankful to be home and together.”