- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2005

From combined dispatches

In the past week, Joseph Brant lost his apartment, walked by scores of bodies on the streets, traversed pools of toxic water and endured an arduous journey to escape the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in his hometown of New Orleans.

Yesterday, he was praising the Lord, saying the ordeal was a test that ended up dispelling his lifelong distrust of white people and setting his life on a new course. Mr. Brant, who is black, said he hitched a ride Friday in a van driven by a group of white people.

“Before this whole thing, I had a complex about white people; this thing changed me forever,” said Mr. Brant, a 36-year-old truck driver who, like many of the refugees, is now in Houston.

“It was a spiritual experience for me, man,” he said.

Mr. Brant was one of many refugees across Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi who thought about God and religion yesterday, almost a week after the hurricane and floods changed their lives, perhaps forever.

At the Astrodome in Houston, where 16,000 refugees received food and shelter, Rose McNeely took the flooding as a sign from God to move away from New Orleans, where she said her two grown children had been killed in past years in gunfights.

“I lost everything I had in New Orleans,” she said. “He brought me here because He knows.”

Along the Mississippi coast, worshippers brought and arranged chairs and blankets for makeshift services on the scarred earth where churches once stood. The buildings were gone, but the people thanked God their lives were spared.

Inside Reunion Arena in Dallas, 16 evacuees wearing pink ID bracelets joined hands in a circle to sing “Amazing Grace.”

“This isn’t about [federal] money or about trying to rebuild. It’s about souls, God,” said the Rev. James Millsaps, an evacuee who led the impromptu service.

In many churches nationwide, collection plates were passed to raise money.

“I saw those people who were just like my own mother. I saw those babies. I cannot be silent,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, said at New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore, a mostly black congregation that has pledged $100,000 to help the hurricane victims.

At St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Baton Rouge, several hundred local parishioners and storm survivors attended services yesterday.

“I wish we could take your broken hearts and give you ours,” the Rev. Donald Blanchard told those gathered.

Some people walked out of the church in tears in the middle of the service.

At St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, a mostly black Catholic parish in Baton Rouge, the mood was a mix of frustration, bitterness and joy. As evacuees stood one by one to introduce themselves, parishioners clapped and cried, celebrating their guests’ good fortune in simply being alive.

“For those who were alone in the water, alone on the roof, you might ask: ‘What did we do to deserve this?’” the Rev. Lowell Case said. “A lot of us think being black may have had something to do with it, being poor and black in New Orleans.”

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