Why One League Staffer Chose To Stay And Not Geaux

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Gayle Boudreaux is one of those cantankerous Cajuns who chose to ride out Hurricane Katrina in her home just outside of New Orleans.

"It hit pretty fast," Boudreaux told The Credit Union Journal from her soggy apartment here. "The rain was traveling horizontally, you know. I'd say it probably lasted about eight hours or so once it really hit. We lost power within the first half hour."

Her Louisiana accent somehow manages to mask the depth of the danger Boudreaux was in when she decided that at the very least, she wouldn't stay in her small, 12-unit apartment complex, but instead moved to the nearby house she still owns with her ex-husband.

"I wasn't really afraid of the wind. It was actually really invigorating," she claimed. "You see, I'm one of those people who lived through Betsy 40 years ago, so I really just wasn't afraid."

The 63-year-old has worked for the Louisiana Credit Union League for 11 years as one of its accountants and was the only member of the staff who didn't evacuate prior to the storm. And she's not going anywhere now, either.

"I was horrified when the water came," Boudreaux conceded. "Had I known the water would come in, I probably would have left. But with Betsy, we didn't have the water, so I figured if I survived Betsy 40 years ago, then I would survive Katrina today. The wind isn't what scares me. It was rather exciting watching the roofs being blown off."

That's not to say that Boudreaux and her daughter-who celebrates her 39th birthday this week-didn't consider leaving.

"When I looked at the traffic and saw how long it was taking people to get out of here, no one really knew where they were going, it just didn't make sense," she explained. "If I had family in Baton Rouge or somewhere else north, maybe I would have gone. But I didn't, so I chose to stay. I guess I'm just one of those hard-headed Cajuns."

The house where Boudreaux rode out the storm suffered no damage, and while the land outside the house was flooded, no water got into the house, which stands about three feet above sea level-a veritable mountain in the New Orleans area.

But water did get into Boudreaux's two-story townhouse apartment. Even so, she has already moved back in.

"We had about a foot of water. We lost some furniture, and we have no electricity. We'll have to rip out the carpet because I'm sure it's carrying some serious germs by now," she commented. "We are dependent on the daily ice deliveries. And we have started liking MREs [meals ready to eat]. They're actually quite tasty."

The MREs and ice technically are being supplied by FEMA, but it's being distributed by Native Americans from Oklahoma and the National Guard at a Sam's Club not too far from where Boudreaux is living, she said.

"I suppose I would leave, but I really have no place to go, so I'm better off staying here," she suggested. "I wasn't going to head to the Super Dome. We have two portable TVs, so we've seen what's been happening there. That's how we keep in touch with the outside world. We need some distraction from ourselves."

And there is little to distract them at present. They are the only people still living in the 12-unit apartment complex, though they do know some neighbors about a block away who have also stayed.

Jefferson Parish officials will not force residents such as Boudreaux to leave, she said, but the official word is that if you choose to stay, "you are on your own" with no 911 service or other aid at night.

Even so, Boudreaux had praise for local law enforcement.

"There has been a lot of patrolling in our neighborhood. In fact, I just saw two police vehicles drive by here not an hour ago," she related. "And every night we see the helicopters flying with their lights scanning the neighborhoods. I have to applaud our local law enforcement. We haven't had any of the violence. Looters are arrested promptly. No one has been killed. We are two females alone, but we do have some weapons, and we keep the gate locked up at night."

Boudreaux was surprised to learn that the entire credit union movement has been wondering what happened to her and hates to think she's caused people so much worry.

FEMA Cuts Phone Lines

"Our phone service was so spotty, we could only call a few people at a time, and then we never knew when it was going to go out," she noted. "And get this-FEMA actually came in, and without telling anyone, they confiscated the phone lines. They just cut the lines and put themselves on the line for three or four days."

But after about a week and a half with no word from Boudreaux, and knowing that she planned to stick it out at home, the league was really starting to worry, when at last the veteran bookkeeper was able to make contact.

And for as worried as the credit union movement has been for her, Boudreaux has been worried about the credit union movement.

"I'm glad to hear they're setting up operations in Baton Rouge. I need to find a vehicle I can rent and try to locate a place to stay so I can get back to my job. I am quite worried about that," she commented. "I'm really anxious to get back to work. What I do is related to the overall daily workings of our credit unions, and I am worried about those things. I know there are other people who have the means to travel back and forth, but I want to contribute."

And it is that desire to contribute that kept Boudreaux from leaving her home in the first place.

"We're a small family, you see. We have some in California and Nevada and New Jersey, and I suppose I could have gone to stay with them, but I didn't want to leave here because here needs us," she said. "I want to be here, where I can contribute."

Though living in the abandoned apartment complex with only her daughter for company sounds like a lonely existence, Boudreaux said she has been amazed at the response from the rest of the nation to New Orleans' plight.

"I saw a policemen from New York and a fireman from California," she said. "And that was just so neat. It's just such an amazing outpouring of help from out of state."

But she worries about draining resources from other areas, particularly neighboring areas that are also vulnerable to hurricanes.

"Florida has been devastated so many times by storms, and then for Katrina to come screaming through here, how can we expect to take care of all these states," she asked. "In my lifetime I haven't seen so much devastation from Florida to Louisiana all at one time."

The cantankerous Cajun voice that has held just the slightest wisp of a laugh throughout the conversation began to waver just a bit, as she continued, "really, I've just never seen anything like it. And we so appreciate everything that people have done for us."

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