How Woodstock Embraced a New Orleans Couple Who Fled Hurricane Katrina
This year, hurricane season is June 1-Nov. 30. For some people, this season brings back memories of Hurricane Katrina, a destructive storm that caused more than 1,800 deaths and approximately $125 billion in damages in the New Orleans, Louisiana, area in 2005. It is estimated that approximately 1.5 million people were evacuated from the area due to the hurricane.
Melvin Walker, a native of New Orleans, was in the midst of this storm that reached Category 5 in open water, but hit the coast as a Category 3. His late wife, Alberta, a nurse, was on duty at a local hospital. Their home was heavily damaged by the hurricane, as were other houses in his neighborhood. Due to the lack of power, Melvin and his neighbors had to cook outside on grills. Some, including Melvin, whose homes were severely damaged, were able to sleep in a vacant home that had not been damaged.
For a few days this worked fine. But soon, Melvin, a dialysis patient, had to seek medical care. (Melvin still has renal problems that require dialysis three times a week. He has been on dialysis for nearly 22 years.) He was transported on the back of a truck to a shelter. He and others were assessed at the shelter and taken to Louis Armstrong Airport. From there, they were flown to different parts of the country for care.
Melvin was flown to Atlanta, and then taken to Cobb Hospital in Austell. At the hospital, he was assigned to a social worker, Pam. She immediately began to tend to his physical needs by gathering clothes and personal hygiene items for him. He began dialysis, and he was a patient at Cobb Hospital from Sept. 1-Oct. 12.
In the meantime, Melvin’s wife and the medical team, working at the hospital in New Orleans, had been evacuated to San Antonio, Texas. The Walkers were unable to locate each other for weeks. Finally, they made contact, and his wife rode the bus for nearly three days to get to the hospital in Austell.
“The people at Cobb Hospital became our family. To this day, I love them. They treated my wife and me like family,” Melvin said.
When he was finally discharged, Pam arranged for the couple to come to Woodstock. “We knew no one in Woodstock. In fact, we had never heard of Woodstock, but Roy and Crystal Chance, local Realtors, arranged for us to live in a house for three years rent-free. And others in our new community helped us in so many ways,” Melvin said.
“I met a minister, the Rev. Larry Black, who connected me with Allen Temple AME Church, here in Woodstock. Those members became our spiritual family. At the time, the Rev. Carl Moore, Sr. was the pastor. This church constantly supported my wife and me during my many illnesses, and my wife’s subsequent illness and death. She died after 33 years of marriage.”
Following her death, Melvin became extremely depressed. His doctor recommended he return to New Orleans to be near his family, including his three adult children. He moved back, after calling Woodstock home for more than a decade.
“Though Katrina inflicted much pain and suffering on us,” Melvin said, “I will always remember and appreciate Cobb Hospital, Allen Temple Church and the good people of Woodstock.”
– Margaret Miller has been a resident of Cherokee County for the past decade. Her writing hobby led her to become a columnist for community and daily newspapers.