Jacquelyn Brooks-Brent and her family were the last ones left on their block Tuesday, refusing to evacuate for Hurricane Rita because they could not bear the thought of leaving home again just days after they were allowed to return.
“We were in Tylertown, Miss., and then in Monroe, La. I just got back on Monday,” said Brooks-Brent, 51, who fled New Orleans the day after Hurricane Katrina hit. “I heard about Rita on the radio, but I’m just praying that it goes away altogether.”
This time, Brooks-Brent, her husband and two adult sons decided to defy Mayor C. Ray Nagin’s citywide order to evacuate. They remained at home in the 1500 block of Gen. Ogden Street, a short stretch of run-down houses in Carrollton, a neighborhood known locally as Pigeon Town. The area survived Katrina better than some.
Their attitude mirrored that of many New Orleans residents who said they were just plain tired of fleeing or lacked the means to escape. Others refused to leave before Katrina and said they had no intention of budging for Rita.
“I’m just tired of running. I just can’t do it no more,” said Pat Parker, 53, after packing a friend’s car with water, ice and food collected at a distribution center in the city’s West Bank suburb of Algiers. “I don’t have money to run. I don’t have no car, so where am I going to run to?”
Parker, who returned home Sept. 14, said she evacuated before Katrina hit and was able to rent motel rooms in Alexandria and New Iberia, Louisiana towns that were spared the hurricane’s wrath. But now she was out of money. Although her daughter and son -- living in Atlanta and Houston, respectively -- had offered to pay her way, she said she would rather take her chances at home.
“You can’t run from death,” Parker said. “If it’s for you, it’s for you. I believe in God almighty. I told my kids, ‘Don’t worry about me.’ ”
Most of the residents of Pigeon Town left after the water crept up to their porches. Many of the houses on the Brooks-Brents’ street were spared significant flood damage. There was gas for cooking, and water had started trickling through faucets again, but it was not drinkable without being boiled, Brooks-Brent said. The phone lines were down, and the neighborhood remained in darkness.
“I just hope and pray that they hurry up and get the lights on,” said Brooks-Brent, explaining that the family used candles and an oil lamp at night and kept the windows open for some breeze. “If they’re going to tell people to come back, have the lights on and the phone working.”
Despite the absence of electricity and the hustle and bustle that used to characterize this neighborhood, Brooks-Brent said she was trying to continue life as normal because she was confident that her neighbors would soon return.
“I sit a little bit on the porch, on the swing. I water my plants. I clean up a bit,” she said, noting that her husband, a construction worker, had already returned to work.
At night, after a supper of canned meat, crackers and Army rations, the family would typically sit on the porch and talk, Brooks-Brent said. Their black German shepherd, Midnight, was always chained close by.
“If we must go, we must go,” Brooks-Brent said. “But I would like to continue to stay here if I could.”
Sean Brooks shared his mother’s sentiment and said he hoped his friends would come home and help rebuild their city.
“It’s tragic what’s happened,” said Brooks, 25, who walks with crutches because of a gunshot wound in his back he suffered two years ago. “But it’s an opportunity if people put their foot down and not just depend on the government, but come back and pitch in, and we can make it much better here.”
Across town in a working-class subdivision of Algiers, Ronald Raynal huddled with two friends drinking beer under the shade of a tree in his small front yard. The 64-year-old retired plumber returned Sunday from his sister-in-law’s house in Baton Rouge, where he fled to before Katrina ripped the weatherboards from the side of his house and shattered his kitchen windows.
Suffering from a longtime foot injury and struggling to get around, he had no plans to leave town again because of Rita.
“It’s my home,” Raynal said. “If God’s ready to take me, he can take me.”