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Published: Sunday, 9/4/2005

Storm forces extended family to huddle under 1 Toledo roof

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Shawn Alexis, 15, Jasmine Dandridge, 9, Kevin Dandridge, Jr., 15, Kyira Alexis, 11, and Walkeya Alexis, 12, from left, play football in central Toledo. Except for Kevin, all are displaced hurricane victims who fled New Orleans in a three-vehicle caravan before Katrina hit. Shawn Alexis, 15, Jasmine Dandridge, 9, Kevin Dandridge, Jr., 15, Kyira Alexis, 11, and Walkeya Alexis, 12, from left, play football in central Toledo. Except for Kevin, all are displaced hurricane victims who fled New Orleans in a three-vehicle caravan before Katrina hit.
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Even with 18 New Orleans flood victims camped in her three-bedroom, one-bathroom house, it took awhile for Terri Dandridge to realize how drastically Hurricane Katrina would affect her family in central Toledo.

Among those staying with Ms. Dandridge and thought to have lost everything including his job is her ex-husband, who pays child support for their two teenagers, Kevin, Jr., and Tianna.

I ain t gonna get no money this month, she said, laughing.

Laughter appeared to be the saving grace yesterday at her house on Unity Walk, where everyone was worried about people, possessions, and the status of their jobs in New Orleans.

For the Dandridge family, the nightmare started one week ago.

Kevin Dandridge, Sr., his fiancee, parents, brother, and their families had planned to ride out the storm in New Orleans. They d heard so many hurricane warnings, including one last year, that never resulted in much damage in their area.

But last Sunday when the mayor ordered the city cleared, they packed enough clothes for a few days and drove to Nashville in a three-vehicle caravan.

Traffic was stop-and-go. What should have been an eight-hour trip took them 17 hours.

After two nights at a motel in Nashville, a destination they chose because it seemed to be in the opposite direction most flood refugees were headed, their bill for 18 people in five rooms was $567.

Meanwhile, the news from home was bad, with reports of 20 feet of water in the apartment complex where Mr. Dandridge and his brother live. We had a family meeting Tuesday night on what was our best recourse, Mr. Dandridge said.

They considered Atlanta. Mr. Dandridge s father is a garage supervisor at the Omni Royal Orleans, so they would have been eligible for an employee discount at an Omni hotel in Georgia. But that $39-a-night rate would have only been good for three days; then the regular charges of about $189 would have begun. And the Dandridges, several of whom are employed at businesses thought to be devastated by the disaster, were short of cash.

So Mr. Dandridge called his former wife, from whom he was divorced in 1994 after about seven years of marriage, and said: Hello. Man, we comin up there, OK?

She agreed and yesterday was sitting on her porch beside her ex-husband s fiancee, who is 18 years her junior.

Aaliyah Alexis, 9, of New Orleans carries Mariah Alexis, 4, on her shoulders at their temporary refuge in Toledo. They are two of the 18 extended-family members who fled here after Katrina. Aaliyah Alexis, 9, of New Orleans carries Mariah Alexis, 4, on her shoulders at their temporary refuge in Toledo. They are two of the 18 extended-family members who fled here after Katrina.
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The awkwardness of taking his fiancee to stay at his ex-wife s home never really crossed my mind because of the situation, Mr. Dandridge said, adding that he and his former wife have remained on good terms.

In all, he brought:

  • His fiancee, Renata Dotson, and her 5-year-old son, Rashad.

  • His parents, Mary and Lloyd Dandridge.

  • His younger brother, Anthony; Anthony s fiancee, Keya Alexis; Keya s six children: Shawn, 15; Walkeya, 12; Kyira, 11; Anthony, 10; Aaliyah, 9; and Alexis, 4.; and Keya s younger brother, Javon, 16, and her niece, Mariah, who turned 4 on Friday.

  • His sister-in-law, Cindy Dandridge, and her children, Shiniqua Frazier, 13, and Jasmine Dandridge, who turns 9 today.

    Cindy Dandridge s husband, Jarvis, a New Orleans city water and sewer employee, remained on the job there.

    The rest of the Dandridges are living day-to-day. They d like to return home as soon as allowed and sort through whatever might remain of their belongings, including a small soul-food restaurant that several of the relatives operated.

    Kevin Dandridge s parents and sister-in-law, who live in the suburb of Marrero, across the Mississippi River from New Orleans, are hoping their homes have only wind damage. His parents have insurance on their home, but Kevin and his brother, Anthony, do not have renter s insurance, nor did the family insure its small restaurant.

    And none packed for more than what he or she thought would be a two-night trip.

    Returning to New Orleans, however, will take weeks, maybe even months, and in the meantime the Dandridges need to earn some money and get their kids in school. Our resources are depleted, Kevin Dandridge said.

    So on Tuesday, they hope to enroll 10 children in school and begin finding jobs for the five parents. Kevin Dandridge, who is a chauffeur in New Orleans, has a commercial driver s license.

    His fiancee worked in a hotel gift shop and in child care. His brother, Anthony, is a carpenter. And Anthony s fiancee and Cindy Dandridge are hotel housekeepers.

    In the meantime, they re hoping to hear from Ms. Dotson and Ms. Alexis siblings, including the mother of Ms. Alexis niece who is with them.

    Save a piece of cake for my mom, Mariah Alexis told the family when they celebrated her fourth birthday Friday.

    But as of yesterday, they had not heard from Mariah s mother, Chyine Alexis, 23, who had planned to follow them out of the city, then decided not to leave. They hope she is at the Astrodome in Houston with an older sister.

    Contact Jane Schmucker at: jschmucker@theblade.com or 419-337-7780.



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