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|| News Item: Posted 2005-10-31

Relief Efforts after Hurricane Katrina
By Dana R. Bowler, Ventura County Star

Photo by Dana R. Bowler / Ventura County Star

Photo by Dana R. Bowler / Ventura County Star

Viola Williams, 46 of New Orleans (facing) cries as she hugs Paula Cade, the Director of Church Education for Kingwood United Methodist Church in Texas Saturday morning. Cade is helping Wiliams find her husband Glen Williams.
When my editor Juliette Coughlin approached me on August 30th about going to Houston to cover the relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina my heart jumped. I was nervous, excited and honored. There are 10 other photographers at the Ventura County Star and she chose me to go. This was an opportunity for me to really step it up and show my abilities.

When I arrived in Houston at midnight on September 1st, the first rounds of buses were arriving from the New Orleans Superdome to the Houston Reliant Center Astrodome. The Red Cross and FEMA were not set up yet. The only people running the show were the Houston police and the Reliant Center security. The right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing. It was chaos.

Houston residents were lined up outside the Astrodome parking lot waiting to donate supplies but no one would could tell them where to go. People started to throw bottles of water, food and supplies over the fence. The first image I took was a Houston resident by the name of Julie Chenn stuffing a box of sanitary napkins under a fence to Corlesha Tassin, of New Orleans. She looked at me and told me, "They need supplies right now, not later. If I have to stand out here all night throwing hundreds of bottles of water and supplies over the fence, I will." Julie Chenn and her husband Steve spent $500.00 of their own money on supplies.

From that point on, I realized that the residents of Houston were going to be a huge part of the story.

From midnight to 3pm on September 1st I kept myself busy photographing what was happening inside and outside of the Astrodome. As I was leaving the Astrodome to go meet my deadline, I saw two church buses from Kingwood United Methodist Church in the parking lot. I walked over and asked them what they were doing and they told me that they weren't leaving until the two buses were full.

On September 2nd, I made my way to Kingwood Texas to meet up with the Methodist Church and see how they were helping the Hurricane survivors. It was amazing. The church had hundreds of volunteers working various shifts to make sure that everyone was taken care of. The first hurricane survivor I met was Viola Williams. She was separated from her husband Glen the day the hurricane hit New Orleans and she feared she might not ever see him again. The following day would be their 17th wedding anniversary. One of the church volunteers Paula Cade hugged her and told her she would help her find her husband.

The volunteers at the Methodist church spent all day and night researching on the computer to Viola's husband Glen. The next day, September 3rd, on their wedding anniversary, they tracked Glen down at the Astrodome and surprised Viola during the church service. This was a slice of life that I was hoping to capture.

Photo by Dana R. Bowler / Ventura County Star

Photo by Dana R. Bowler / Ventura County Star

Hurricane Katrina victim, Tate Wilson, 67, of Gentilly New Orleans, sits in his new apartment at Senior living facility Primrose Casa Bella in Houston. Wilson was separated from his daughter and wife during the hurricane.
Towards the end of my eight days in Houston, I wanted to do a story on how the life is like in Houston a week later. I wanted to do a story on who was helping the elderly and what was being done to help them get back on their feet. I called a nearby senior center and they directed me toward a senior living facility by the name of Primrose Casa Bella.

When I arrived at Primrose Casa Bella, I was introduced to Tate Wilson. He was standing outside with a smile on his face. "The staff here at Primrose helped me find my family and offered to pay the first three months of rent," Wilson said.

Wilson took me up to his new apartment and sat down on his mattress and picked up his pillow and said to me, "This pillow is the only thing I grabbed when my house started to flood after the hurricane. It is all I have that actually belongs to me."

I witnessed a lot of sorrow and outrage while I was covering the relief efforts in Houston. But also saw an enormous amount of kindness exchanged between strangers.

(Dana Bowler is a staff photographer for the Ventura County Star in Ventura, California.)

Related Links:
Bowler's member page

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