Medical Evacuees From Gulf Coast Arrive In Louisville

By Justin Wilfon

(LOUISVILLE) -- Nearly 80 Rita evacuees arrived in Louisville from Texas overnight. They were transported by Kentucky Air Guardsmen who made last-minute arrangements to evacuate the nursing home residents -- many with medical conditions requiring immediate care. And as WAVE 3's Justin Wilfon reports, for some of them, being evacuated was nothing new.

In the middle of the night, evacuees fleeing the path of Hurricane Rita were loaded onto a plane in Texas, headed for shelter in Kentuckiana.

Two National Disaster Medical System flights, carrying a total of 78 people, arrived at 1:45 a.m. EDT at Louisville International Airport, said Louisville Mayor Spokesman Chad Carlton.

The patients arriving in Louisville were taken to University of Louisville Hospital and a half-dozen other hospitals in the area, Carlton added.

They put families up at the Executive Inn (hotel)," Carlton said. "They will be looking to secure nursing home beds for many of these people who came from nursing homes."

Nearly two million people along the Texas and Louisiana coasts were urged to get out of Rita's path.

The storm weakened Thursday to a Category 4 hurricane as it took a sharper-than-expected turn that could send it away from Houston and Galveston, and by Friday it had diminished to a Category 4, but it still packs 135-mph winds and the potential to cause a massive storm surge.

Although the flight originated in Texas, for many it's a trip that started somewhere else.

Many of the 78 evacuees have found themselves dodging Hurricane Rita just weeks after being driven from their Gulf coast homes by Hurricane Katrina.

Now Louisville has become the latest stop on an involuntary odyssey that has seemed unending for Nicole Cloud-Williams and her fiance, Siles Sincere, who were among the thousands in New Orleans caught in the aftermath of Katrina that left flooded city streets in chaos as stranded residents waited days for basic supplies.

"We was in the Superdome for two weeks, and when we got through with that," Siles recalled. "Then when we got through with that, they sent us to Arkansas. Then we ended up in Mean; then, from there, we went to another part of Texas, and that's how we get here in Kentucky."

Despite having endured these hardships, Nicole and Siles were among the lucky. Many of the people on the flight

Many people on Friday's flight had to be taken off on gurneys and taken to area hospitals immediately. Siles's uncle is one such patient.

"He had a stroke and kidney failure," Siles said.

The early morning arrival of Rita evacuees at the Ky. Air Guard was arranged at the last minute. Officials here began preparing to receive them literally hours before they arrived.

However, the Guardsmen we spoke with seemed honored to take part. "It's humbling to help these folks out, these patients," said Chief Mark Hart. "These patients, but it also makes you proud. Proud to be a part of this country and that everyone pitches in like this."

The evacuees hoping it's the end of a journey that has been fraught with struggles -- struggles that continue on a day-to-day basis. And along with struggles come sadness.

"We ain't got no clothes. No nothing."

For some the trauma will follow them the rest of their lives. "We sat in the Superdome for two weeks. We watched people get killed, watched people get raped, people get thrown over the thing. I mean -- there was so much going on, so much chaos."

But now, this one plane ride could bring many people peace.

"I'm ready to go to some home, where I can live my life normal again."

Most of the evacuees were taken to area hospitals and nursing homes, and their families were taken to shelters. Another flight with 50 more patients arrived in Lexington Friday morning as well.. They'll be getting treatment there.

And it's possible an additional flight full of patients may arrive in Louisville Saturday night.

Online Reporter: Justin Wilfon

Online Producer: Michael Dever