The One That's Left Behind

Editor's Note: As evacuation orders were issued all along the Gulf Coast in advance of Hurricane Katrina, those without the resources to leave were left behind to ride out the storm and the devastation that followed. In Mobile, Ala., Dorothy Gaines was one of them. She spoke by cell phone from the flooded city with PNS editor Nell Bernstein.

On Friday and Saturday, before the storm hit, they started coming on the radio and the television here in Mobile, telling people we had to evacuate. Evacuate -- when you don't have one dollar to buy gas, if you have a car. You don't have any money to leave. Then you are the one that's left behind.

My family sat and watched the big long cars leaving the city. We didn't have any money to leave, so we rode it out. I ride every storm out.

Yes, we saw the thousands of cars on the interstate getting out of New Orleans, getting out of Gulfport. People that had more money were able to fly their people out of there. But when you're barely making it day to day, how are you going to get ready for a storm? You have to have money to go gas up a car, to get a hotel out of town. You can't just leave with nowhere to go.

When the storm came, our power went out and our house flooded, but we're still here. There are seven of us in a dark, wet two-bedroom apartment -- me, my children, and my grandchildren. My oldest daughter just got laid off from her job. I used to be a nurse's aide, but I spent time in federal prison. Now I can't get a job.

We're depressed right now, going through a lot, so I can relate to the people in New Orleans. I can imagine how they feel. It's just like being in prison all over again. I was incarcerated with thousands of women in one compound, with one cafeteria, and there were riots when they said you couldn't wear colored socks.

It's the same thing in New Orleans: You're hot, you're hungry, you've lost everything. You don't even know what happened to your loved ones. You don't know what to do.

I worry about a lot of people, because I was incarcerated with women out of New Orleans. The ones that are still in prison, I can imagine they feel hopeless. The phones go off at a certain time and all you can do is wait there patiently and see what's gonna happen. Is my child OK?

I know the pain. When I was locked up, my mother was dying. All I could do was wait for the warden to call me to her office and say your mother is doing better, or your mother is dead. You're a hopeless person when all you can do is wait till daylight for the phone to come back on again.

I was locked up with some girls that have gotten out now and gone back to New Orleans. I don't know if they're alive or dead, because when you come out of prison, you don't have money to go somewhere when something like this happens.

This morning, I was watching the news from New Orleans on a battery-operated television. I saw them picking up an old lady from a school roof. I was thinking she had probably never flown before in her life. She was probably more scared to be pulled up into that helicopter than to be where she was. When they sent me out of state to federal prison, that was the first time I had ever flown. When the marshal said, "You have to board this plane," I was nervous, but I knew I had to do it. Then when I got on the plane and looked out over the clouds, it was so pretty and peaceful and so calm, I just told the Lord, "I'm in your hands." I knew then that I had no control.

Mobile is torn up, but we need to be counting our blessings right now. All we have to think about is bad air and not having power. The people of New Orleans don't have anything. They've been sitting out in the street not able to use the bathroom for four or five days. We have a home to go back to. They have nothing.

There should have been some money set aside for this type of thing, so people could be bussed out before the storm. Because it's just like they say on the news -- they knew the storm was coming. It happened just like they said it would.

People are talking about this as a race issue now. I can't say it's a race issue -- you do have whites mixed in with it. It's a class issue. It's a poor issue.

Upper-class people can leave. They've got money in the bank, they've got credit cards, they can go stay in a hotel until the storm is over. If you don't have money -- whether poor white, poor black, poor Hispanic, whatever -- you stay. You get what's left over, which is nothing.

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