Katrina evacuee is now an Albanian - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Katrina evacuee is now an Albanian

August 29, 2006

Today, the nation pauses to mourn one of America's costliest and deadliest natural disaster's in history. It was a year ago today Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and parts of Mississippi, claiming the lives of thousands.  

Chantrayer "Tre" McDonal left the desolation of the Crescent City, and landed in Albany and reclaimed her life, thanks to Southwest Georgians who helped her survive the storm.     

No one would've predicted its aftermath. When Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf Coast, a year ago today, she left thousands and thousands running for cover. Those able to escape hopped in a car and drove far away, many, not knowing where they would go.

"When we were driving here, it was more like a long delayed drive that.... Hold up, give me some tissue," she wept.

To this day, Tre's Katrina wounds are still slow to heal. On August 29th, she was separated from close family members and suddenly found herself homeless.

Many Katrina victims depended on the government for assistance. Already the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA has given over $200 million  to Georgia's evacuees.

Tre says she never got a dime, and that her check was mailed to New Orleans, to a home that no longer exists. From losing everything she had, her home, friends, three close family members, McDonald said she had to search within herself to put the negative behind and re-gain her life.

"It's like Katrina happened to certain people for a reason and this was my reason to move on."

And she's done just that. When she first arrived in Albany with her boyfriend and three daughters she stayed in a hotel for three months. She recalls only having two sets of clothes for her and her children.

Today, things have changed. Tre has started a new life. She picks her children up from Sherwood Acres Elementary School with her new car. A local dealership gave her a good deal when they heard her story and witnessed her courage to re-claim her life.

"I have three children. Having a car means transportation to and from work, having transportation to the grocery store, being able to pay my bills, everything."

They're responsibilities she takes seriously, thankful for the opportunity to have a normal life again, especially since so many victimized by Katrina are still struggling. Thanks to friends from a local church, she has an apartment now. Many of the furnishings were donated by good Samaritans.

"The stress is gone. I always have the memory to fall back on but why should I keep going backwards when I can go forward?"

Part of moving forward is finding a means to support her family. She's a manager at Target. "I love my job. I love my work family. I love my job. I know everybody in Albany. Everybody that comes in the door, I greet them."

It's a 180º turn from the despair that ravaged her life this time a year ago. And though the New Orleans of old is very familiar, it's now just a memory.

The good, coupled with the bad the big-city life had to offer are replaced with the slower, southern hospitality of Southwest Georgia. "I miss home but I'm not going to go back because my children are safe."  

The city of New Orleans is slowly re-building. Before the storm there were more than 450,000 people living in New Orleans, but less thank half have returned.

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