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Hurricane Katrina Evacuee Reflects on 10 Years in Western Kentucky

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John Null/WKMS
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This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina passing through New Orleans and the Gulf Coast area and, according to one study, displacing 400,000 people in the process. But it also marks 10 years for a new life made in western Kentucky.

Elnisha Jones is reflecting on the events of August 29, 2005 from her front porch in Murray. She and her family had to leave their home in the Ninth Ward that day as the floodwaters surged. 

“Everything was underwater," Jones said. "We had to get in a boat. A man came and got us – me and my mom and my son – in a boat. So we had to swim to the boat. The water was, like, over this house.”

They were taken to a makeshift evacuee area on an Interstate before being taken to a convention center where they stayed for a few days, eating T.V. dinners.

“But then we saw they had like three or four buses and I just got on the bus," Jones said. "I didn’t care where we was going. I just knew I needed to get a bath.”

She was headed for Kentucky, specifically Woodmen of the World’s youth camp in Murray. Shelia Crouse, with Woodmen Murray then and now, says the camp is a Red Cross disaster relief location. Crouse says the Red Cross brought several buses of refugees up from the Gulf – hundreds of people.

“We were able to house them in the camp and I remember when they came in, they were just devastated," Crouse said. "They didn’t know where they were, just devastated. And after they got there and they were there for a little bit and everyone was so good to them, they felt at home.”

Barry Newsome, also still with Woodmen, had just started there 10 years ago, around the time the refugees began to arrive.

“The part I remember was how grateful they were to be here but also how the community came around and supported total strangers," Newsome said.

“I was the only one that had a little baby at the time," Jones said, of the day she arrived at Camp WOW. "He was 2, so they said the lady with the baby go in first. They had it all decorated – balloons and food and clothes and toothpaste. They had it all laid back. And they had food waiting on people."

But Elnisha had another child - 10-year-old daughter Derrickka - who was at her aunt’s in Kinder, Louisiana at the time of the evacuation. And the phones weren’t working.

“I didn’t know if she was alive or dead," Jones said.

After Elnisha arrived in Murray, the Red Cross was able to get her in touch with Derrickka and then flew her to Murray. After a couple months at Camp WOW, Elnisha decided to stay in Murray - a choice that surprised some of her friends back in New Orleans.

“They say I’m crazy," Jones said. "They say, ‘How you gonna live with all those white folks?’ I’m like, y’all keep saying that.”

“My job where I work at now, I’m the only black person there, as of now, but it don’t matter to me," Jones said. "Everybody is different colors but they treat me the same way so it don’t matter to me. I feel loved here.”

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Credit John Null/WKMS
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Elnisha Jones, her daughter Natasha, and fiance Patrick.

  Elnisha visits New Orleans regularly. She says it’s much improved from 10 years ago, with stricter law enforcement. But she isn’t tempted to move back. She has a 2-year-old daughter that was born in Murray and has a fiancé. She still keeps in touch and attends church with some of the Murray residents who volunteered at Camp WOW ten years ago. And she’s not the only Katrina evacuee that settled here, but one of several who decided to remain in Murray after Hurricane Katrina.

“It was just a bad experience," Jones said. "I wouldn’t wish that to happen to nobody because we lost everything, like memories, like baby pictures and all that. You can’t get that back.”

John Null is the host and creator of Left of the Dial. From 2013-2016, he also served as a reporter in the WKMS newsroom.
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