fbpx
News Articles

Family, separated at Superdome, reunited by new friends


HOUSTON (BP)–As if being forced from their home by powers beyond their control and living in squalor in the New Orleans Superdome weren’t enough, the six-member Hall family was separated in the process of being transported to a safer location.

But God provided a means, through good Samaritans, for the Halls to be reunited. The evacuee family recounted their story from the relative security and comfort of Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center more than a week after Hurricane Katrina roared through New Orleans and the day following their reunion.

As Hurricane Katrina was approaching New Orleans, Carl Hall, 21, recounted telling his mother Samantha, 40, that they shouldn’t chance riding out the storm. But Samantha believed it would miss the city; the National Weather Service, in her mind, had cried “wolf” too often for her to believe the Category 4 storm would actually strike New Orleans. Besides, she added, God would take care of them.

“But God gives us common sense and wisdom,” Carl told his mother.

Samantha couldn’t be swayed. And, besides, their church, Faithful Community Church, was completing 21 days of fasting and prayer that Sunday, Aug. 28, and she didn’t want to miss the final prayer service. While staying behind became a matter of faith for Samantha, it became a crisis of belief for Carl.

In the end, their pastor resolved the issue. He moved the time of the service up and concluded it with an urgent plea for people to seek safety. Katrina, just offshore, had become a Category 5 storm.

By that time, all the Hall family could do was seek refuge with more than 20,000 other New Orleans residents in the Superdome. A mandatory evacuation had been called and citizens were told to take supplies of food and water for two or three days to the venue.

EXITING THE DOME

Almost a week later, after plumbing, power and civility had failed in the Superdome, the Halls and the rest of the evacuees were told they would be boarding buses to shelters outside New Orleans.

That’s when the family became separated.

The calls for an orderly exit from the Superdome went unheeded, Samantha recounted. “People weren’t willing to listen,” she said. “We all wanted to get out of there” and there was shoving and fighting to get out. Tired of the confusion and the ill-tempered people, Samantha gave up trying to get on a bus Friday.

After getting back in some semblance of a line Saturday, Samantha’s daughter, Amanda, 21, and granddaughter, Courtney, 6 months, were given preferential treatment and taken closer to the front of the departure area. Amanda’s baby had developed breathing problems while in the Superdome and needed to be outside. Carl later managed to join Amanda and her daughter.

Samantha’s other daughter, Dominque, 19, also had fallen into poor health, having developed an infection in her feet and legs which made it painful to walk after living in the arena with open areas of human waste and no running water. So, she, too, was escorted to the front of the lines.

That left Samantha and her youngest son, Vincent, 15, to wait it out in the back. Some well-meaning people suggested she push her way to the front to regroup with her children, but Samantha declined; there were elderly people at the front, she said, and she didn’t want to risk hurting someone.

But after more waiting, Vincent, impatient and complaining of a headache, left the line. Samantha could not convince her youngest son to stay and, before she knew it, she was alone in the midst of several thousand people.

SEARCHING FOR VINCENT

Samantha began searching for Vincent and enlisted the help of a friend, Lisa Battie, who also was stranded at the dome. Samantha circled the inside of the dome three times, crying and calling out for Vincent. She even asked for a flashlight and searched the dark recesses of the third level that had been off-limits during the first portion of their stay.

Vincent couldn’t be found and Samantha was placed on a bus to Houston. Battie, and her daughter, Shavon, took the trip with Samantha, who was inconsolable the entire drive west. Samantha assumed her adult children were together, but she didn’t have her “baby” with her and didn’t know his fate.

Samantha was among thousands of evacuees taken to Houston’s Astrodome, Reliant Arena and the George R. Brown Convention Center for temporary housing -– but the only one in her family to be sheltered in Houston. Daughter Dominique, looking back on her situation, said, “They put me on the bus and told me I was going to the same place as everybody else. When they said ‘the same place,’ I guess they meant we were all going to Texas.”

The Lone Star State is where the Halls landed, but in cities hundreds of miles apart -– Samantha in Houston and Dominique, Carl, Amanda and Courtney in San Antonio. And Vincent in Wylie.

Dominique was seen by physicians upon her arrival in San Antonio and given antibiotics and a wheelchair. She believed she had arrived alone at the Kelly Air Force Base shelter until she heard Carl call her name. Amanda and Courtney were with him.

Amanda also had received calls from Samantha and a call from Vincent -– so they knew everyone was OK, but stranded across the state.

PROVIDENTIAL ENCOUNTER

Enter Donna Heard and Traci Sconyers.

Heard had been watching the crisis in New Orleans unfold from the comfort of her Houston home. “I just felt like I had to do something,” she said. So, she called a friend, Carmelita Brown, a nurse, and the two went to the convention center Saturday afternoon. No nurses were needed at the time so Heard and Brown were put to work sorting donations for the evacuees. After about five hours of work, the two women were leaving the facility when they came across Samantha, one of the first of about 5,000 evacuees into the convention center, a shelter operated by coordinators from Second Baptist Church.

The three women made small talk and Heard discovered that Samantha needed spare clothes. Being a full-figured woman herself, she told Samantha, “I’m going to take care of you because big girls stick together.”

Heard and Brown returned to the center Sunday evening but the line for volunteers to enter the building was so long they gave up after 45 minutes and decided to come back at midnight. The next day was Labor Day and they didn’t need the sleep.

After finishing their work and driving from the convention center on Monday, Brown spotted Samantha, who was headed into the shelter. Heard swerved across traffic to meet up with Samantha and give her the clothes she had brought. “It was divine intervention,” Heard said about the chance encounter.

That was when Heard discovered that Samantha was alone and wanted to be reunited with her children. Heard said Samantha had received a call from “a woman in Wylie” regarding Vincent. That woman, Traci Sconyers, wanted to see mother and son back together.

ANOTHER ENCOUNTER

Sconyers and her 15-year-old son, Brantley Rowell — when they heard that busloads of evacuees from New Orleans were arriving in Wylie — had gone to Burnett Junior High. The individuals would be allowed to shower and clean up that Saturday afternoon before being transported to a nearby armory for housing.

Sconyers and her son saw Vincent sitting alone. She assumed he was with his family, but when she found out otherwise, her heart broke for the teen. “He doesn’t look 15,” Sconyers said of youth with the build of a linebacker. “But he acts 15 and he was scared.”

Brantley said he “felt bad for him” and suggested his mom allow Vincent to use her cell phone to contact someone in his family. That was how Vincent reached his sister who relayed his status to their mom. Before the evening was out, Sconyers had told Vincent, “We will do anything and everything to get you reunited with your family.”

For the next two days, Brantley spent a good deal of time at the shelter with Vincent and other teenage evacuees. The two boys developed a friendship and enjoyed learning about each other. Brantley said Vincent, who had not been to Texas, was intrigued by the Texas accents of folks in Wylie.

The Sconyers family began making plans to drive Vincent to Houston, but authorities at the shelter initially declined, saying that his mother would have to come for the minor. That wasn’t possible, Sconyers told them, so she was allowed to follow through with her plan.

But then their car developed engine trouble. Plan B was to get Vincent on a bus. Sconyers was touched by her son’s experience and his sincere concern for Vincent, so she allowed Brantley to skip school that day, Tuesday, so he could spend one last day with his new friend and see him off. Before Vincent got on the bus -– with explicit orders not to get off until he saw his mother -– the two teens agreed to stay in touch.

It was Tuesday evening, Aug. 30, when Vincent stepped off the bus and into his mother’s arms in Houston, where Donna Heard had driven Samantha to the bus station.

Now all that was left to do was get Samantha’s children and grandchild in San Antonio over to Houston.

When Samantha first asked Heard if she would transport her kids from San Antonio, Heard’s first response was no. But, again, back in the comfort of her own home, Heard reconsidered. Not only was Heard given a day off from her job at Stolt Offshore, the company paid for the rental car and gas for the trip.

God was in the details, Heard admitted. When she arrived on Wednesday, Aug. 31, to pick up the sedan she had reserved, all the rental company had was an Explorer. Little did she know she would need the extra space. “I was like, Jesus, thank You,” she said. She made her way to Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio by following directions via a special telephone line set up for evacuee information.

The family was reunited Wednesday evening after the 400-mile trip to Houston. Looking back on how it all came together, Heard said, “It was the Lord that allowed all of that to happen.” Though exhausted from the trip, Heard said she was happy to have played a part in His plan.

At the reunion, Samantha was excited to share some additional good news with Heard –- that she had finally found her fiancé in Arkansas. Heard responded, “Oh! Don’t even think about that!”

Though blessed to have her family back with her, Samantha soon found out the reunion would be short-lived. Amanda left the shelter Friday, Sept. 1, with her daughter to live with an aunt in Massachusetts. Carl wanted to return to San Antonio, having met a pastor at the shelter there who had promised to help him get back in school and pursue his degree in music. Dominique wanted to go back to school as well but was willing to do so anywhere close to mom.

The flood of New Orleans had torn a family apart. But God saw that they were cared for and reunited before venturing out to a new life.
–30–
Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, on the Web at

    About the Author

  • Bonnie Pritchett