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For now, survivor plans to stay behind with his dogs

POYDRAS, La.—Lee Walker lives on a back road in a small town. When the hurricane came, all his neighbors left. He stayed.

He took his three dogs to the attic and waited out the storm.

It was a week before he talked to another human being.

Hurricane Katrina left behind little pockets of people. They outlasted the storm but water trapped them in their houses, like a moat in reverse.

Some of them show up on TV, waving at choppers, waiting for rescue teams to come get them. That has happened a lot in the city.

Out where Lee Walker lives, nobody flew by.

He's 58 years old and disabled with a bad back. He has a small white house on Saro Lane, which bumps up against the Mississippi River levee just east of New Orleans.

"My neighbors left a day or two before the hurricane," he said. "You know, when you got money you can do that. When you ain't, you just get left."

Walker thought he'd have time to catch a ride out if he really needed it. But when Katrina came through, the water rose too fast.

All he could do was gather up his three little dogs like satchels and get to the attic.

"We were up there three days," he said. "Three or four, I don't remember. Seemed like 30 years."

He came down to a ruined house and his own personal island.

Water had sealed off the street from both ends. The only way for a car to get in was to drive on top of the levee. Walker saw one or two police cars over the next couple of days. But they didn't see him. His food and water were pretty much gone.

Then, Monday afternoon, the strangest thing happened.

A helicopter landed on top of the levee.

The helicopter was dropping off a couple of Walker's neighbors. The neighbors had horses in a barn and the horses needed to be let out. So while his neighbors tended to the horses, Walker got a bottle of water from the pilot.

Right about then, I rounded a corner on the levee in my SUV. I had food and water and 18 cans of Budweiser. Walker figured that would last him a few days.

He's had some time to think, out there by himself on Saro Lane. He goes back and forth. Sometimes he wants to give up, go find a dry place to live out the rest of his years. Sometimes he wants to try it again, here in the country, next to that beautiful river.

For the time being, he's going to stick it out where he is.

Along the way he has picked up three more dogs. He'd never seen them before. There's a mama hound, a brown-haired mutt that hangs way back behind, and a wolf-looking thing coated with river mud.

Walker is covered with the stuff himself. He keeps rubbing at his week-old beard. He's so stiff from his time in the attic that he can't cross his legs.

He sits down, slow as a refund check, and the wolf-looking dog comes over and rolls up against his foot.

"Aggravating things," he says. "But some days it's good to have a companion."

Then he limps down the hill to the house. He needs some supper, and he needs some sleep.


(Tomlinson reports for the Charlotte Observer)


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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