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Survivor stories from Camp Williams

Grateful for 'little Army angels'

For the New Orleans residents who evacuated their homes before the storm hit, like Darnell Burrows, things weren't so bad at first.

Burrows and her twin brother, Lionel, headed to the Superdome as directed by city officials on Aug. 28, the night before Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on the historic Louisiana city. But everything changed once the levee broke and thousands began pouring into the giant arena, she says. "Inhumane conditions . . . it was just horrible."

It wasn't until the 46-year-old woman and her brother left, thinking they'd be better off outside, that they realized the full extent of the devastation.

"It really hit me. I just kept thinking, This is real, this is so real."

Darnell and Lionel Burrows were rerouted to the convention center, which was even worse than the Superdome. "We were like in hell, I'm telling you. I wish I could say anything good about it."

But then she thinks of something good — the National Guard troops who came to her, and so many thousands of people's aid. "Little Army angels," she called them, distributing food and water and genuine human kindness.

"There's a difference between pity and compassion, you know. They had compassion," she said. "They didn't feel sorry for us. They felt what we we were feeling."

Woman thankful for Utahns' help

Beverly Perry waited out the worst of Hurricane Katrina in a Radisson Hotel with her "soulmate," Walter Brock.

The couple evacuated to the hotel on Canal Street the night before the storm hit, and stayed there — in the dark — until military helicopters picked them up on Saturday and took them to the airport to be transported to Utah.

It wasn't so bad, the 62-year-old woman said, other than walking down 10 flights of stairs three times a day for meals. "Going down was a breeze. Going up, oh boy, that was rough."

But they were some of the lucky ones, Perry said. The hotel had enough food and water to last from Sunday to Wednesday, and when that ran out, the military started dropping off provisions.

At Camp Williams, Perry has gotten everything she needs, including syringes and insulin for her diabetes. She admits being disappointed, but just for a "split second," when she learned she was headed to Utah. "I just go with the flow, and I thank God for it."

She's making arrangements to fly to Atlanta, where Brock has family, but said she'll always be grateful for the assistance she received here.

Musician saw humanity's worst

Paul Cooper wonders what the music scene is like in Salt Lake City.

A musician who used to play his guitar in the streets of New Orleans' famed French Quarter, Cooper is thinking about relocating to Utah, but doesn't know if he'll be able to make a living here.

He could go live with his brother in California and is even thinking about Las Vegas, but for now he'll stay in Utah, at least until he comes to grips with what he's been through in the past week.

"I'm going to let things settle down. I'm going to let my head settle down."

The one thing he's sure of, though, is that he won't be returning to Louisiana. "I ain't going anywhere that could possibly be in the path of a hurricane."

Cooper, 46, spent nearly a week in the Louisiana Superdome, where he saw the worst of human nature. People broke into executive suites, finding a cache of liquor and were then selling shots for $3 a pop. Every crime you could think of, he says, happened there.

"They tore that dome up," he said, noting that it was when night fell that things became really bad. He eventually started sleeping outside, believing he would be more safe on the streets.

When he was finally loaded onto an airplane and learned he was headed for Utah, Cooper says he had only one thought: Get this baby airborne.

Brother tries to locate his sibling

The last time Derlin McDowell saw his 12-year-old brother, the boy was headed to the Superdome with an elderly neighbor McDowell knows only as "Mr. Jared."

McDowell, 24, was helping the children and elderly from his neighborhood in New Orleans' Ninth Ward evacuate safely after Hurricane Katrina hit, and he sent his brother with the older man. Now, McDowell and his 20-year-old brother are in Utah with no idea where Shawn might be.

They've checked Red Cross registries, but so far without any luck. They're confident he's safe, saying it's only a matter of time before they find him. And when they do, McDowell said, they'll bring him to Salt Lake City, where they plan to stay.

A certified chef, McDowell hopes to find work in the food industry and an apartment for himself and his two brothers. Their parents are deceased, so it's just the three of them. And although he's never been outside New Orleans, McDowell said he can see himself building a life in Utah. "I like it here."

Cupped in the palm of a hand

The only thing Dan Corkren has from his New Orleans home is his 9-year-old nephew's action figures.

He plans to hold onto the toys until he's reunited with members of his family, who are scattered all around Texas while Corkren is in Utah. He's been impressed with his reception so far, and he hopes to convince his family members to join him here to start their lives over.

It might be tough gathering them all up — his 77-year-old mother is in a Houston hospital following a minor heart attack, his 88-year-old great aunt in a Texas nursing home — but he likes Utah and its people.

"They have continuously open hearts," Corkren said. "Without any thought, it was just, 'Here. Of course, we'll do this for you.' "

Born and reared in New Orleans, Corkren lived with his family in a large home in the Gentilly area, but he said he has no overwhelming fondness for the city that makes him want to return.

"I think we've all had enough of the swamp," he said.

Besides, he added, he likes being surrounded by mountains. They make him feel safe, he said, almost like being cupped in the palm of someone's hand.

Priority was keeping children safe

Charles Miller Jr. surveyed the scene outside the Camp Williams community center Tuesday from high atop his father's shoulder.

The 2-year-old smiled and laughed, showing a deep dimple in his left cheek, eventually wanting down so he run amid the camera crews and volunteer workers loading supplies into a Red Cross van.

"He's doing pretty good," said his father, Charles Miller, 46, "considering."

The little boy spent several days in New Orleans' convention center with his mom, dad and 7-month-old sister before coming to Utah this weekend. It was dangerous and dirty there, Miller said, but the adults focused on protecting the children from the chaos unfolding all around them. "They had some tragedies up in that area, right up under your nose."

The idea, he said, was to keep all children confined to one spot and keep them as busy as possible. Miller and his fiancee hadn't had time to pack anything other than supplies for the children, and food and water were scare.

"It wasn't nothing nice. But, all in all, everyone pulled together and we survived."

It wasn't until they were airborne that Miller learned he was headed to Utah, where he thinks he might stay and start his family's life over. Although some of his fellow evacuees expressed disappointment about coming to Salt Lake City, Miller said he didn't have a moment's hesitation.

"I was just glad to get out of there. I don't care where it landed, as long as it landed safe."