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Home arrow Opinion arrow I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO MY FAMILY - James Thomas, EOU defensive end is from Orleans Parish, N

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I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO MY FAMILY - James Thomas, EOU defensive end is from Orleans Parish, N

James Thomas, EOU defensive end is from Orleans Parish, New Orleans ().
James Thomas, EOU defensive end is from Orleans Parish, New Orleans ().

Imagine your family, the people you love the most. Now separate yourself from them. Just you.

Now imagine those same people – mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives, daughters, even your dog Spot – being placed in the worst situation imaginable.

I'm talking hell on earth.

Murders, rapes, floods, pestilence, suicide, starvation – babies dying in the streets – no hope in sight.

Now hold that thought.

Now go sit in a room for four days.

Welcome to James Thomas' life.

The information comes out clean and clear, displaying a sharp wit and intellect.

"I'm 21," said Thomas, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound freshman defensive end for Eastern Oregon University. "I'm from East New Orleans, Orleans Parish. I went to Abramson High School.

"I didn't know what happened to my family for four days after the Hurricane, and there was no way I could get to them from La Grande or even get ahold of them. They're safe now, in Baton Rouge, and that's because we had the economic resources to leave the city. There were a lot more people who didn't have those same resources and never got out of the city."

The Times-Picayune, New Orleans' newspaper, has set up portions of its Web site to help Katrina victims find out what happened to their neighborhoods and parishes, and for those not as lucky as Thomas, to search for their families.

Going into the Orleans Parish section of the Times-Picayune Web site, the forums are filled with people desperate for any sort of information.

Thomas' high school, Abramson, is rumored to have been set up as a shelter before Katrina hit.

After the storm, rumors surrounding Abramson focus on how many people are believed to have died there. Some estimates have that number at 1,000.

"I hope that's not true," one visitor to the Orleans Parish forum writes. "Dear God I hope they didn't send people to Abramson for shelter."

Others search for loved ones on the site, leaving phone numbers to call, descriptions of people, houses, old locales.

There's anger, too. And much of it comes from the feeling that residents of the Gulf Coast were abandoned by the system they thought would help them in their most dire hour.

"Why are we being referred to as refugees?" said Thomas, who served in the Navy for two years before coming to EOU. "We're not refugees, we're Americans and this is our country just like everyone else. We needed our country to help us here and they didn't. A bunch of reporters, a bunch of news crews can get into New Orleans but the government can't? For four days?

"Infants starved to death in the street. There were rapes, murders, people committing suicide because they were so desperate, because help never came. You're telling me we can get troops to Asia and we can get troops to Iraq, but we can't get them to Louisiana? This can't be America."

The rhetoric, however vitriolic, is hard to listen to. But it's even harder to ignore.

Thomas has watched just one day of television since Katrina hit – the first.

"I stopped watching the news," Thomas said. "It was no good for me, all I was doing was yelling at the television."

With Katrina evacuees totalling 250,000 and coming to other states – including Oregon – while they await word on their homes, Thomas thinks the best thing people can do to help is simple: educate yourself.

"Don't believe everything you read and hear, it's not the real truth. Go out and educate yourself about what happened, form your own opinions," Thomas said. "New Orleans isn't there anymore, but the people still are. They're floating in the water. They're trapped in attics."

Thomas has been hard pressed to focus on football and the upcoming school year throughout the ordeal, but insists he's going to be all right, even with all he's had to deal with.

"It's like you have a big hole in your stomach that everyone can see, and people are constantly coming up to you and saying ‘how's the hole?'," Thomas said. "I understand why people want to know, but it's frustrating sometimes ... I'm gonna be all right. I'm cool."

Thomas' story is one of many, and they all hurt.

America has a big hole in it's heart right now, right there on the beautiful bayou, only nobody has to ask how the hole is.

It's obvious.

"It's the city I love and now it's gone," Thomas said. "Mardi Gras, the French Quarter, all the things we're known for, that's part of what makes America. It's as important as anywhere else."

Reach Tony Adame at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or 963-3161

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