I just got off the phone with M, who is in San Antonio. She is a fabulously strong and humorous person--I wish you all could have heard her stories. I will try to give you some of the highlights:
First of all, names: There were 170 people in the building, but she doesn't remember a lot of their names. She would know their faces, though, as they got to know each other quite well. The people she could name, who went to the Langley Air Force Base in San Antonio with her to be "processed" were: Mary Grace Lemew, Brenda who has a son in North Carolina, Jim Talbert who is trying to get to Jacksonville, Kristin who is in her 60s and a retired school teacher, grandma Kehoe, and a 96 year old mother who had lived in San Francisco before.
She says she believes everyone got out of the building. There was one man, Peter, who was 95 and was refusing to go because this was his home and he had nowhere else to go, but the manager said she was going to try to make him leave (but that was after Monique left). She does not believe that anyone died in the building, as they did go around and knock on all the doors at a certain point and did start working together. (More on that later.) A FEMA boat took about 11 people, those with the most health problems, yesterday around 3 or 4 pm and said it would come back. The man who needed dialysis was on that boat, but she's not sure about who the others were. When the FEMA boat didn't come back later that night, the rest of the residents made a plan to head out the next morning. Around 10am today the rest of them left and headed to City Park. Those who were too frail to walk, like one 88 year old woman who left with them, were driven to the park in the manager's van. There were 2 double amputees wtih them. Little by little they were picked up by helicopters and taken to the New Orleans airport which was "like a third world country." "The despair in the airport was worse than it had been in our building." No order at all. They would call for people to get in lines and people would just rush in, there was no way to know who had been waiting for 4 days and who had just gotten there. She was lucky to get on a flight to San Antonio and arrived there at 5:45pm today
So those are the basics. Hopefully everyone really is out, and we'll hear more soon!
Now some details:
The original hurricane didn't blow out any windows, but did take off screens and damage the roof, so the 7th floor folks had water leaking through their ceiling. At some point they all started working together and she said everyone was great. They held regular meetings, they took turns with the flash lights. Each floor had a captain, so that if any of the residents were too frail to get information or food, the captain was responsible for getting it to them. J, who ran the restaurant, opened it up and got everyone food. He said, "I don't have enough food to give everyone 3 hot meals a day, but everyone is going to get at least 1 meal a day." Vonzel, the manager, really "stepped up to the plate" and helped take care of everyone and make sure things got done. (We really need to get in touch with her and thank her some day!!) Unfortunately the whole building pretty much ran out of food and water yesterday, which is partly why they decided to walk out today.
And there was a lot of bad news. There were dead bodies in the water outside. (Our families are going to have some serious post-traumatic stress disorder--we need to get everyone into counseling!) There was one body that had been caught between the fence and trees outside for 3 days and "you could smell it from the 5th floor." There were snakes and rats in the flooded water outside and were starting to come in. The water was up to the 2nd level of the local police station.
They felt like their own little island. Someone who had walked from Orleans Avenue came by and told them, "If you walk to the New Orleans post station you'll get picked up." She thinks yesterday 500 people were still waiting there. They were slowly being taken to the interstate. She thought about leaving but it was too scary to walk in the water because of snakes, rats, dead bodies, and the fact that you couldn't tell the depth--she's short and was afraid she'd take a step and just fall in over her head. They could hear the helicopters over their heads but no one ever stopped. It really seemed you had to be stranded outside of a building to get any attention. They started waving sheets outside of windows to get attention, and one helicopter captain looked her in the eye and gave her the thumbs up but had to keep going. Today was the first day they really broke down and cried.
But they had some fun, too. In order to get the attention of the helicopters, M got white sheets and made signs for the roof: "170 people inside" and "Don't land here--roof unstable" and "Need food, water, phone...and a good man if he's available" !! (: And they spent hours planning the hurricane reunion party--who would make the martinis, who would cook what, etc.
It was an incredible story, and we talked for nearly an hour, before she even took a shower!! She is an amazing woman, and I'm sure she was a great source of strength and comic relief for our family members. Hopefully we'll all meet her in person someday, at that big hurricane party...
More as I learn it. Those vibes and prayers are helping, folks. Thank you is inadequate.