Nebraska Volunteers

May 24th, 2014
Astrodome

I landed at George Bush Intercontinental Airport on 9.7.05, after making plans to volunteer at Moody Memorial First United Methodist Church in Galveston. A life-long friend named Carl Wright, who worked for NASA, offered me a couch to crash on. I was going to eventually make my way to the Astrodome; but, I never made it out of IAH. I was paralyzed by the unfolding events in New Orleans and did not know what to expect in Houston. What I did see is thousands of connecting passengers shuttling through the airport as if it were 8.7.05. I only recall one person talking about the disaster. It felt like a normal day in America. I called my big cousin Richard Paris in Omaha who told me evacuees were heading to Omaha. I thought to myself, “Why would they want to come to Omaha?” We ended our phone call by Cousin Richard encouraging me to come to Nebraska. So, I caught the last Continental flight out to the Big ‘O’, my hometown.

Omaha, Nebraska looking west from over Council Bluffs, IowaOn 9.10.05, the last two documented “Operation Air Care” evacuation flights to leave Louis B. Armstrong International Airport landed in Omaha, Nebraska. Over 160 evacuees from New Orleans and a dozen or so animals were now living in the Omaha Civic Auditorium. Cousin Richard and I went down there to greet the new guests, but were told we could not go inside. This policy was not sitting well with the small group of Omaha natives standing outside, which included Michelle Chapman, LaVon Stennis-Williams and Eric Whitner. About an hour later a group of men walked out, all of them wearing Afrocentric colored knitted caps. I went up to one of them and introduced myself and welcomed him to Omaha. I presented him a copy of a book I had written and a t-shirt I designed and had silk screened before I left Southern Nevada; it had a fluer de lis on the front and the words “Operation Overground Railroad…Destination Omaha.” He thanked me and introduced himself as Rick Mathieu.

American Red Cross - Heartland ChapterWhile I was trying to ascertain what I could do for him, Judy Peschio the CEO of the American Red Cross Heartland Chapter emerged from the Civic and was swarmed by the local media, who wanted to know what was going to happen to the evacuees. Once the reporters finished with Ms. Peschio they turned their attentions to Rick Mathieu and his neighbors. This would lead to Rick’s first request of me, which involved handling the media for him; just like that I became his publicist. Later on that day the decision was made to move the evacuees to three motels in an affluent area of Southwest Omaha. While driving him and his two of his associates to the motel, Rick asked one more thing of me, “Mike, will you help me document what happened to me and my brother while we were on the water?” I responded in the affirmative and posed my first question which I had been dying to ask someone for over two weeks, “Rick, what happened down there?” I did not know it at the time, but the events of 9.12.05 would be the beginning of the Contraflow Research Project…


Nebraska Agencies, NGOs & Institutions documented by TCP

Creighton UniversityDouglas County, NebraskaEastern Nebraska Office on Aging

Koinania House of Worship in Bellevue, NebraskaOmaha MATNebraska Dept. of Health and Human Services

Omaha Civic AuditoriumCity of Omaha

Omaha Housing Authority's Florence TowersOmaha Police Dept.United Way of the Midlands



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