Katrina Survivors Tell Their Story
Sonsyrea Tate Washington Informer, September 13th 2005
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ronald Breland, 53, needed a cold beer after the storm. “Our house was a two-story, so we didn’t expect the water to rise the way it rose. When it came up, it just flooded everything,” Breland said told The Informer Wednesday afternoon. A tall, then, but sturdy man, Brlenad was born and raised in New Orleans. His family moved from a housing project into a subdivision of private homes in Ponchatrain when he was five. After a four year tour in the Marines, he returned to his hometown. He and his brother were among those who tried to hang on after the historic hurricane hit Monday. “Was”. Breland is adjusting to the loss. “The helicopters started coming in and telling everybody to move out. When we had this before, the water came up but went back down. But when it came up the second time, it came up with the oil from the cars out in the street and the stuff in the sewers. It turned the water black,” Breland said. Breland was huddled with five people on the second floor in his house – his brother and a few neighbors. “We all stuck together and we all wound up here,” Breland told a reporter last week, sitting in a corner of a park off 17th and Massachusetts in southeast. He and his friends arrived at the D.C. Armory Tuesday when city officials, federal agents, and throngs of volunteers welcomed them to 300 cots, plenty of good food, donated clothes and toiletries, and Wal-Mart vouchers for shopping. They also had vouchers for other retailers. Breland and the other survivors became instant celebs. “You should’ve seen it,” said Timothy Funchess, sitting in a neighborhood park near the Armory. “They had a parade for us coming in. People were honking their horns and waving at the bus, and when we got here, the people in the neighborhood were standing out there with “welcome” signs. Breland and Funchess met at the D.C. Armory and became fast friends. Wednesday evening they found a nearby liquor store, a nearby park, and settled in – to settle down. “We’re new in your city. Just visiting really,” Breland said by way of introduction to a woman he did not guess was a reporter. Breland and Funchess had drifted away from the Armory, away from the glitz and the bustle, away from a throng of reporters seeking their survival stories. “It was a bunch of them standing out there at the front,” Breland said. His teeth look like chickletts with wide spaces between. His baritone voice ought to be on radio. Breland made it clear up front that he would talk as long as there were no cameras. “I was one of the looters,” he said. “He was looting. People needed food. What else were they supposed to do?” Funchess piped in. Funchess sounds more southern, even referred to D.C. as up north. He wore black sweat pants and a blue hospital smock – courtesy of donation. They both wore official I.D. badges bearing the D.C. logo and the word “temporary.” Funchess talked about his old job as a hotel porter. He is sure his job will be there when he returns. “Yeah it’s still standing. It’s historic,” he said of the Sonaite House Hotel where he worked the past three and a half years. “They said we can go back in a couple of months.” “The days leading up to the flood? I was working and stuff, but come Sunday they were telling everybody to evacuate. But we said we’re staying because we’ve been lucky 40 years, but the luck ran out, and come Monday morning, about 8:30 or so it started raining very heavy and the winds were blowing about 140-150 miles per hour,” Funchess said. Funchess was in the house with his elderly father, who is also incapacitated. As the water rose and it became clear that it would not recede as usual, Funchess wondered how he could get his father out and keep the old man lifted high enough to keep his head above water. “The water started rising, so the first night we stayed in the attic,” Funchess said. The house got about three feet of water. The next morning, friends in the house next to us said ‘ya’ll need to come stay with us’. So we took all the canned food and went to stay with them. We lasted for seven days and they finally came and told us we had to leave because they said they were closing the city and we had to leave.” Funchess, his father, and their neighbors were rescued on a boat, then a helicopter picked them up and took them to an airport, where they stayed until boarding a plane. The plane ride was two hours. “We watched ‘Herbie the Love Bug’,” Funchess said. Breland and his brother wandered around the airport for three days, not knowing what to expect next, determined to stay together. They had not wanted to leave their home even after the flood – especially after the flood. “We were takin’ stuff upstairs, wiping it off,” Breland said. “They way they got us here, when we go back everything’s going to be matted down. They’re going to take about two months, so we’re really going to lose everything. You could’ve save some things. Washed it off and saved it.” Last Wednesday evening Breland and Funchess declined Mayor Anthony William’s free tickets to a Nationals game, but Funchess was excited that one of his old friends had been chosen to toss the opening pitch. People from his part of New Orleans are not that into baseball. “But one of the guys here with me is pitching the first ball tonight. It’s five of us. Benjamin Camp was pitching. His father, Clinton Camp was going with him. Funchess named the other guys in his group. They are the country’s real survivors at this point. This is their moment of fame. Funchess’ father, Willie Clay, is handicapped, wheelchair bound, and he made it here. “He’ll be 67 on Sept. 10,” Funchess said. “Of that’s Saturday? What day of the week is this? I have to keep up now.” City services here have been good, Breland and Funchess agreed. “The city has been wonderful to us, and the shelter’s making sure all our needs are met,” Funchess said. “They’re giving us clothes, shoes, underwear, soap, the works. They’re really making sure we keep fluid in our body and food on our stomachs…good food, too.” Meatballs, salad, crabcakes, pasta. “The crabcakes were the best,” Breland said. Bar-be-que chicken, fruit, chips, smothered fish. “This morning we had eggs and cheese on French bread.” “The French bread wasn’t all that good,” Breland added. “Yeah, we’re from New Orleans. If we were there we would’ve had grits. Up here in the north, they don’t know that.” Northerners also don’t know much about landscaping the men agreed. “Who cuts yall’s grass? We were just talking about that,” Funchess said. “They just leave the stuff laying there,” Breland said. He was a landscaper back home. “We were saying he could go around here house to house and show them what a lawn is supposed to look like. Ya’ll don’t know how green it could be,” Funchess said. “But I might not be here long enough to get the job,” Breland said, looking around. So many of there fellow survivors already had left by Wednesday evening. Relatives and friends from nearby had picked them up. Funchess already had talked to relatives in California to take him and his father in. They might get plane tickets courtesy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “In the last two days, a lot of people have left,” Funchess said.