Lifelong New Orleans resident Gregory Johnson saw his hometown turn
into what seemed like a war zone whose inhabitants did all they could
to just stay alive.
In the days following Hurricane Katrina slamming into the city,
the 23-year-old truck driver experienced a sense of disbelief as he
saw his neighbors left behind as other residents were able to get
"At nighttime, the only lights we had were the gunshots," Johnson
said. "You couldn't take a wrong turn or you might end up in some
water that you can't get out of."
Johnson was among 90 of the hurricane's refugees brought to Los
Angeles via private corporate jets landing at Burbank's Bob Hope
Airport. They were then taken by bus to the Dream Center, a
Christian-based shelter and assistance center operated out of the
former Queen of Angels Hospital in Echo Park..
The Dream Center is expecting between 250 and 300 refugees from
hurricane-ravaged areas in Louisiana by the end of the week, said
David Hanley, a pastor and spokesman for the center.
Thousands are feared dead in areas hit by the hurricane, which
ripped through the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29 with 145-mph winds. Many are
still missing, and the damage caused has been estimated to top $100
The flights to Bob Hope are being coordinated by Missouri-based
Lion Heart Aviation Group. The planes are being made available by
members of the National Business Aircraft Assn.
"It's the richest of the rich deciding to help the poorest of the
poor," Lion Heart Aviation owner Carrie Walegir said.
Elaine West, a New Orleans resident who arrived at the Dream
Center on Sunday morning has no intention of returning to Louisiana.
"I just want to rest and volunteer and help," said West, a retired
supervisor at a candy company. "I want to volunteer my services. You
never know when something like this will be coming again."
Normally serving a clientele of homeless, the working poor, gang
members and parolees, the Dream Center took in the New Orleans
refugees after a call for assistance came from a church in Louisiana.
Services for the usual clientele of job assistance and schooling
will also be offered to the refugees, who will be allowed to stay at
the Dream Center for as long as they need, Hanley said.
"We'll help them get back on their feet," Hanley said.
It's an offer welcomed by Johnson, who likes that the center keeps
its residents active and provides him with a clean shower and three
meals a day.
"I'm just glad it's over with," Johnson said of the ordeal he
faced in New Orleans. "I'll be able to tell my grandchildren stories
about how I got to the West Coast."
* MARK MADLER covers City Hall and the courts. He may be reached
at (818) 637-3242 or by e-mail at mark.madlerlatimes.com.