September 14, 2005
Good Samaritans are one of the bright lights in the stories about Hurricane Katrina survivors. Folks from all walks of life risked their lives, opened their homes and gave all they could to help people threatened by loss and tragedy. In Dallas, Texas, Tracy Lightner and her family were so moved by the plight of the men, women and children housed in Dallas Convention that they spent hours, then days, helping wherever they could. This is the second part of one volunteer's view.
On my third day working at the shelter set up in Dallas’s Reunion Arena for Katrina’s victims, I met a woman who was walking alone. I talked with her for a while and learned that her name was Felicia. She said she had two daughters, ages 14 and 20, in New Orleans. One daughter had been staying with her father in New Orleans, and the other with friends. Felicia didn’t know if they were dead or alive. I didn’t hesitate to invite her into my home.
Felicia had experienced a true miracle. She was asleep in her home in New Orleans when the hurricane began. She was awakened by her phone ringing. As she stepped from her bed onto the floor, she felt water around her ankles. Surprised to find water in her home, she ignored the ringing telephone and opened her front door. The water rose to her thigh. Alarmed at the quickly rising tide, Felicia attempted to climb to her roof but was unable to do so.
She slipped under the water and then resurfaced. She was literally moments away from drowning when she prayed and asked God for something she could cling to. She then stretched out her hands, felt a light pole and held on for dear life. She had no idea how she had reached the pole because moments earlier she had been just outside her door and she knew that the light pole was half a block away. Felicia hung on to that pole from seven o’clock Monday morning until five o’clock that evening. She watched her house fill to just under the roof with water. Her street had become an ocean of waves. She was exhausted.
Still clinging to the pole, she prayed for a piece of debris to float by, something just big enough to enable her to climb onto a rooftop. Right then a child’s plastic playhouse door floated by and she leaped onto it. She then paddled to a roof near her own house and huddled there. She knew that she would not last through the night with the wind and rain beating down on her. She was cold and shaking and thinking of giving up when a floodlight shined down on her. A man with a rescue boat had spotted her. The man said that he could not take her just then but he would be sure to return with help. He did return and with his help, Felicia made her way to the Superdome.
Felicia was finally able to rest in the chairs of the stadium. But having survived the storm, she now had to fight to survive the hell that surrounded her in the dome. She was not harmed at the dome, but many others were. After several more days, she was called to board a bus to Houston, but when it arrived at the Astrodome, they were turned away as the stadium was already full. Felicia’s bus then made it to Dallas, where I spotted her.
Felicia continues to pray each day to be reunited with her mother and her children. She is praying for another miracle.
Update from Lightner: Felicia's mother was caring for a relative in a nursing home during Hurricane Katrina and unable to communicate with her family. But a week later, we were able to confirm the survival of Felicia's family.
Tracy Lightner is a single mother with two daughters. The graduate of Dallas Baptist University has been without full-time permanent employment since she was laid off in 2003.