Hurricane Refugee Starts New Life

violeta-arrazola
el-vaquero-staff-writerVIOLETA ARRAZOLA
El Vaquero Staff Writer

Imagine being stranded on
the roof of a house for two
and a half days while the
whole neighborhood flooded
with more than 8 feet of water,
with only Spam and crackers
to survive on.

This is what David Mince,
who was born and raised in
New Orleans, had to go
through in order to survive
after Hurricane Katrina swept
through on Aug. 29, wreaking
havoc, flooding the entire city,
and killing hundreds of people.
If being stranded on the
roof of a home wasn’t bad
enough, Mince also witnessed
horrors beyond belief. “I saw
a lot of bad things,” said the
50-year-old. “I saw dead people,
cats, dogs and even a dead
cow floating down the streets.
It was horrible.”

Mince and a friend were
eventually rescued by the
Coast Guard and taken to dry
land. “A lot of people thought
they took us to some great
place or something, but they
didn’t,” said Mince. “They
just dropped us off in a spot
that was dry and thought was
safe and flew off to rescue
some other people.”

After walking eight hours to find shelter, Mince and his
friend were picked up by a civilian
in a Hummer who took them
to Baton Rouge, which is northwest
of New Orleans and had
suffered minimal storm damage.

Mince, who was exhausted
and was just trying to find a
place where he could stay and
sleep, finally found the Istrouma
Baptist Church in Baton Rouge,
where the American Red Cross
had set up shelter for hurricane
victims.

On the third day Mince was at
the shelter, 10 buses full of people
who had been housed at the
Superdome in New Orleans,
pulled up to the shelter to drop
off those who had nowhere to
stay.

But the people on the buses
were not allowed to exit the
buses because the shelter was
already packed to full capacity.
Before the buses were directed to
Houston, a few people managed
to get off, and that’s when Mince
found out that the shelter he was
staying at was a far cry from
what these people had lived
through at the Superdome.

“The guys that got off the bus,
came to us crying, saying ‘Why
didn’t they come get us? Why
didn’t they come help us?’ ” said
Mince. “They told us atrocious
stories of women getting raped
and guys getting shot.”

That same night, after hearing the horror stories, Mince was
faced with an opportunity that he
could not turn down.

“At about 9:30, a group of
guys from the Dream Center
walk in and say ‘anyone want go
to Los Angeles?’ ” said Mince.
After learning from the group
of Dream Center volunteers that
they only had eight spots available
on the private Learjet that
was headed to California, Mince,
along with his friend, signed up,
were driven to the Baton Rouge
Metropolitan Airport and hopped
on the plane with only the
clothes on their backs.

Since Sept. 4, Mince has been
staying at Dream Center, a
church-sponsored facility in Los
Angeles that houses people in
need, including hundreds of victimes
of Hurricane Katrina.

“The Dream Center has the
greatest bunch of people I’ve
seen,” said Mince, who gets
three hot meals a day, and has his
own room, bathroom and television.
The Dream center also
gives hurricane victims staying
at the shelter $100 a week and
free medical care.

While at the Dream Center,
Mince had another opportunity.
A Dream Center volunteer and
former GCC student asked the
hurricane victims if any of them
would be interested in attending
college. Mince jumped at the
opportunity and is now attending Glendale College and taking two
computer classes. All fees have
been waived by the college.

In a news release on the
GCC Web site, President John Davitt said: “We welcome
the opportunity to lend assistance
to any of the displaced students
from our local area.
Additionally we welcome those
students who may choose to
come to the greater Glendale
area.”

According to the California
Department of Education,
California colleges have taken
in more than 500 refugees from
Hurricane Katrina and currently
there are four students attending
GCC that were displaced by the
hurricane.

Mince, who eventually plans
to get a job as a contract electrician,
which is what he did back
at home, is thrilled to be in Los
Angeles and going to school.

Besides schoolwork, Mince is
spending every weekend with a
group of Dream Center volunteers
at Skid Row, feeding the
homeless, reading to them or
just spending time with them.
Nancy Agbenu, who is the
Dream Center volunteer who
told Mince and the other
refugees about attending school, feels Mince is an encouragement
to the other hurricane victims at
the Dream Center for giving
back to the Los Angeles community.

“The way he is dealing with
everything that has been going
on is unique,” said Agbenu.
“He’s full of energy and an
encouragement for others. He is
very grateful for all the help we
give.”

Although he loves being in
California and is getting the
opportunity to go to school, he
does miss New Orleans, especially
one thing in particular.

“I
really miss all the food and the
Cajun spices,” said Mince of his
hometown, which is known for
its gourmet spicy food.

While Mince has no immediate
plans to return home, he eventually
hopes to return to the city
where he was born and raised. “I
want to finish school here and get
a job,” he said. “When the time is
right, I’ll go home.”