Taken From Bayou to Utah, Katrina Evacuees Try to Adapt

ByABC News

SALT LAKE CITY, Sept. 14, 2005 — -- Two weeks after Hurricane Katrina became the worst natural disaster in American history, a million Gulf Coast evacuees are now living in new places.

Many are within a few hundred miles of New Orleans -- where the smells, tastes and weather are at least somewhat familiar. But others, who have relocated to states outside the South, are learning to adjust to their new surroundings.

More than 600 displaced Katrina victims were flown to Utah -- a state very different from Louisiana and one in which few evacuees had ever dreamed of living.

Larry Andrews survived the storm in a shack he built in a supermarket parking lot. He was stranded for six days before a helicopter picked him and his family up from the streets of New Orleans.

They were eventually delivered by chartered plane to an unknown destination.

"I asked the stewardess, I said, 'Ma'am, where are we going?' and she said, 'Salt Lake City.' And everybody was like, 'Uh, Utah? What's in Utah?' "

With his first breath in a state with little humidity, no marshlands and huge mountains, Andrews knew he was far from home.

"The air is different for starters," he said.

After his first meal, Andrews knew he was far from home cooking, too.

"It wasn't good," he said. "It didn't have no seasoning."

But the biggest shock, Andrews said, was the people. One evacuee called his experience in Salt Lake City like being a fly in a bowl of milk.

New Orleans is 67 percent black, but blacks make up less than 2 percent of Utah's population.

But beyond the obvious culture shock, there is one difference between Salt Lake City and New Orleans that is to the advantage of the evacuees -- opportunity.

The unemployment rate for black people in New Orleans is twice as high as the overall rate in Salt Lake City.

Andrews has already been to a job fair for evacuees held in the city. With his experience in shipping and receiving, he's already had a job interview. He wore an outfit donated by his new neighbors.

"From my tennis shoes to my hat, I've gotten everything from the people in the shelter," Andrews said.

Despite the differences, he has found Utah to be a place he could call home.

"The people are nice," he said. "They're wonderful. That is the thing that is really surprising. Seems like they are genuine."

Anxious to merge cultures, the city even staged a Cajun gumbo party for the new arrivals -- no longer strangers in their own strange land.

ABC News' Jim Avila filed this report for "World News Tonight."

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