Austin resident Gilbert Jourdan spoke with his sister Diane on Saturday night, Aug. 27, as Hurricane Katrina zeroed in on his native New Orleans and the surrounding Gulf Coast. At the time, she was feverishly packing water and other supplies to take to Gulfport, Miss., where another brother resided. Both figured Gulfport was far enough away from Katrina’s reach. But by Monday as Katrina turned into a Category Five storm, Gulfport was well within her grasp, and Gilbert Jourdan lost all contact with his two siblings.

“We tried to talk to them to get them to leave, but they thought it wasn’t going to hit Gulfport,” said Jourdan, a New Orleans native who has lived in Chicago with his wife Corrine since 1956. “I thought she was going to go further, but she went to Gulfport where my brother was. Now we can’t get through or nothing.”

That was as of last Wednesday when Jourdan and his wife joined other Katrina victims at a West Side press conference to plan local hurricane relief efforts. Jourdan finally got in contact with his brother Albert by cell phone this past Saturday.

Albert and Diane, whose last name is Curtis, are safe and living with 23 other relatives in Albert’s Gulfport home. Another sister who lives in New Orleans left for Birmingham, Ala. before the storm hit. All of Gilbert’s siblings are accounted for. His wife Corrine’s siblings are also safe. A few of their nieces and nephews made it to Texas and Minneapolis respectively. But there are many more in New Orleans who are unaccounted for.

“All we’re doing is hoping and praying,” said Gilbert, who has tried calling family members to no avail. “We can’t reach any of them.”

Austin will likely become a refuge for many more displaced Gulf Coast residents. Sisters Bridgett and Elena Romain got out of New Orleans on Tuesday Aug. 30, along with their mother, another sister and Elena’s baby daughter. They’re all staying with two sets of relatives in Austin. Their cousins were still in New Orleans when they left. They haven’t had any contact with them since.

“We don’t know anything,” said Elena, 23. “We don’t know where they are; we haven’t heard from them.”

The city has prepared itself to take in as many Gulf Coast evacuees as possible. City shelters are bracing for those, unlike the Romains, who have no one to live with. Thousands are expected in Illinois within weeks. Those coming have nothing but the clothes on their backs. The state is also preparing to provide housing, food, health care and employment opportunities for as many as 10,000 evacuees.

New Orleans city workers slowly began pumping water out of the city on Tuesday. But as for rebuilding the city, that could take months or even years. Until then, evacuees and their families will have to make a new life here.

“We don’t know what to do because we don’t have nothing to go back to,” said Elena. “We can’t stay here forever with no money. There has to be some kind of help and some kind of way.”

The Jourdans have asked for anyone with information on their remaining family’s whereabouts to call them at 773/921-4010.