News Articles

Providence & prayer guide Katrina evacuees to safety

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–As Hurricane Katrina tore through the city of New Orleans the morning of Aug. 29, Charles and Doris Kelley and fellow residents of the Lambeth House huddled in the hallways outside their apartments, chatting, praying and wondering what would become of them.

Two days later, Charles and Doris joined the thousands of homeless and displaced citizens of New Orleans. They made it to Fort Worth, Texas, the evening of Aug. 31 under the watchful prayer and care of their daughter Dorothy Patterson, first lady of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Patterson credits the providence of God for her parents’ safe evacuation, while acknowledging that God uses humans to affect His compassion and guidance when tragedies like Hurricane Katrina strike.

“So many people worked together to help get my parents to safety,” Patterson said.

Perhaps no one person was as effective in helping evacuate Charles and Doris than was Vanee Daure, director of media services at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a longtime family friend of the Kelleys’ son and daughter-in-law, Chuck and Rhonda Kelley, president and first lady of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

“I am originally from New Orleans. I always stay for hurricanes. As a member of the staff of the seminary — I am the media services director — I wanted to be there for the cleanup afterwards. But it didn’t happen that way,” Daure said.

After New Orleans Seminary administration asked Chuck and Rhonda Kelley to evacuate to Birmingham, Ala., Daure asked President Kelley what needed to be done. He offered either to take Daure to Alabama with them, or for her to look after his parents at Lambeth House. Daure elected to keep an eye on Charles, 87, and Doris, 83.

At Lambeth House, a 12-story building on the banks of the Mississippi River, Doris lived independently in an apartment on the 11th floor and Charles was in an extended care facility on the second floor. By the time Daure got to Lambeth House about 5 a.m. Monday, so many family members of the residents had arrived that the home administrators were not going to let Daure stay.

“I told them I was willing to do anything that needs to be done,” Daure said. “The administrators said, ‘OK, if you don’t mind helping out, then we’ll let you stay.’”

Daure was put in charge of the residents on the 11th floor, Doris’ floor. Daure and another staff member made sure all the residents were in the hallway. The home administrators wanted to make sure no one got hurt in case the hurricane blew in the apartments’ glass windows.

“We had pulled chairs out from their apartments and told them to bring their medications, water, a flashlight and some snacks into the hallway with them,” Daure recounted. “We didn’t know how long we would be in the hallway. They sat up and down in the hallway in little clumps so they could visit with each other. We were there from about 5:30 a.m. until about 2 p.m. Monday.”

Daure went down to check on Charles on the second floor. He was comfortable and in good hands with the nursing staff there.

Everyone in Lambeth House rode out the hurricane. At one point, the residents and staff on the 12th floor had to come down to the 11th floor because the penthouse conference room windows shattered. But no residents or Lambeth House employees were hurt.

The electricity went out almost immediately after the hurricane hit. The on-site generator kicked on.

“There was no electricity during the storm from about 5:30 a.m.,” Daure said. “The generator gave us a few lights in the hallway and one elevator during the storm to get people downstairs. It also provided for respirators and food preparation and essential things like that. But there was no air conditioning and no lights in the apartments. Also, piped water was unable to reach beyond the 10th floor. The second floor had more electricity than the other floors, like lights and piped water, but they didn’t have air conditioning, either.”

At lunchtime on Monday, Daure and Lambeth House staff members walked up and down 11 flights of stairs to serve lunch from the ground floor cafeteria.

“It was red beans and rice,” Daure said, laughing at the thought. “How appropriate for New Orleans.”

Daure and many of the residents spent the night at Lambeth House. A few of the independent living residents evacuated immediately after the storm. What is remarkable to Daure is that the hurricane itself caused less damage to the city and Lambeth House than what happened afterward.

“The next morning [Tuesday], it was just chaos in New Orleans.” Daure said. “The water started flooding in places that it wasn’t flooding before. The helicopters and boats were out everywhere. Things got worse after the storm when the levees started breaking apart.”

Daure spent Tuesday morning shuttling between Lambeth House, the seminary and other places, checking on things and helping where she could. She came back to check on the Kelleys just after 12 noon.

“We had been called downstairs around 11:30 a.m.” Doris said. “We thought we would be eating lunch.”

Instead, the home’s administrators had called a meeting to inform everyone that city officials had ordered total evacuation.

When Daure arrived, the meeting was just breaking up. Doris was upset about possibly being separated from Charles. The administrators assured them that no such thing would happen. Daure started making calls to find a place to take the Kelleys.

“First, I tried to reach Dr. Chuck Kelley, but his cell phones weren’t working,” Daure said. “That’s when I got on the phone to Dorothy Patterson. I said, ‘Dorothy, we have got to get your mom and dad out of here. They are closing up Lambeth House.’ We kept in constant contact the rest of the afternoon until we figured out what we were going to do.”

In Fort Worth, Patterson swung into action.

“The first thing I did was to try logical things,” Patterson said. “I called people I knew in Mississippi. Their phones were all out. I was trying to get a private airplane, so I was calling people I knew who might have access to one. The public airports were not open, and nothing but emergency aircraft was being allowed to land. But I knew that Mother and Daddy could not physically make that trip any other way. I had to find a private aircraft. Also, Daddy could not get into a small airplane because of his condition, so I was limited on what kind I could use. I went down my list, and nothing. Then I remembered our very special friends in Dallas, Dan and Joan Horner. They have done so many things for the seminary and the Lord’s work. When I called them, they just took it and worked out everything. They located a pilot who was already in the area.”

Even though cell phones were not working, remarkably Doris’ land-based telephone line was working the whole time Patterson was arranging for an evacuation.

Daure received instructions from Patterson that there would be a private airplane standing by in Baton Rouge, about 80 miles north of New Orleans. With uncertain road conditions and the possible risks to personal safety, convoys of vehicles were being put together to shuttle the home residents to Interstate 10 and ultimately to evacuation points. Daure learned that a convoy of vehicles was going to leave Lambeth House in about 15 minutes.

“I told Mrs. Kelley that she needed to pack and pack fast,” Daure said. “I went upstairs and threw all my stuff together and helped Mrs. Kelley get her stuff together…. I went up to the second floor and Mr. Kelley was sitting in his chair and he didn’t have a shirt on because it was so sticky humid hot. They had his medicines and his medical records and everything ready for me. I went into his room and grabbed whatever I could find. I grabbed his dirty laundry bag because I figured they could wash when he got here. I grabbed some of his toiletries and put it all together.”

Several men helped load up Charles in Daure’s SUV. Daure said that until this past May she drove a pickup truck.

“God told me to just buy that Chevrolet Equinox,” she said. “There is no way we could have evacuated Charles in that pickup.”

After some delays, the convoy finally set off for the interstate. They were now out of communication with the outside world. They picked their way carefully along the banks of the Mississippi and then to Causeway Boulevard which would lead them to I-10.

“All the way there we were dodging big trees across the street, we would have to go around downed power lines,” Daure said. “About two blocks out of Lambeth House, I turned to Mrs. Kelley and said, ‘You are the prayer warrior. You need to pray that we don’t get anything in my tires. We need those tires to get out of here.’”

Just as they reached ramp onto the interstate, the police stopped the convoy. A huge helicopter rose up in front of them and took off toward the flooded city. No sooner had it cleared than another big helicopter landed in its place on the grass next to the interstate. Daure and the Kelleys watched as the doors of the helicopter opened.

“All these people that I guess they got off rooftops and stuff — little kids and their mothers, carrying maybe a pillow and blanket — unloaded out of the helicopter,” Daure said. “On the east side of I-10, there were parked ambulances stretching for probably a half-mile alongside the road. The people from the helicopters were being taken care of by the ambulances. There was a caravan of school buses heading toward the city for picking up refugees.”

When the policeman waved them on to the interstate, Daure and the Kelleys made their way toward Baton Rouge. In the meantime, Patterson had gotten word that the pilot had been denied permission to land in Baton Rouge but had been cleared to land in Lafayette, another 60 miles or so west. Since she was out of touch with Daure, Patterson had to come up with a contingency plan.

“I reached Pastor Tommy French of Jefferson Baptist Church in Baton Rouge. He went to the Baton Rouge airport and stayed there until they showed up,” Patterson said. “Then, I was amazed when I got hold of Perry Sanders of the First Baptist Church of Lafayette … and he and his wife, Kay, went to the Lafayette airport to wait for them there. I was calling these people on a moment’s notice. No one said no; everyone was willing to help.”

“People were working together every place I went,” Daure added. “So it upsets me when I see looters on television; that doesn’t show how people are helping each other out.”

After getting their redirection instructions from Pastor French in Baton Rouge, Daure finally pulled up to the Lafayette airport shortly before 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Regardless of the disorder, flooding, lack of communication and sundry obstacles, she thanked God for getting them from New Orleans to Lafayette safely in about three hours.

Some men helped load Charles onto the eight-passenger private aircraft, and the evacuees were airborne by 8 p.m.

An hour later they touched down at Meachum Airport in Fort Worth, Texas. Three vehicles with men from Southwestern Seminary drove out to meet the airplane on the tarmac.

“It was like the Marines coming to the rescue,” Daure said. “I was never happier to see people as I was to see the Pattersons.”

“We are doing fine now,” Doris said in an interview from a Southwestern Seminary guest house Aug. 31. “Mr. Kelley is doing great. He did great on the trip. He is a very optimistic person. We will return to New Orleans one day, we just don’t know when.”

Dorothy Patterson praised God for all He did through so many people to evacuate her parents. They have found a place in Fort Worth where her father will be cared for. Patterson hopes Southern Baptists will think seriously about the extent of damage suffered by the people of southern Louisiana and Mississippi.

“Think of all the seminary students who have sacrificed to prepare themselves for service to Christ,” Patterson said. “They are going through a fire right now, a difficult time. This is a time for Southern Baptists to rise up again and let it be known why New Orleans Seminary has always been known as a school of providence and prayer. It is time for churches and people all over the United States to say, ‘We are not going to take anything from the Cooperative Program, instead we are going to reach deeper and help.’”

For her part, Daure’s thoughts already are back in New Orleans. She said she is headed for Atlanta to help with efforts to administrate New Orleans Seminary from their extension there. But she is aching to go back for the cleanup and get the seminary back to its home base.

“So many of our students work with the people in the community around the seminary, and I know it is distressing them that they can’t be back in New Orleans to help the people there,” Daure said. “So I think once we can get New Orleans Seminary back there, that is going to help the whole community because that’s what it needs. The sooner we can recover, the sooner we can minister where the need is greatest.”

    About the Author

  • Brent Thompson