After Katrina: Making Knoxville Home

By: Gordon Boyd
By: Gordon Boyd

Knoxville (WVLT) - The Red Cross estimates that East Tennessee either sheltered, or served as a stop-over, for more than 9,000 people fleeing Katrina's path and wrath.

Some 300 families remain here.

Volunteer TV’s Gordon body spoke with a single father on what brought him here, and why he and his sons are staying.

His parents were here, so he had a spot to land. But beyond that, he found broader, helping hands to change careers, even his life path.

“I don't think people understand, you know, not only have you lost your personal items and your tangible things, you've lost a lifestyle,” Michael McBee, and his teenagers Julian and Matthew brought only two days of clothes from New Orleans to Knoxville.

Two years later, “We have almost gained back, most of the things we lost.”

Which had been, most everything. Today: an apartment filled with furniture.

Two years ago: “The Red Cross has provided a lot of help for us,” Michael says.

“We've all heard the saying East Tennessee is a very giving place, but we've gotten to see that, first hand,” says Chris Davis from the American Red Cross Knoxville Shelter.

The McBee men didn't need the shelter of the Civic Coliseum.

Rather, “People started giving me things, when we first got here. I didn't know what to do, cause I'm not used to people giving, and accepting it,” Michael says.

But Michael figured, it was time to set pride aside, to accept, for his sons’ sake. “It's probably been tougher on me than them, because I understand the magnitude of what I lost, and they really don't see it yet.”

A lay minister, Michael finds much of his comfort, from scripture. “You don’t say ‘why me?’ You say ‘well, I’m alive, look at the ones who didn't make it.’”

“All of the people we're helping. Now, have a plan, and we are helping them now fill in the pieces to that plan,” Davis says.

Michael's done graduate work to start teaching elementary school.

His apartment is a school in cross-culture: a jambalaya of Big Orange and Big Easy.

“I think East Tennessee is great, but New Orleans is definitely like no other city in the world,” he says.

Or at least, it was.

Part of him wants to, almost needs to, return. To try to rebuild.

“But no telling what the choice would be a month or so from now. It depends. If the Vols win the National Championship in football, I'll stay,” Michael laughs.

Michael says he's ALL VOL, until Tennessee plays LSU that is.

His sons will be playing basketball for central high.

All are active in church here.

The Red Cross is offering other transplants financial help to make a new life.

But much of the help now is emotional, helping these lost Cajuns, so to speak, lean on and get in touch with one another.


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