Displaced family may decide to stay in Mo.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The decision depends on whether Darwin Chatman can get a commercial driver's license.

Members of the Chatman family are torn between surviving in a hurricane-ravaged town or re-establishing themselves in Southeast Missouri.

Darwin and Belinda Chatman fled Luling, La., with their three children the day before Hurricane Katrina struck. Belinda's parents, James and Ruth Estay of Destrehan, La., followed in a second car.

After staying four days at an area hotel, six of them moved into the Red Cross hurricane shelter at a Baptist camp in Benton, Mo., while James Estay drove home to transfer salvaged furniture and family memorabilia into a storage unit. He returned Sunday evening.

"We're kind of lost right now, I think," said 33-year-old Belinda Chatman.

They miss home, but Southeast Missouri might offer better opportunities.

Their decision pivots on whether Darwin Chatman, 34, will pass the commercial driver's license test on Thursday or Friday. Two trucking companies offered him jobs because he had a CDL a few years ago, Belinda Chatman said.

A trucking job would pay more than Darwin Chatman's former job as a longshoreman at a grain elevator, where he sometimes worked only two days a week. Currently, he works days at Huddle House in Scott City.

Keeping busy

The Chatmans' oldest sons, 13-year-old D.J. and 6-year-old Hunter, attend Kelly School District. Belinda plans to enroll her 3-year-old daughter, Rileigh, at a day-care center in Oran, Mo., and she will also apply for a job at the day care to stay near her daughter and to use her experience in day-care centers.

"If I sit down, I'll probably go insane," said Belinda, who stayed busy in Louisana as a library technical assistant at a school. To fill her time, she volunteers at the shelter as a phone operator, front desk assistant, donation sorter and aide to new families who move in the shelter.

About 23 evacuees are staying at the shelter, said Kristi Thurman of the Red Cross, and more are expected.

If Darwin Chatman gets a trucking job, a three-bedroom apartment awaits in Oran. Cousins whom Belinda never met before the hurricane offered space above their home. If he does not get the job, they move back home.

Parting with the volunteers will be hard.

"We've truly made some lifelong friends," Belinda Chatman said.

Last week, Ruth Estay prepared gumbo at the home of one volunteer's family. They spent the day fishing, swimming and steaming in a hot tub.

"It's going to be hard leaving those people that I've gotten so close to," she said. "We've become like family."

Today or Thursday, the Estays will drive home to rebuild their lives with three other children who live in Tickfaw, La., Bayou Gauche, La., and Paradis, La.


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