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Story from New Orleans family

Good To Be Safe

Glenda Plunkett , Special to

Gereld Sibely, a native of New Orleans, has found shelter in the Houston Astrodome. His tale is one of many.

Sibely, 32, lived in New Orleans with his wife, mother, and six children ranging in ages from 14 to 2 years old. His family was one of the lucky ones. They owned a car, but it was a small compact and too small to transport his entire family in one trip. When the mandatory evacuation for Hurricane Katrina was called, Sibely decided that since he could not successfully transport his whole family together, they would all stay behind. They would ride out the storm together as a family.

The family gathered together on the first floor as the storm broke about 6 p.m. Sunday night. The wind howled at well over 140 miles an hour and shook the house with violent force. The family prayed, fearing the house would tip over or tear apart.

Then, the wind died, but soon water breeched the levee at the 17th Street Canal and began to rise at the rate of 2 inches per hour. The family moved to an upstairs loft, but water soon began to seep into it to. Afraid his family would drown, Sibely jumped into the water and swam a quarter mile for help.

Salvation came in the form of a stranger with a motor boat. Rescuing Sibely’s family filled the boat to its capacity. With the boat full, they passed one family after another pleading for rescue too – there was no more room and these people would have to wait. People on rooftops became angry and frustrated for being left behind and shot at the rescuers.

Sibely and his family were left at the junction of Interstate-10 and Arlene & Clayborne. It was a favorite drop off point of the rescuers because it was the most likely spot for them to be picked up by bus for evacuation. Later that night, a charter bus did show up only to fill to capacity within minutes

“I had to hurry my family onboard to keep us all together,” said Sibely. “I was afraid that if anyone was separated we would never see each other again. It broke my heart to see the others standing on the intersection, left behind. I prayed for them as we pulled away.”

It wasn’t until they got to the Astrodome that they felt like they could relax for awhile.

“My family is still together—we are alive,” he said. “The Red Cross gave us all blankets and a cot. The accommodations were excellent—so was the treatment. They welcomed us with open arms. We were fed. The Astrodome is packed, but it is safe. The Red Cross was a dream come true. We don’t know what is next…but we are together. It is good to be safe!”

Glenda Plunkett is with the Mid-Illinois Chapter of the American Red Cross. She is a member of the Red Cross Rapid Response Team currently deployed to Houston.

All American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. You can help the victims of this disaster and thousands of other disasters across the country each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which enables the Red Cross to provide shelter, food, counseling and other assistance to those in need. Call 1-800-HELP NOW or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions to the Disaster Relief Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P. O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting

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