Billy Allen, a landscaper, construction worker and "jack of all trades,"
likes to go outside the Armory walls and greet the locals and reporters who
show up hoping to talk to some of the newly arrived evacuees from New
Allen doesn't know anyone at this temporary shelter, but that doesn't seem to bother him. He calls himself the "hootnana" (sounds like "HOOT-in-na-nee")
and feeds off of other people's smiles and laughter.
The children inside the Armory love him, he said, "because I'm the 'hootnana!'
"I showed them a dance they ain't never seen before. They just got a kick
out of it."
Allen's broad smile and incessant laughter seem almost out of place at
the Armory, where a sense of despair and grief rightfully still lingers.
"I'm the main person that makes people happy," he said. "The more you
make people happy, the more you feel good."
a green ribbon around his wrist -- to indicate his good health, he said -- and
an ID badge
around his neck so he can enter the building.
For all his levity, Allen keeps a copy of the New Testament with him.
The 49-year-old said he thanked God
for one thing: "I may have lost everything in New Orleans, but I didn't lose
Though he said his
house was flooded out and everything he owned was swept away in putrid
waters, "God made it possible for me to leave and start a new life."
While he knows his 27-year-old daughter is safe in Baton Rouge, La., he has lost touch
with his sister. "But I know she's safe," he said, insisting "God will make a way for us to meet again."
He had stayed too long in New Orleans because he initially thought
Katrina would miss the city.
In the darkest of moments before his Sept. 4 evacuation, as he waded for two days in neck-deep waters
and waited near his flooded house for rescuers to arrive, Allen watched
as bloated bodies drifted by. "It wasn't nice to see."
When he caught sight of the rescue helicopters after being in the
water for so long, "I couldn't wait to get in that helicopter!"
Billy Allen recalls how he was rescued.
Real Media file)
This man who talks to God nightly found something more to look forward to as he was being lifted from his washed-out home: It would
be his first time
leaving New Orleans.
There would be other firsts:
He would see Washington and feel emboldened to take the
Metro and visit the Capitol.
"I don't like to be sad. It don't make no sense to be sad. It don't make
so sense to cry."
Allen has been able to use his $2,000 debit card to buy himself a tote bag and a pair of shoes. "Right
now, I'll see if I can settle down, get myself together, start a new life
and get me a nice companion."
Still, he misses his home.
"It don't have to be in New Orleans, but you see, I was born and raised
in New Orleans, and sometimes, you get homesick."
"But if I find a woman, hell with New Orleans!"
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Photos and text by April Chan
Published Sept. 16, 2005
Banner graphic by
April Chan, incorporating photo from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration; Newsline Web content edited by Chris Harvey; Capital News
Service stories edited by Adrianne Flynn and Tony Barbieri.
2005 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of
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