The Morning Report
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Saturday, October 08, 2005 | They came out of desperation, flown to San Diego in the middle of the night while Hurricane Katrina was still spinning its way up the Eastern Seaboard.
They were promised housing, transportation and job placement. But one month later, some of the evacuees are camped out in a Comfort Inn motel in Mission Valley, cooking fried chicken in a deep-fat-fryer in their bedroom and waiting for the promises to come to fruition.
For Remeika, Danny and Alex Daniels, San Diego is still the only real option they have of starting a new life after Katrina ripped up their roots in New Orleans and sent them across the country.
Remeika and Danny, who were married on Aug. 26, the day before the storm hit their hometown, said they have been let down by David Perez, the businessman who paid to bring them to San Diego. In nearly six weeks, the Daniels’ have only met Perez once, briefly, on Sept. 13. On that day, they say, Perez promised to give every family he had flown to California a check for $1,000.
That never happened. The Daniels say they never received a penny from Perez.
Perez said he’s spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money helping Katrina victims and most of them are enormously grateful. He said if the Daniels did not receive the $1,000, it is because they didn’t fill out the paperwork. The Daniels say they did.
Alex Daniels, Danny’s younger brother, says many of the refugees he knows are close to the breaking point. Left with no work, no transportation and nothing to do, he says there is talk among the evacuees about turning to crime – turning “back to the streets” to make ends meet.
“Some of us come from the streets, some of us ain’t had no jobs,” said Alex Daniels. “So, that means some of us hustled. And some of us feel that, ‘What are we going to do right now? What should we do from here?’ They don’t want to turn back to the streets, but when they leave a man without nothing to do, that’s his next option.”
With any luck, Remeika won’t let that happen to Alex.
Remeika says she is trying to keep her family’s spirits high with her “go getter” attitude. She said while there are a lot of people who have been put in bad situations by Katrina, those who survive are the ones who work hard to solve their problems. She said the trick is making the most of all the different options for help that have been provided.
“If you’re not going to take advantage of that, you’re not going to get it,” Remeika said. “It can happen, if you want it to. You can get a job, if you want it.”
The same goes for finding a permanent home, she said.
This week, while Danny Daniels was driving his car back from Baker, La. – he made a two-day Greyhound bus journey there to reclaim his much-needed vehicle – his wife was hard at work tracking down an apartment for the family.
She finally found one on Thursday.
Every morning for the past 10 days, Remeika had headed down to the hotel lobby where she met with a representative of the San Diego Jewish Family Service. Remeika and others discussed various options for housing with the representative. One day she headed up to Oceanside – it took her four hours on the bus – to check out an apartment, only to find it was completely unsuitable.
On Thursday, the Daniels finally had a stroke of luck. Remeika visited a two-bedroom apartment in Vista that she said is perfect for the family’s needs. The rent for the apartment will be paid for six months by the Jewish Family Services. After that, the Daniels hope to be able to pay the $1,100 monthly rent from whatever money they start bringing in.
Remeika hopes to move in next week.
For now, life for her and her husband will plod on much as it has for the last month. That means a lot of watching television, an occasional trip down to the Fashion Valley mall and nightly meals of pork chops, pork and beans or fried chicken prepared by Remeika on a countertop in their small motel room.
As soon as Remeika and Danny received their first checks from the Red Cross, they didn’t go on a clothes shopping spree, something Remeika said so many other refugees have done. Instead, the couple headed to Wal-Mart where Remeika bought a deep fat fryer, a George Foreman grill, a sandwich maker and a hot plate. Next they went to a bank and opened a new bank account, where they deposited any money they had left over, saving it until they really need it.
The Daniels’ fridge is a blue cooler full of ice at the foot of the bed. It’s stocked with butter, cans of soda and vegetables. Remeika washes vegetables and chicken in the bathroom sink. When she starts to cook, the whole room steams up and fills with the pungent smells of her Southern-style dishes.
These adaptations are all things the Daniels say they have had to get used to in order to survive on the meager income they have gleaned from Red Cross donations, Social Security checks and cards for redemption at Wal-Mart and the Salvation Army.
Finding work to supplement those funds has been difficult, said Alex Daniels. That has left many of the evacuees skulking around the hotel with very little to occupy themselves with.
“We ain’t getting the proper workout that we need to be getting right now,” he said. “We ain’t working up a sweat. We ain’t doing nothing but lollygagging, we lying around. We not progressing nothing right now, and some of us need to be making money right now, for real.”
All three of the Daniels family are still waiting to receive money they were promised by the Federal Emergency Management Agency weeks ago.
But the Daniels recognize that nothing is going to fall into their laps. They know they have to take baby steps to rebuild their lives in a city that is very different than their former home. Finding an apartment was the first step in that process, getting back Danny’s car was the second, and using that car to get to know the city and to find work will be the next stage in their plans.
Despite all the inconveniences, despite the discomfort and the hassles and the lack of money, the Daniels are still glad they boarded the private jet that brought them to San Diego. They said the news from home is dire. They have heard their homes have been destroyed and their property is underwater.
There’s nothing left to go home to but a ghost town run by the National Guard and nightly curfews, so they are going to try and make their stay in California work out for the best.
Remeika only has one regret. The day after her wedding, in the rush to leave New Orleans before the storm hit, she dropped her wedding dress off at her mother-in-law’s house for safe keeping.
“Every time I think about my wedding dress, I’m like, ‘If I would have just left it in my car.’ That’s the only thing that’s really bothering me.”
Please contact Will Carless directly at