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SDDC contractor escapes Hurricane Katrina with family.

As Jacqueline Mayo watched the news reports predicting Hurricane Katrina's latest twist, she knew it was time to get out. The storm was headed right for her New Orleans East neighborhood, and there was no time to lose. It was just a matter of deciding where to go with her husband Edward, five grandchildren, daughter, son and his fiance. They loaded up three cars and decided to head west to Houston, normally a six-hour drive. This time it took them 12 hours as the roads filled with anxious residents trying to beat the storm's vicious path.

But, this was a familiar drill for Mayo who left with her family last year during Hurricane Ivan, and had also lived through another brutal storm--Hurricane Betsy--in 1965. The family had decided to stay home for Betsy but for Ivan they left, only to return a day later, grateful that the storm's wrath had spared their home.

This time, however, Mayo fears she will not be so lucky. Although unable to return to her residence or anywhere near it, by all news accounts, it appears her home and neighborhood is under water or gone.

Mayo had just had her house built a little over a year ago, a lifelong dream, and all of her family, born and raised in New Orleans, live within five miles of each other. All left their homes for Katrina, and all cannot go home. But to Mayo, through the bad, there is always good.

"I am not bitter," said Mayo, a contracting officer representative for the New Orleans Vehicle Processing Center, which also was severely damaged by the storm. "Of course, I will miss the things I worked for, but I feel God just wanted us to be safe."

After spending one night in Houston, Texas, her family was told there was no room for another night's stay at the hotel. So they moved on to another hotel. The same thing happened there too. Friends of the family heard of her plight and told them all to come to their home.

"I told them there were 10 of us, but they said to come on over," she said. "I was grateful since we had been through such an ordeal, and we only packed for a few days expecting to be able to get back home," said Mayo.

Once Mayo realized that there would be no going home any time soon, she decided to say yes to her other son Stephen's invitation, and they headed for his home in Huntsville, Al., where she was astounded by the warm greeting that came next.

Stephen and his family had put a plea on the internet so when the Mayos arrived, there were bags and boxes of clothes and household goods, envelopes with cards, money, gift cards and food on the table. Mayo says it was an overwhelming feeling of warmth from the community that has yet to cease.

"Their phone never stopped ringing," said Mayo. "The Huntsville people came to us from all over to help. My son's Baptist church, of which his father in law is pastor, presented us with $1,000 to help us get back on our feet."

Mayo says she knows she is one of the lucky ones as she still has a job and is now temporarily working in Dallas, Texas, overseeing the operations of both the New Orleans and Dallas Vehicle Processing Centers. Her husband, who is a retired Army Sergeant First Class, is keeping the home fires burning at an apartment they just rented. And all her family members have made arrangements for housing. She anticipates remaining in the Dallas area for the unforeseeable future but remains anxious to be able to get back home to see her property.

"Everybody has been really helpful," said Mayo. "Julia Kaleem, Dinah Locklear and Charles Helfrich at SDDC were tremendously helpful during this time. They called and sent e-mails to make sure my family and I were safe. They offered to help us in any way that they could. Just knowing that the people I work with cared made a difference.

"I have to look forward and be grateful. I know my children and grandchildren are in good hands. Everyone is safe, and we aren't going to be hungry or homeless. And for that, I am truly blessed."

June M. Pagan, Public Affairs Specialist SDDC Operations Center
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Author:Pagan, June M.
Date:Sep 22, 2005
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