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Family finds new hope in Ironton

One displaced New Orleans family is finding the road to recovery from Hurricane Katrina is paved with the kindness of strangers from far away.

It has been three weeks since Hurricane Katrina ravaged parts of Lousiana, Alabama and Mississippi. Families across the nation are trying to put the pieces back together.

LeKeisha Scott and her three children were among the several families who accepted the offer of help from the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization. They arrived at Storms Creek Apartments earlier this week, hoping to find some semblance of a normal life. Scott said she has found a warm welcome in a strange land.

"The people have been nice," she said.

"A lady came with Girl Scout cookies. Then a lady that lives in back of us, she said we were welcome. No one makes us feel out of place. People have been helping us."

While she was aware that Hurricane Katrina would be powerful, Scott said she had never lived through a storm of that magnitude and was not prepared for how much damage it would do.

"There had been hurricanes but none that had hit New Orleans itself. I'm 27, so maybe before I was born there were," she said.

The Scotts packed their bags the Sunday before Katrina hit, and like others, sought refuge with other family members at the Lake Charles Civic Center. Crowded with 3,200 other evacuees, Scott said it was the best they could do in a bad situation. She is still appreciative of how people there gave whatever assistance possible.

"We had three meals and snacks for the kids," she recalled. "People had to understand, it was just a shelter. It wasn't perfect. I thank people for what they did for us."

During their two week stay at the civic center, news spread that people were coming from other states to offer assistance. Ohioans were first to arrive. With an old life wiped away by flood waters and wind, the family opted to get on the bus and come north. Scott said after she got off the bus Monday night, she found herself bewildered and homesick.

"I was packing and unpacking at the same time," she said. "I told some other people who came 'I'm not staying' and they said "Oh, try it out first.' My kids said they like it here."

Coming to Ironton meant leaving behind family and friends, some of whom she has not made contact with since the hurricane scattered them.

One cousin has lost his janitorial business. Another cousin who was a guard at a jail had to be rescued from the roof of the jail when floodwaters rose in the city. While her parents, who live in La Place, are safe, she is not sure about other relatives in what has always been a tightly knit group.

Scott hears of their post-hurricane hardships and can't help but wince.

"I talked to my mom and my aunt and they're driving an hour to get gas and groceries. There's this 6:30 p.m. curfew and if you don't have it when you go home, you don't go out and get it after 6:30," she said. "The stuff they're telling me, I couldn't believe."

Ironton, she said, is a change of scenery from New Orleans and she wonders how she will cope.

"It's different. I didn't know what to expect," Scott said. "I'm not used to the mountains and the hills. I got up this morning - I get up early - and it was so foggy I couldn't see my hand in front of my face almost. I thought 'this is foggy.' It's just different."

When her children were told there were deer and opposums in Ohio, Andrew asked, "Are there elephants, too?"

And there are logistical considerations, too.

"I'm not used to a small town," Scott said. "I'm used to the city. I worry about how I'm going to get around, no buses, no transportation."

The children will likely be settled into a school by the end of the week. Scott said once she gets the youth enrolled in school, she may continue her studies in criminal justice. She knows that some people she came with are already looking for work.

Right now, many hurricane evacuees who lost everything are probably also numb from their experience, she said.

"Right now, people are in a state of shock. When reality sets in, they are going to need a lot of counseling, a lot of counseling. It's been only two weeks. Some of these people have got to understand they may not be able to go back."

When she hears people say they might go back in a month, or two months, she shakes her head.

Andrew said he misses his "papaw" most of all. Desiree misses the grandfolks, too, and her friends and toys.

But in spite of their losses, Scott said she is grateful for how Lawrence Countians have opened their hearts, grateful that strangers have made her feel welcome,.

"The way I look at it, we're here and people are helping us," she said. "This is a blessing from God."