Casino hosting hurricane evacuees
Five Hurricane Katrina evacuees have arrived at the Horizon Casino Resort, leaving family, friends and ruined homes behind in Mississippi and Louisiana. Once employees on the Belle of Orleans, a riverboat casino half-sunken in the Mississippi River, the five are now looking for homes at the South Shore.
Fae Esteves of Mississippi, and Linette and Keith Robinson, Glenn King, and Eric Adossa of Louisiana, say they got their first good night’s sleep in three weeks after arriving in Tahoe last weekend.
“Most of us are just numb,” Esteves said.
Answering questions with a reporter, their emotions were subdued, their faces tired, but still able to smile.
Hurricane Katrina didn’t just take their homes, it took their livelihoods.
“It’s life-changing,” said King, a tall man with broad shoulders, a deep voice and a gaze that does not waver. He left a family in Texas. Dominique, 12, and Ashley, 9, are with their mother Angela and her family in Houston.
King has not been able to go back to his home in eastern New Orleans to assess the damage. He did have flood insurance.
Born in northern Louisiana, King spent the last 19 years in New Orleans, where he was most recently the director of surveillance on the Belle of Orleans, formerly Bally’s Casino. He’ll be here until he can return to help rebuild the boat.
For now, he’s got a job at Horizon.
Mike Smith, Horizon’s general manager, said all five have talents he can use. They have been hired and will have a job for as long as they stay. More evacuees are on their way to the casino at Stateline, Smith said.
The men and women may live at the casino and eat in the cafeteria indefinitely, Smith said, but he hopes someone in the community might be able to offer them something more akin to a home.
“It’s rough living in a hotel room, eating in the cafeteria,” Smith said. “I would like to give them some sort of housing in the community here.”
The Robinsons, a young couple, left their three children behind with their grandmother in Baton Rouge. Keith Jr. is 7, Keaira is 4, and baby Aaron is 8 months old.
Smith hopes to have them reunited and in a home soon, with the ability to stay at least three to four months.
The five are happy to have work. While her home in Mississippi was spared, Esteves still needed a job.
“The storm didn’t take my house, but is the mortgage company going to take it because I don’t have a job?” she said.
Colombia Sussex, which owns Horizon and Caesars Tahoe, is guaranteeing the first three paychecks after the storm for employees who lost their workplaces, Smith said. The company is relocating hundreds of employees.
Horizon has received a “huge response” from the American Red Cross in Reno, Smith said, and is getting the ball rolling with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He did not have details on what type of assistance FEMA would provide.
All five fled the city when the Mayor Ray Nagin gave the evacuation order. Adossa did not know where his 10-year-old daughter Danielle was for 10 days because she evacuated with his ex-wife.
Linette Robinson was on the phone with her sister – who did not evacuate – when the roof collapsed, and water began flooding the house.
They all wonder why there wasn’t a better plan in place.
“They’ve known this scenario for many years and nobody did anything about it,” Adossa said.
“Every year you hear the stories of what would happen if the levees broke,” King said.
“We’ve been begging for funds for coastal erosion,” Esteves said.
But New Orleans is destroyed and their lives have changed dramatically. What’s brought them through it all is a lot of prayer, they said, and the knowledge that their families are safe.