Originally created 04/09/06

Evacuees still trying to get lives in order



COLUMBIA - Hurricane Katrina evacuees in South Carolina are still trying to put the pieces of their lives together seven months after the storm chased them from their homes on the Gulf Coast.

In the Columbia area, about two dozen residents at Gentle Pines apartments in West Columbia spent a nervous few weeks recently thinking they would be evicted because federal money was going to be cut off.

But a visit by a Federal Emergency Management Agency official showed the displaced New Orleans residents at Gentle Pines how to keep their rental assistance.

"The mix-up was simply because paperwork hadn't gotten through," said Ginger Patterson, the FEMA coordinator for the state of Georgia who visited Columbia on March 26.

For some evacuees, the goal of getting back home is a far-off dream.

"You wouldn't believe it - it's been a long, difficult time," said Michael Mack, 43, who said he suffers from depression and other illnesses and often has a hard time getting medications.

The Gulf Coast Listening Project gives Katrina evacuees a chance to discuss their experiences with trained volunteers.

The information gathered in Columbia and in other areas will be used to help improve efforts to assist hurricane evacuees nationwide and those trying to rebuild along the Gulf Coast, said Rebecca Rogers, who with her husband, Harry, organized the Columbia branch of the Listening Project.

"Our nation has an awful lot to learn from what happened after Hurricane Katrina," Mrs. Rogers said. "This is just one small way of helping to make that happen."