Finding a helping hand

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 8, 2005

The hotel room is neatly arranged with suitcases and personal items sitting around the room, making it look as much like a home as possible. For the Orlando family, it has been home for a week.

"Nothing is by accident," Tony Orlando, a New Orleans' resident, said. "We did not end up in Greenville by accident."

The family of eight has been staying in the Best Western since they arrived the Tuesday after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Cynthia Orlando, her husband, Tony, her father, two daughters and three grandchildren spent the night of the hurricane in Mobile at a friend's house, then headed north seeking refuge.

"Our home is River Ridge, La., in Jefferson Parish," he said. "There is no sense in going back anytime soon. With the gas shortage and safety problems, it'll be at least two weeks before we try to go back home. We took a family vote, and we're staying."

Their son, Eric Orlando, and son-in-law, Larry Adams, are police officers with the Westwego Police Department. They have been in constant contact with their family ever since the hurricane came ashore.

According to Cynthia Orlando, the media are not reporting half of what is really going on in New Orleans.

"My son said the lootings and shootings were a lot worse than the news actually reported," she said. "They were told to use machine guns or hand grenades to protect themselves if it was necessary."

She said that the Westwego police officers, continuously working 20-hour shifts, all shaved their heads to identify each other, especially since looters were shooting at them so often.

Even though the Orlandos hear from their son and son-in-law, Cynthia Orlando does not know anything about her sister.

"She lives in Slidell, La.," she said. "I haven't heard anything from her since before the storm."

Their tiny dog, Lizzy, jumps around the hotel room until she is picked up and held. "She's finally gotten use to walking with a leash," he said. "She wouldn't do that before we came here."

With CNN showing constant updates on TV, the family looks at all the devastation in their home state, but are thankful for the comfort and fellowship they have found since seeking shelter in Greenville.

"I'm a diabetic, and I needed my insulin," Tony Orlando said. "The first day we were here, I went to the Wal-Mart pharmacy to give them my information just to get the process started, but they gave me all my medicine right then. I couldn't believe it."

"Mary Simmons here at Best Western has been so good in keeping us informed about where to go to get food, supplies, and anything else we need," Cynthia Orlando said. "She made flyers with all the information and phone numbers on them and put them under our doors."

"Marindy Majors is doing our laundry for us right now," she said. "And, we had a barbeque dinner made for us last night. We're going to be the only evacuees who will go back to New Orleans weighing more than when we left home."

The Orlando family couldn't say enough about the hospitality they had been shown by Greenville residents.

"It's like we're relatives the way people have opened up to us here," she said.

"Anything we lost can be replaced. We're safe, and that's all that matters."