Havre Daily News
The Hi-Line is welcoming two new families, who are adjusting to their new surroundings after moving here from areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.
Melissa Richardson and her 16-year-old daughter, Rose, arrived via train from Louisiana Sunday afternoon. Edna Coleman and her 1-year-old son Na'sean, who are from Mississippi, got here by plane early Thursday morning.
All travel expenses were taken care of by Hope on the Hi-Line, a group formed to help hurricane victims relocate.
"You're going to love it here, but it's a lot different than we're used to," Coleman said as she hugged Melissa Richardson on Monday.
Edna Coleman's brother and sister-in-law, Joseph and Cassie Coleman, live in Havre and gave her the idea to relocate here. Joseph Coleman plays football for Montana State University-Northern - "No. 95" Edna Coleman added proudly.
Hope on the Hi-Line members Gale and Anne Vaandering heard about the family and got ahold of Edna Coleman, who said she jumped on the opportunity.
The Vaanderings housed Edna Coleman and her son until they moved into their MSU-N apartment. The apartment will be rent-free for the Colemans for nine months, said MSU-N director of housing Chancy Ringer.
The Richardsons were looking at pictures of Montana online and thought the state was beautiful. Melissa Richardson said they looked for anything away from water, and included Wisconsin, Tennessee, Minnesota and North Dakota in their search.
"Hurricanes don't come if you don't live by the water," she added in an interview Monday.
Melissa Richardson contacted a real estate agent who referred her to Job Service of Montana, which connected her with Julianne LaSmith, chair of Hope on the Hi-Line.
Melissa Richardson said that as they were riding the train and seeing the local ranches, her daughter asked if she could get a horse. Melissa said they needed to get a car first.
Richardson had to leave her hurricane-damaged car. She considered it a "casualty of war."
Melissa Richardson said a large wall was missing from their apartment after Katrina hit. She said Rose's brand-new laptop computer and most of her clothes were sucked out of the gap. The two were standing in the hallway between apartments when the wall fell.
The mother and daughter come from Good Hope, La., a town about 10 miles outside of New Orleans. They couldn't evacuate before the hurricane because they didn't have enough money or a place to go, Melissa Richardson said.
She worked as an overnight stocker at Winn-Dixie and got paid on Tuesdays, and Katrina hit on a Monday. Richardson said she had a quarter of a tank of gas in her car. "You can't get away from a hurricane with a quarter-tank of gas," she said.
The Richardsons stayed in their apartment building, open to the elements, for eight days. Melissa Richardson said they were covered with mosquito bites and showed what she called chemical burns on her legs from the flood water. They were without electricity.
The Colemans were living in Pascagoula, Miss. After Katrina, their apartment flooded with waist-high water and the roof over the bedroom caved in. Edna Coleman said there was black mold and mildew growing in their apartment.
"I couldn't take my baby in there," she said.
Coleman wanted to stay for the funeral of an aunt who had died in the hurricane, but Na'sean was sick, so they needed to leave. Na'sean has been to a doctor in Havre to treat the ear infections he has in both ears.
She said Medicaid streamlined their application.
Her car had broken down in Biloxi, Miss., a week before the hurricane. Coleman said she later found it turned over, three blocks from where she had left it.
"She came with one small bag and a diaper bag and now has truckloads of donations," Anne Vaandering said.
Coleman said that everyone in Gildford has opened their arms to her "more than I could have imagined." She said she feels secure.
"They were right there with me and I didn't know until I got here," she said. "God has wonderful ways of getting you where you're supposed to be."
Coleman said she is staying for good. She is hoping to get back into school, which she was supposed to restart in January. Coleman wants to be an elementary physical education teacher.
Rose Richardson might attend high school in Chinook. There is a problem with Richardson, who plays percussion, getting into the band. She said the English class she needs is the same period as band. Her mother said they will move if Rose can't get into band this year. They are waiting until the Chinook High School guidance counselor returns to town on Wednesday to see if they can work something out.
Chinook Alliance Church is sponsoring the Richardsons by paying their rent and supplying them with an fully stocked apartment in Chinook. The cupboards and refrigerator were filled with foods supplied by the church and the Tower of Hope food drive held at the Holiday Village Shopping Center. All the rooms were furnished.
The apartment looked as if they had been living in it for months, even though they had only been there 24 hours, Melissa Richardson said. The pair was able to bring a few of their own things - some clothes, Melissa's crossword puzzle book, Rose's Orlando Bloom and Gwen Stephani posters and a few family photos. They had a box of framed pictures they brought with them, but all but one frame broke on train. A portrait of Rose was damaged by water while they were on the train.
"What Katrina and Rita left the train broke," Melissa Richardson said while showing the spotted picture in her apartment.
The only thing they needed was a can opener, and a woman from the Chinook welcoming committee was bringing one over, along with a bike for Rose.
A member of the welcoming committee had already dropped off a teddy bear, halloween jack-o-lantern candy bucket for Rose and a new picture frame for Melissa. The Richardsons were waiting to be taken to dinner by another member of the community.
The Richardsons are unsure of their future plans.
LaSmith said Hope on the Hi-Line is working to get more families to the area. There will be another group meeting soon.