Gloria W. Steele, an 82-year-old retired second-grade teacher, didn't have
cable television in the house at 4829 Ithaca Street in Metairie, La., where
she'd lived for 35 years.
She and Julie, her 4-year-old pug, never stayed up to watch the 10 p.m. news
on the regular networks.
So, Gloria didn't know the details delivered in special reports last Sunday
night about mandatory evacuations and a bulls-eye on New Orleans.
It probably wouldn't have mattered. "I didn't want to leave," she told me
Dressed only in the house dress and slippers she'd worn since Thursday
morning, and with her white hair hanging straight to her shoulders, she
found herself in a processing area at a place called Fort Chaffee. She was
sitting next to a small plastic bag containing everything she had, and to
her beloved Julie at the end of a leash.
Yes, she had understood last Sunday night that a hurricane was forecast. But
hurricanes had come before, and the house had stood up to them. She had a
She took her little body, about five feet and maybe a hundred pounds,
outside to retrieve six sandbags. She placed three against the back door and
three against the front.
Then she went to bed, alone, except for Julie.
Her 13-year-old pug, Susie, died not too long ago. Sometimes she calls Julie
Susie. Her Himalayan cat died several years ago. Her husband, a sportscaster
who got fired by New Orleans' Channel 6, she said, died in 1991. Her son
died in 1998 at 34. "I don't want to talk about it. It wasn't suicide."
She was awakened about 7 a.m. Monday by rain, then the power went out. She
thought that would be that.
About 11 a.m., she noticed water seeping into her kitchen, then her bedroom.
By 3 p.m., five inches of water filled her home. "Julie was having to
tip-toe around,²" she said.
"I said, 'Oh, Jesus, what do you want me to do?' I¹m an 82-year-old woman and
I can't handle this."
She and Julie sloshed, alone and hot and in the dark, for four days. She had
no power, no communication, no neighbors. She didn't know the horrible
things the world knew.
"I was the only one left in the 4800 block of Ithaca Street," she said.
She went out to check on her Olds 98. It wouldn't do a thing.
On Wednesday, a neighbor came to check on his house and told her she had to
get out. She said she wouldn't. She told him she had a little water and
food, and that if she ran out, she could always eat Julie's canned food.
"Old people don't like change," Gloria said, her voice rising. "I don't want
to be here."
A policeman knocked at her door Thursday morning. She threw on her
nightgown, red-and-black socks and slippers. "I was more worried about
gathering together Julie¹s things," she said.
She spent the first night in a gym and the next in the squalor at the
Superdome. She thought she was getting a ride out on a bus to San Antonio,
but the crowd around the buses overwhelmed her and forced her back.
On Saturday she found herself holding Julie on an Arkansas Air National
Guard C-130. Her hips hurt from climbing the airplane steps. Now she awaited
an open shower and a bunk bed in spartan, but air-conditioned, military
Gloria told officials she had relatives in Kansas City, but was estranged
From the van transporting her to her new barrack home, Gloria smiled to me,
waved and said "good luck to you."