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Sunday, October 9, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Evacuees try to start new lives

Seattle Times staff reporter

TUKWILA — Carrying donated bus tokens and wearing secondhand clothes, some 60 survivors of Hurricane Katrina are trying to jump-start their lives from a motel in Tukwila.

They have questions.

Is White Center a building or a town, one family wanted to know.

Do kids play cricket in Tukwila, asked a bored 15-year old whose family had immigrated from Pakistan.

Some hope to launch their lives' second acts in the Puget Sound region. Others long to get back to the rhythm of life in the Big Easy.

"I think about my people, my city all the time," said Rolland Marks, who lived in a housing project off Bourbon Street before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. "But I got to do what I got to do. I got to find a job [in Seattle]. I got to make something happen," because he has a fiancée and two young children to feed.

Marks is among the 1,043 evacuees the local American Red Cross has assisted in King County. They are scattered in about a dozen motels and hotels, getting by with Safeway gift certificates, food-bank assistance and cash contributions from the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) while they search for jobs and permanent housing.

At the Town and Country Suites in Tukwila, a mile from Interstate 5, the hurricane evacuees occupy about a third of the rooms, all of which are equipped with full kitchens.

A Red Cross spokesman said evacuees can stay in their temporary digs for up to 30 days, then possibly renew for another 30.

What happens after that remains unclear. FEMA and state officials still are working on a longer-term housing solution.

Some residents have dark circles under their eyes. They spend mornings scanning the classified ads and afternoons talking to social-service agencies about job and housing leads and registering with the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) for food stamps and Medicaid.

Four Pakistani men who came with their families want to drive taxicabs, as they did in New Orleans, and are working through the red tape.

One man in a family that had immigrated from Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has found a construction job here and now wants a more permanent home.

John Gant, 38, said he recently was released from federal prison for a bank robbery and wants to get far from New Orleans to start a new life — he hopes on a fish-processing ship in Alaska.

Despite constant thoughts of home, Marks said it's easy to choose Seattle over New Orleans. "Every time I turn on the news I don't hear about three or four people getting killed," as he did in New Orleans, he said.

Ten hours before Katrina hit, Marks and his fiancée and their two young children fled to Memphis, Tenn., where they slept in their Ford Explorer for a week until a church put them in a hotel. He drove his family to Washington state because his fiancée has friends here.

Near Marks' motel room, Reginald Gaines, 20, waits with a different agenda. He wants to reunite with his mother and extended family in Austin, Texas, and then return home once New Orleans is rebuilt.

Gaines had a job on a Mississippi River steamship when the hurricane hit. He lost contact with family members when they fled New Orleans for Texas. So he joined his uncle in Washington.

Homesick, Gaines hangs around the motel all day waiting for a church or some social-service agency to get him a plane ticket back to the South. "Even though it [New Orleans] is a poverty-stricken city, there is no place like home," he said. "No place like home."

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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