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Indians in Katrina-hit New Orleans

Almost all the Indians have fled and taken refugee and shelter in far and distant cities like Baton Rouge, writes Lalit K Jha.

india Updated: Sep 07, 2005 19:12 IST

Fearing threat to their life from the devastating Hurricane Katrina, priests Thangam Bhattar and Srinivas Lanka loaded their cars with whatever they could lay their hands on and left the Sri Venkata Satyanarayana Temple in New Orleans at 10.30 am on Sunday morning.

Accompanied by their family members, they reached the home of one of their friends in Baton Rouge - about 112 kms west of New Orleans - nearly seven hours later in the evening: a distance which on a US highway normally takes a little over an hour.

At the end of the day, though they were tired and exhausted, they were confident that they were at a safe place. "We were just crawling. Thousands of cars were on the road as every one was leaving New Orleans. There was massive traffic jam. Still, we were lucky to reach our destination in seven hours," Bhattar said.

Priest of the Satyanarayana temple, since its inception in 1994, Bhattar along with family members have taken shelter at a friends place in Baton Rouge. "I do not know how long I am going to stay here. It seems at least a week," he said.

The city, which has almost been evacuated, presents a picture of devastation. Almost all the buildings have been badly damaged and are still under several feet of water.

"No one is at the temple now. I am told it is in 10-11 feet of water. Rest I do not know. I hope the deities are safe," said Bhattar, who since Monday has been completing the daily temple pooja at his new shelter home. He brought a brass idol from the temple so that he could continue the tradition of daily pooja.

Bhattar and Lanka are not the only one. In fact, almost all the Indians staying in this New Orleans city of Louisiana, which is the worst hit city due to Hurricane Katrina, have fled and taken refugee and shelter in far and distant cities like Baton Rouge and even as far as Houston and Dallas.

"Every, Indian family that I know left New Orleans that day," he said. It was a massive exodus from the city on Sunday, he added. The city has around 5,000 to 6,000 Indians.

"Majority of the Indians in New Orleans have taken shelter in Baton Rouge, the Capital of Louisiana," said Srinath Ekkad, a professor of Mechanical Engineering at Louisiana State University, who is also faculty advisor of its Indian Students Association.

"Most of the Indians have come to stay here along with their friends. Some of the people could have gone as far as Houston and Dallas. But, Baton Rouge is the main city where Indians have taken shelter from this devastating hurricane," Ekkad said.

In fact, the Indians in Baton Rouge have come forward to help their community members from New Orleans in a big way. Many Indians have not only opened their house for more than one family even if they do not know them personally, but are also helping their New Orleans friends with other items.

"It was simply not possible to take every thing from home in a car. We brought the bare minimum necessary items while leaving. My host is providing me with whatever I need," said one of them.

"We need to help our community members in distress," Ekkad said.

Though the Indians in Baton Rouge have been able to save the live of their countrymen, they might not be able to save their properties.

There has been considerable damage to the properties. "We do not know how situation is there? We have been told it is terrible," said Bhattal.

First Published: Aug 31, 2005 15:08 IST