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News Stonewalled 

Oswald Nelson, are you out there?

A handful of evacuees stepped off buses that arrived early at KellyUSA on September 2. A few of them lit cigarettes and stretched their legs after their long ride from New Orleans to Houston, then onward to San Antonio.

Oswald Nelson stood in the shade of an adjacent bus. He had spent the past few days at the Superdome, and was tired and traumatized by the suicides, rapes, and murders that reportedly occurred there. He swam through floodwaters to the stadium after his house was hit by a wall of water. "The water was over my head," he said.

Police checked Nelson for weapons and other contraband, then the Red Cross processed him into Building 171 at KellyUSA, where officials say he is staying. But they won't allow anyone into the area to verify that he is in good hands.

From left: Brittney Boatner, Joeanka Smooth, and Donnisha Green rest on a curb after walking halfway back toward Bldg. 171 at KellyUSA. They said they were free to come and go at the shelter, and had made a trek to a local department store after they arrived from New Orleans. (Photo by Michael Cary)

Rumors abound about the shelters. Someone reported a fence was erected around one of the shelters, and that flood victims were prohibited from leaving. True, a fence surrounds the western half of Windsor Park Mall, with one entryway on the north side of the building to control traffic. But forbidding evacuees from leaving the shelters? "That's not true," says Donnisha Green, who last week walked with friends Brittney Boatner and Joneaka Smooth to the Dollar General Store about a block from an entrance to KellyUSA. "I've even gone downtown."

Erik Walsh, assistant city manager who also serves as liaison to San Antonio Police Department, confirmed that the flood victims are not prisoners in the shelters. "People are free to move around, there are bus schedules inside the shelters. But most of the people are trying to feed family members, get reunited and get settled."

There's a fence around the old Levi Strauss plant at 5800 Old Highway 90, with a guard at the gate. But Red Cross volunteers were friendly enough to help search for a woman whose son was looking for her. He had sent an e-mail to the Current asking for helping tracking her down. Inside the shelter, Park Police officer Raul García found Carolyn Stewart of SBC Communications, who helped locate the woman. "Yes, I've been in touch with my family," the woman said, "and everyone's okay."

Enough of the pleasantries. "Does the shelter manager know you're here?" Stewart asked me.

"Were you in there taking pictures?" demanded Park Police officer Kurt Johnson, as he wrote down my license-plate number in the parking lot.

"Some members of the press snuck in `at KellyUSA's Bldg. 171` last night," said Red Cross manager Mark Cooney, assistant manager of the Building 171 shelter. "The police escorted them out.

"We have a news blackout. Someone did come in here, not according to proper security. There is no media coming in. We had to turn people away. With due respect for our clients, these people who are here, this is temporarily their home, we have to respect their privacy not to have people wandering around. It's a bad situation, we're making the best of it."

Cooney promised to check up on Oswald Nelson, but at press time, Cooney hadn't called back.

By Michael Cary

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