Monday, August 31, 2015

Remembering the Hurricane Katrina evacuees at Houston's Astrodome [PICS]

Photos from The Astrodome in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina evacuees were trying to figure out what's next



In 2005, after watching the non-stop coverage of the post-Hurricane Katrina horrors in New Orleans, the city of Houston and Harris County opened its doors to the storm victims.

The then named Reliant complex became "Reliant City." I was stationed at the complex to help cover the many stories that happened there.

One area that housed many of Katrina's evacuees was the abandoned Astrodome. A setting that seemed to fit the story of what was happening to New Orleans at the moment. For the New Orleanians, one dome shelter just became another.

It was a strange juxtaposition when walking into the "Eighth Wonder of the World." Frozen in time were Houston Astros and Oilers banners suspended from the domed ceiling. Just a few years before Katrina, its where Houstonians spent decades having fun and escaping the troubles of the world.

Now on the former astroturfed field was concrete filled with human misery. Grief stricken faces, still shocked from a hurricane, infrastructure breakdown and a failed emergency response, sat on cots wondering what was next.

Signs adorned walls with notes to missing family members on how to regain contact.

Then from a real flood, came a flood of Hollywood celebrities to the complex. With all the nation's gaze still fixated on the tragedy, apparently this story became quite the promotional vehicle. I remember standing near CNN's tent and seeing celebrities have their time in the spotlight. Stars would also speak at press conferences held throughout the day. They would talk about the tragedy and their upcoming projects.

But there were whispers among the journalists in attendance that a movie star showed up, volunteered to help the evacuees and vanished without doing any press. It was Steve Guttenberg (Police Academy, Three Men and a Baby, Short Circuit and Cocoon). Years later, when he was on ABC's Dancing with the Stars, I interviewed Guttenberg for abc13.com where he told me about his volunteering experience.

"I went to Katrina under the radar as a volunteer," Guttenberg told me in 2008. "I enjoyed the great sense of purpose I gained there and surprising the clients of the relief center when they realized someone from Hollywood was there to help them. That seemed to be somewhat meaningful to them, and people who hadn't had anything to smile about sometimes rewarded me with a smile. That's one of the biggest paychecks I ever received. I made many friends, and during the Dancing with The Stars exposure, I've received such positive support from the people of Katrina. They said I sent them hope every time they saw me on the show. Volunteering is an essential American tradition. We all need to chip in our time."

I will always be a fan of Guttenberg's.

Unfortunately, hurricane season wasn't finished yet. Hurricane Rita was just around the corner. That meant many of the Katrina survivors and much of the Houston area's population were about to embark on another mass evacuation.

Since this was 10 years ago in the pre-Android/iPhone era, here are some grainy cell phone pics I took with my Sanyo 5600 from inside the Astrodome. Images, I will never forget.












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