Evacuees make home at Camp Williams


    By Duane Hilton

    CAMP WILLIAMS ? Samuel Phipps says he won?t return to New Orleans, the city he has called home for all of his 23 years, except to visit.

    But returning home is second on his mind right now, at least until he can find his 3-year-old son Samuel Howard.

    Phipps doesn?t know if his son survived the flood, and he is scared he might be among the thousands of dead.

    But for the meantime, Phipps is trying to stay upbeat. He speaks as though his son will show up any day.

    ?I know he?s going to love this ? beautiful mountains,? he said.

    So now, ?I?m relocating,? Phipps said. ?This is my new home.?

    Phipps? story isn?t unusual in Camp Williams located in southern Salt Lake County. There are about 550 people from the area hit by Hurricane Katrina living in the camp usually used as a National Guard training facility.

    ?We?ve created a city here,? said Doug McCleve, a public information officer for the State of Utah, complete with police station, school for the children and daycare.

    The goal of the camp is to help evacuees find a home and connect them with family, McCleve said.

    Fifteen evacuees have already moved out of the camp using their own means, said Lindy Brown, a public information officer for the State of Utah.

    But nobody is rushing them from Camp Williams, said Larry Lewis, spokesperson for the Utah relief effort. He expects it will be ?weeks, maybe months? before everyone finds a home and moves out. Some of the evacuees will return home, he said, while others will go to other states.

    Some, like Phipps, will stay in Utah.

    He will not live in the city where he thought he would die.

    When the water entered his home, Phipps went to the rooftop. But the water kept rising. After a day on top of his house, he wasn?t safe anymore.

    So he made a raft out of two tires and a board and ?stepped out with faith? into the swift water to try to get to a nearby building that was taller.

    After fighting the current and tree branches, he made it to the other building.

    He spent a day on top of the taller building with others. They tried to flag down helicopters with anything they could ? towels, shirts and long, red and green socks. The helicopters didn?t land, Phipps said.

    He thought, ?Oh man these people are going to leave us here to die,? Phipps said.

    But ?people with boats? rescued him and the others. Phipps thinks they were from the government, he said. They gave each of them a bottle of water, he said, and dropped them off in a dryer part of the city.

    ?They left us on our own again,? he said.

    With no food, Phipps and others took necessities from stores, Phipps said. They took only what they needed, he said, and they were careful to feed everyone.

    ?We didn?t let people just take stuff themselves,? Phipps said. ?We were organized.?

    They gathered wood, made a fire and cooked meat.

    Then, like many people, he made his way to the convention center. There, he said, there was no food, no light and no water. Conditions were filthy. People defecated on the floor in the open, he said.

    Busses finally came to the convention center. Phipps eventually got on an airplane to Utah.

    Around Camp Williams, he smiles wide and introduces himself to many people ? a public information officer, reporters and the people preparing food in the mess hall.

    The people preparing the food are Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers. The Red Cross provides the food, and the volunteers prepare and serve it, said Dan Walker, area director of missions for Salt Lake Baptist Association.

    ?We?ve been given a green light to feed them well,? Walker said about the evacuees.

    The volunteers have already served the evacuees barbecue chicken, Walker said, and he hopes to get steak and potatoes soon.

    Diana Dindy ate a corn dog for lunch outside the mess hall where the volunteers were serving lunch. She is another evacuee from New Orleans who says she will not go back.

    ?I?m going to give it a try here,? she said.

    Not only did the flood scare her, Dindy said, but it also took everything she owned, except Angel, a spunky, small, white dog.

    After surviving the flood together, the authorities told her she couldn?t bring the 1-year-old cockapoo to Utah, Dindy said.

    They were releasing the dogs into the city, Dindy said, and letting them fend for themselves.

    She couldn?t leave Angel behind, Dindy said, so she smuggled her in.

    She cut a hole in a luggage bag, so Angel could breathe when she put her in it. Dindy put Angel in it a few times before they boarded the airplane to get her used to it.

    When the time to board the plane came, Angel didn?t make any noise. The illusion was successful.

    The staff at Camp Williams wasn?t prepared for a dog, Dindy said, but everyone likes Angel and they have provided everything she needs, including dog food and a rabies shot.

    Dindy had to get a shot, too, since arriving at the camp. A lot of her time has been spent taking care of medical things needs for herself and Angel, she said.

    Other evacuees spend their time watching television, making phone calls or on the Internet. They gather in a large room that has several phones along one wall. A handful of televisions and couches line the opposite wall with computers on another wall.

    Joseph Grand, 65, sat at a table in the middle of the room.

    He was glad to get out of New Orleans, he said. But he has lived his entire life in New Orleans, and he intends to return and rebuild.

    Katrina ?took away everything I owned,? Grand said. ?But life goes on.?

    He thanks God none of his family died, Grand said.

    ?Objects can be replaced, life can?t,? he said.

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