Elderly Katrina survivor finds comfort at Jeanne Jugan Residence

SOMERVILLE — For one 92-year-old New Orleans resident, the havoc wrought by Hurricane Katrina means a new Somerville home and a reconnection with her grandchildren after a 25-hour bus and aircraft trek.

As the winds picked up, Verlie Guidry said she was evacuated Aug. 28 from her home at the Mary Joseph Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor in New Orleans, the day before the storm made landfall.

Before she left, the residence became a command center for first responders and the National Guardsmen, who were sent to protect the residence and neighborhood from looters, Guidry said.

A social worker compiled a list of residents and sent it in an e-mail to all of the Little Sisters facilities in order to line up destinations for the evacuees, she said.

Guidry said she chose to come to Somerville because her grandchildren, Michael and Michelle LaFleur, live in Braintree.

During the journey, she and other residents stayed at different Little Sisters facilities along the way. The first stop was Baton Rouge, where they were only allowed to spend one night, she said. Next, the bus went to Atlanta, where she caught a flight to Boston.

The bus trip was harrowing, said Sister Vincent O’Connor, LSP, who has been looking after Guidry, as she settles into the residence.

There was no room for wheelchairs on the bus, so they had to be left behind, she said.

When the bus stopped for breaks along the way, some of the infirm passengers had to be lain out on the ground and covered with blankets, she said.

After Baton Rouge, the bus went to Atlanta, where Guidry was able to catch a flight to Boston, she said.

Having arrived, her travels are officially over. “She will stay with us, this is her new home,” said Mother Celine Therese Vandukkoot, the superior of the Jeanne Jugan Residence in Somerville.

Guidry said she is glad to be in Boston, although she leaves her daughter and son-in-law, Jean and Marvin LaFleur, and more than nine decades of memories behind.

Born in 1913, Guidry said she grew up in a small town called Donner, La., where her father worked at a saw mill.

“We didn’t have a car when I was growing up, so if we wanted to go anywhere we’d have to paddle across the bayou and wait for the bus,” she said. After she married in 1927, she moved to New Orleans, where she lived until Katrina’s arrival.

There is nothing now to go back to, she said.

Guidry said she will not have trouble adjusting to the Boston area.

In her soft Cajun drawl, she insists her accent is not a problem and she is looking forward to her first winter.

The one and only time she saw snow was during a freak storm in the 1930s, she said. After being let out early from her job at McCrory’s department store on Canal Street, she went to her parents’ house. There she stayed out in the yard, fascinated, until her father demanded that she come inside.

Reluctantly, Guidry came inside, setting down on the table her keepsake snowball, she said. 

But it was not to last. Guidry turned her back on the snowball, and she said when she looked again all she found was the table covered in water.

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