Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series about Tucson resident Jerome Hubbard’s ordeal during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Part 1 told of the Hubbard family’s experiences when the storm struck. Family members became separated after the storm, and Hubbard spent time at the infamous New Orleans overpass where storm victims gathered to await aid.
By MYLO ERICKSON
In the middle of the night, Jerome Hubbard felt something tugging at his feet and saw a man trying to steal his boots. They fought and Hubbard won, but his pants got ripped in the brawl.
On Sept. 2, more people were brought to the Causeway Overpass where hurricane victims had gathered, and some were bused out.
At midday, activists Jesse Jackson and Cleo Fields showed up.
“They came up like a parade,” Hubbard said. “He’s using those big words that nobody cares to understand and doing his whole song and dance in front of the camera.”
During his time at the overpass, Hubbard constantly heard a woman’s hungry baby crying non-stop. She kept telling herself that the baby would be OK.
One evening, Hubbard noticed the baby was no longer crying. He saw the woman rocking the baby in her arms, and asked how it was doing. She told him it was asleep.
Hubbard took a peek and saw the baby was dead. When he saw dried tears on her face, he decided to move on and let the lady be alone.
He saw two other people die that night. One who was killed by another man after an all-night brawl. Hubbard said the other man “went crazy” and military personnel were forced to intervene.
At one point during the night, Hubbard and others broke into a ration truck to get food for people. After they unloaded a couple of boxes, they were stopped at gunpoint.
As soon as day broke, buses started coming in. Hubbard managed to jump on a bus that was headed toward Texas.
They arrived at a rest stop on the Louisiana-Texas border and got out to stretch their legs. State troopers pulled up to their spot and told everybody to get back on the bus.
Hubbard’s bus was supposed to go to Houston, but was diverted to Dallas. Before they arrived, they were told they were unwelcome in Dallas as well. People previously brought in by bus had caused too much trouble in the area.
As they headed out of town, Hubbard asked the driver where they were heading. The driver said he was just told to drive, and was awaiting instructions via CB radio.
Hubbard fell asleep. When he awoke, he saw amber lights and men running around with guns.
They had stopped at Fort Smith, Ark. People were now told to get off the bus and line up. Still half-asleep, Hubbard felt lost but did as he was told.
The evacuees entered a processing center and were handed a form to fill out.
Soldiers informed Hubbard that he was in a processing station for refugees, and the form would be his identity number. They also said the form would strip him of his citizenship.
Hubbard folded the form and walked away.
He and a few other men headed to a barracks, but quickly decided in the barracks that they weren’t going to stay. Military personnel informed them they could leave but said the exit was two miles away.
A couple of medics overheard the conversation, and told the men they were headed toward the exit. If people wanted to escape, there was nothing they could do.
Hubbard and his group took the hint. They hitched a ride in a medical vehicle, and jumped out near the exit.
After Hubbard climbed a fence, a Good Samaritan picked him up. The man bought Hubbard socks, a shirt and food, then dropped him off at the nearest bus station.
When Hubbard learned the cheapest one-way ticket was about $400, he decided to try the airport. When he arrived there, he learned a one-way ticked would cost about $580.
He called some of this friends and asked them to call his dad to let his father know that he was OK.
After taking a seat at the airport to think about his next move, Hubbard overheard a man talking on the phone about his family in Lafayette, La.
Two men dressed in scrubs walked by, and one stopped to ask Hubbard where he was from and where he was trying to get to. Hubbard said he would like to get to Houston.
The man told Hubbard he would be back. When he returned a few minutes later, he told Hubbard that he and his cousin were trying to rent a car but couldn’t afford it. If Hubbard had $200, they could all leave.
Hubbard only had $100, but remembered the man on the phone trying to get to Lafayette. He found the man, who agreed to pitch in for the rental car.
At a stop along the way, Hubbard called his friends again and learned that his mom and dad met up and were in New Iberia, La.
The group dropped off one passenger in Houston, then headed east. Hubbard called his father, and asked him to pick him up in Lafayette. They arranged to meet at a mile post marker.
When they got to that mile marker, his dad was standing there.
Hubbard can’t describe his feelings at that moment. He walked over to his dad and said, “You ain’t mad at me, huh?”
They hugged, and Hubbard broke down. After a bit, they got into the car and drove to New Iberia. When they reached the house where his parents were staying, his dad said his mother was in the back of the house.
Hubbard felt a moment of panic, but headed to the back room. The room was dark.
When he opened the door, his mother looked up but didn’t realize who it was. She recognized him when he asked her how she was doing, and held out her arms for a hug.
Hubbard told her he was sorry, and they embraced in a moment of joy and relief. His long ordeal was over.
Once people were allowed to go back into New Orleans, Hubbard and his family got back into their house in October 2005.
They began a cleanup that took months. Hubbard’s father told him he needed to decide what to do. He didn’t want him to stay, as there would be no opportunities for some time.
Hubbard decided to move to Arizona, since he had relatives living in the state. He relocated to Tucson, and will receive a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts from the Art Institute of Tucson in December.