Bunking in Bartow

Posted by .


Lizzie Jymes is like a lot of people here. Her timeline the last few days is a bit fuzzy.

“We got here Friday…on the 29th. No we got here Saturday. On the

Jymes confers with her daughter as her three energy-filled grandchildren bound among the rows of cots, striping the arena’s floor. Like many evacuees here, it was 10 to 14 hours on a bus from New Orleans, taken to Boutwell Auditorium in Birmingham before being transferred to Bartow. The reason she left the Crescent City in the first place is simple.

“Because I was in Katrina on a bridge for three days.”

Lizzie Jymes is taking the circumstances in stride. Stephanie Williams is just as calm and says she’s not really anxious, since Gustav appears to be less severe than Katrina. She keeps tabs on a big screen TV in the corner of the arena showing news reports. Williams may be calm, but she’s less than happy with the emergency personnel.

“Seems like they had this, ‘I don’t give a damn’ attitude and I really didn’t like that. I’m like if you didn’t want to be bothered with us. You know, then you’re in the wrong field.”

Williams and others describe coming to Boutwell Auditorium and having to wait. Then there weren’t enough cots or blankets. That aspect she says is better now in Bartow Arena. But no one seems to have a kind word about the food.

“We had breakfast this morning. We had two pieces of sausage with a boiled egg. You’re saying you’re doing the best you can, you understand? But to me someone is fumbling the ball.”

“This is not an ideal situation.”

Chris Osborne is spokesman for the American Red Cross in Birmingham.

“We understand that a lot of the residents that have come up from Louisiana are
tired. That they are mentally stressed. This is a stressful situation.”

Osborne says the 3,000 now sheltering in the Birmingham area are more than the Red Cross expected. And he adds, they’re not going to turn anyone away. A top priority is providing shower facilities and Osborne says mobile showers are on their way. They’re also working on providing evacuees more space in the crowded surroundings.

“So at this point we think things are, you know, pretty much under control. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. But is the American Red Cross doing all we can to work on it? Certainly.”

Stephanie Williams is not unappreciative of the help her family has received. And while no one around Bartow Arena seems particularly happy, Williams isn’t eager to return to New Orleans either, despite being born and raised there.

“I’m not looking forward to going back because it’s not what it used to be before
Hurricane Katrina.”

A perceived lack of adequate rebuilding, post-storm price jumps, crime…it all weights on Williams’ mind. Another storm named Gustav doesn’t help.


Andrew Yeager

Andrew Yeager