Hard Night’s Day
Evacuees settle in to a temporary home
Knox commuters take the bus
Hard Night’s Day
Jordan takes a couple bites of his Vol burger before launching into his account of post-hurricane survival. “Two weeks I stayed there. Two weeks in the water and the rain. People drownin’, people hollerin’ and screamin’, and these kids don’t know no better, they tryin’ to steal. I don’t want to live through that again.”
Until the military ordered him to leave his home, the 53-year-old spent his days pulling neighbors’ bodies from the floodwater and diving for those who fell in and couldn’t swim. “Throughout the ordeal, I picked up nine dead people. Saved two, that’s 11. Lost two, that’s 13,” he says. The grisly tally sickens him; he pushes his plate away.
Jordan’s story, unfortunately, is only one variation of those echoing throughout the Civic Coliseum this week. 350 cots are set up on the floor of the makeshift shelter. Trash bags stowed beneath them contain the remaining possessions of their occupants, a mix of mostly lower-income individuals, couples and families.
Recreational philosopher and historian Henry Kraft’s face crumples into tears at the memory of his home library, which was destroyed in the flood. “The books melted in the sludge that entered the house, and fungus was growing on all the ones above the waterline.”
Jackie See, an artist, owns nothing but a stray cat he found after the hurricane. He named her Katrina and carried her with him to Knoxville, as did many pet owners. In a modern-day Noah’s ark story, 48 animals, including cats, dogs, snakes, birds, a ferret and a hedgehog, made the journey in three evacuee-filled planes.
Vicky Crosetti, executive director of the Humane Society of East Tennessee, explains that many evacuees refused to abandon their homes without their pets. Upon arriving in Knoxville, the animals were given over to the care of the Humane Society as health regulations prevented the pets from remaining with their owners at the coliseum.
“Some of these people, all they could carry were two carriers with their animals. It was unbelievable,” Crosetti says. “When they got here, there was a lot of anger and grief because they’d been told all along that they could keep their pets with them. But gradually, they accepted it.”
The animals will be reunited with their owners as soon as they’re able to secure a more permanent housing situation. For now, however, there’s no set timeline for getting the evacuees out of the coliseum, explains Knoxville Red Cross spokesman Chris Davis.
“How long is anybody’s guess, but as long as they need us, we’ll be here. We’re in this for the long haul,” Davis says. He commends the community and Red Cross volunteers for their outpouring of support and notes that more than 980 hurricane-victim families, between those occupying the coliseum and others staying in hotels or with family, have been assisted by Knoxville relief operations so far. “From money to donations to manpower, they’ve been great.”
Telephone and Internet stations have been set up to help evacuees contact missing family and friends, and some have already been placed at jobs. Former handyman Jordan, for example, is settling into a new vocation: cabinetry. He landed the position after a local cabinet maker heard his plea for a job on the evening news and offered him some work.
Jordan intends to return to New Orleans someday to find his grown children—five daughters and a son—but for now he says he’s grateful to call Knoxville his home.
“Times are hard. You gotta make do,” Jordan says. “I know ya’ll here, you got my back like you did, you give me a chance. Now I’m going to give somethin’ back to Tennessee. Because there’s nowhere in the world that’s treated me so good.”
Belinda Boyd, marketing director for Knox Area Transit, says they haven’t added everything up yet, but she knows that some routes—especially the express routes for West Knox commuters—are carrying more than twice their usual number of passengers.
The Farragut express route, which runs only two laps a day, typically has carried 30-35 passengers per day. Lately, Boyd says, they’ve been averaging as many as 75 a day; one day, it soared to 110. The somewhat smaller Cedar Bluff route is experiencing a similar spike.
Boyd says the sudden demand is causing a bit of a problem with the Farragut route, which is served by a park-and-ride lot off Campbell Station Road at I-40. Lately, the 44 spaces in that lot have been jammed. “We think a lot of Farragut riders are getting dropped off by spouses,” she says. They’re looking into options to expand parking at the Farragut station. By agreement, KAT’s Cedar Bluff park-and-ride option utilizes 20 spaces of a large parking lot at the Cedar Bluff Center; Boyd is pretty sure more than 20 park-and-riders are parking at the center, and is grateful that the center has tolerated it so far.
The regular city routes carry 7-8,000 passengers a day. Their increase may not have been as dramatic as that of the long-range commuter routes, but anecdotal evidence suggests they’re swelling, too.
Savings are best, of course, for those with longer commutes. A Farragut resident commuting to downtown Knoxville in a car that averages 20 miles per gallon might easily spend $6 a day in gasoline cost alone. Riding the bus would save close to $100 a month, even without factoring in automotive maintenance expenses.
Considering one of the biggest commutes around, Boyd says KAT’s discussing options for some sort of limited service to Oak Ridge.
High gas prices are a mixed blessing for public transit. KAT may be more popular than ever, but they have to buy fuel, too. Boyd says they’d budgeted for higher prices, but not this much higher. She says they’re considering rate hikes and more-efficient routes. But for now, it’s still just a dollar a ride.
Sometimes, especially lately, it’s not even that. Due to a federal grant made under provisions of Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Act (C-MAC), on days of especially poor air quality, as determined by ozone and particulate-matter measurements, KAT rides are free to the public. The feds reimburse KAT for what would otherwise be thousands in lost revenue for the free rides.
For better or worse, KAT riders have had four days of free rides so far this week.
SEVEN DAYS IN SEPTEMBER
Wednesday, Sept. 7
Thursday, Sept. 8
Friday, Sept. 9
Saturday, Sept. 10
Sunday, Sept. 11
Monday, Sept. 12
Tuesday, Sept. 13