Survivor stories: "There was 31 of us in a one-bedroom apartment"

class=img_thumbleft>Thirty-seven-year-old Quvandra Ballard lived in New Orleans her entire life. About seven years ago she settled into a house on Paris Avenue, located in New Orleans' Gentilly neighborhood, with her kids and husband, 37-year-old Nolton Seaton. Her mom was only five blocks away. For five years the husband-and-wife team worked for the state of Louisiana archiving historical-home and real-estate info, most of which Ballard says is now destroyed. On the Sunday before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Ballard, along with her husband, stepfather, kids, and 61-year-old mother, JoAnn Ballard Taylor, fled the only home she had ever known for her cousin's one-bedroom apartment in Houston. For nearly two weeks they slept on blow-up mattresses alongside 30 other family members who evacuated from New Orleans. There, Ballard met up with cousins and uncles who were holed up in the Superdome for days without food and water. Last weekend, Ballard's brother, Quinton, a St. Thomas graduate who lives in Eagan and works at a Lexus dealership, sent for his mother and sister and her family. They gathered the few belongings they had from the Houston apartment, rode the train for almost two days, and arrived in Minneapolis on Monday.

Quvandra Ballard: We're from the Gentilly area. On the news, they were showing my area on TV. It's all under water. They showed my daughter's school, which is mile from my house. All we could see was the top of her building. It was all under water. It was just devastating that this can happen. I've lived there all my life, 37 years. It was just very devastating for me and my daughter, who's 13-years-old, to look at it on the news. She was looking at it and crying.

We were able to get out before the flood. We didn't have to experience the horror and trauma that was going on in the Superdome. I had family members that witnessed killing and a lot of raping going on. My cousin, her name is Daisy, she was in it. I have three uncles that were there and two girl cousins that were there. They were telling us their stories and crying. The was, like, the last ones to get out. They experienced a lot.

The last ones that got out, they were really destroyed. My uncle, when he did make it to Houston and he told us his story, I was just so glad I didn't have to witness the things he did. He said there was no help. It was very hot in that dome. They had water leakage because of the opening, so they had to hurry and move everyone to one side. Thousands of people in there. You couldn't sleep, because people were stealing your stuff, going through your pockets. You had to keep one eye open, one closed.

As they were bussing some of the people out, it was so hot in there, and they had to get them all out, so they were all hanging out on the ramp that goes into the Superdome. They were giving them hot water, which they couldn't keep cold anyway. The little supplies that were coming in, people were taking it and not sharing. He said he saw people dying, just giving up. Elderly people dying. Raping was going on. He did witness two killings. One guy jumped over the banister in the Superdome; he killed himself. The help just did not come. Everyone was just so frustrated they were sitting there for all those days with no help. People couldn't get to their medicine. He said the smell was just awful.

When he was in the canoe, trying to get to the Superdome, he said he was rowing past bodies that had blown up that was in the water. He didn't get to the dome right away. This was while they were just trying to get to the dome.

I had a friend that died in the water. The rescue people tried to pick her up from her roof. Whatever they use to pick them up, they said she slipped through trying to carry her up. She drowned. I don't know what happened with that. I don't know if she was afraid and let go or what. She was in her house for three or four days.

After the storm, we wound up in Houston. We got out on Sunday evening before the storm. There was 31 of us in a one-bedroom apartment. We had to make-do. Getting out [of New Orleans] was not really getting out. We were moving at an inch at a time. It was very slow-paced.

I have a little cousin that lives in Houston. He's in school. He let us stay with him. There were 31 of us in his apartment from New Orleans--all family. He took all the appliances, all the furniture out. There were just mattresses all over the floor, the living room and dining room.

JoAnn Ballard Taylor: The sleeping arrangements, we went to Wal-Mart and bought those mattresses that blow up. We had king-size, and medium, and whatever else. [My nephew] was really wonderful. He let us keep his bed for my husband and I. My husband had a stroke last year. He's in Virginia right now with his daughter so I can get medical care. Quvandra Ballard: My mom's a diabetic. Her left small toe was amputated. She hit her small toe on her right foot, and they need to look at it. We didn't have any way to get around in Houston, so it was really hard for us to get medical attention for her and [my mom's husband.] That really put a toll on us. He needs help around the clock. He's paralyzed on one side.

Someone gave us a free plane ticket, I don't know him personally, but he knew that we needed help. We knew that getting my mom's husband to Virginia was the most important. My mom is going to try to get herself together and send for him, so she can take care of him. They're going to stay here in Minnesota.

Before the storm came, we were trying to see if we should leave or not. There wasn't a mandatory evacuation at first. When we saw it looking really bad, we decided to leave. We just grabbed what we could. All we were able to grab was what was hanging around, some jeans and a shirt, stuff like that. We grabbed some covers and pillows, to ride in the car and just in case we need it in shelters. We actually thought that we would be able to come back home like we do for every other storm. But this was category five; this was a different story. They kept predicting it every year, but it never happened.

My mom was in Hurricane Betsy. She was on top of her house. I was like, really? I just couldn't see that. But now I really see it.

So now we're in Minnesota. I come here to visit once in every blue moon. Last December I was here for four days. And now I'm here to make it my home.

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