Phila. impact: 38 evacuees arrive. Despite offer, no more are expected. 38 evacuees from Louisiana arrive in Philadelphia

Posted: September 08, 2005

Bruce Patterson stepped off a plane at the Philadelphia International Airport yesterday, one day, he said, after being plucked from a New Orleans rooftop.

He was one of 38 Hurricane Katrina evacuees on a FEMA flight from New Orleans to Philadelphia. Others like him had recently been rescued from their flooded houses. Some of the people said they did not even know where the plane was taking them when they boarded.

"All my furniture is gone, all my clothing is gone, gone," said Patterson, 55, who carried a small bag containing most of his possessions. "Everything is gone, and on a fixed income, it's going to be hard."

Also yesterday, Philadelphia - which had committed to taking up to 5,000 people from the Gulf Coast - and other northern cities learned they probably would receive no more storm evacuees.

"They don't want to go a long way from home," Gov. Rendell said. "They certainly don't want to go into the cold weather."

Apart from yesterday's group, an unknown number of other people from the storm-damaged areas have come to Philadelphia on their own. State officials said they know of at least 100 who have come to Philadelphia and 12 to Pittsburgh. Officials said they needed to find them so they could each be given a $2,000 FEMA debit card.

The people who came yesterday were flown from New Orleans to Philadelphia on Delta Air Lines. Officials said that most of them were elderly; the youngest was 8. A Doberman pinscher also made the journey.

After they filed off the plane, they walked a short distance to an old overseas terminal, where they were checked by a group of 25 doctors and 50 nurses.

Most of them had cuts and bruises, and many had chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, but had their medicine with them, medical staff said.

Three were taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, officials said. One was taken to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Their conditions were not disclosed.

"Right now we're at the phase where people are a little shell-shocked," Bryce McLaulin, a psychiatrist and chief medical officer for Community Behavioral Health, said. "But as time wears on, they could become more anxious or depressed."

Mostly, they were tired and hungry, officials said.

"Many of them were taken from their rooftops straight to the airport," said acting Philadelphia Health Commissioner Joanne Godley.

One arrival was Modesta Cooley, 34, who lived in St. Bernard Parish. She had nothing left, she said, and she wasn't sure her family knew she was alive.

Smoking her third cigarette within 15 minutes outside the airport terminal, she said all that she knew was that she was in Philadelphia.

"That's somewhere in Pennsylvania, right?" she asked reporters, before Carmen Paris, a deputy commissioner with city's Health Department, pulled her away and told her not to speak to the news media. Reporters were not allowed inside the building.

After their medical exams, the Louisiana evacuees boarded SEPTA buses bound for the Wanamaker School in North Philadelphia. The building had been outfitted as a shelter and equipped with beds, showers, and Internet-accessible computers.

Two of the evacuees, Aloyd Edinburgh, 50, and Christopher Isidore, 43, recounted how they had helped their neighbors and families escape the devastation.

"I own a boat," Edinburgh said. "Chris and I . . . just started getting people out of there."

But by the end of the weekend, he said, the two realized it was time for them to leave.

"Sunday night, I had a good glass of whiskey and just came to terms," he said. "There was nothing else to do."

They made their way to the New Orleans Convention Center. Eventually, they were taken from there to the airport but didn't find out their destination until they were on the plane, he said.

He wasn't worried, he said. "We've been through a storm."

It was unclear yesterday how long the evacuees would remain in Philadelphia. They would be given access to public benefits, such as food stamps and unemployment, city officials said.

Mental health workers will also be at the Wanamaker School in the coming weeks to help the people in whatever way they can, McLaulin said.

But, first things first, city Deputy Managing Director Rob Hess said.

"People have had their first hot meal in four or five days," he said. "They're just trying to settle in."

The evacuees were fed macaroni and cheese, salad and lasagna last night. Hess said that Aramark, a city food-services company, was providing the meals.

This morning, he said, the evacuees would be given a good breakfast and then city and state workers would begin collecting details about them and determining their needs.

The news that Philadelphia would be receiving no more evacuees came to Rendell about 10 a.m. yesterday during a conference call between governors and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and FEMA chief Michael Brown, he said.

Rendell said he was surprised.

"In some ways, it's like preparing for a party and hearing that only one-tenth of the guests are coming," he said. "Or maybe even less than that."

He explained that Philadelphia and possibly Pittsburgh would be put on a list of evacuation sites.

Bright Hope Baptist Church - across the street from the Wanamaker School shelter - spent the morning there filling about 200 gift bags for the evacuees. The Rev. William H. Gray 3d, pastor of the large church, reacted sourly to the news that FEMA may not send more evacuees.

"I doubt if the thousands in the Houston Astrodome are saying they want the Florida beaches instead of the Delaware River when they're in desperate need of housing and feeding," Gray said. "Is this how they feel, or is this FEMA?"

Contact staff writer Tina Moore at 215-854-2759 or tmoore@phillynews.com.

Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Vernon Clark, Dawn Fallik, Anthony S. Twyman, Susan Snyder, Susan FitzGerald and Jim Remsen.

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