ESCAPE FROM A HELLHOLE
By DAVID BANCROFT
THE phone call Bernie and Collette Barron received from the Department of Foreign Affairs at 11am yesterday was the best call they had ever taken.
"By far," Mrs Barron said.
The call was to let the Barrons know their son, Peter, and his family were safe in the United States after escaping the devastation created by Hurricane Katrina.
They had last heard from Peter, his wife Tracey, and children Campbell, 10 and Kennedy, 9, on August 28 as they were heading into New Orleans.
They had seen the media reports of looting, lawlessness and massive loss of life.
But they heard nothing of how their family had fared.
The hurricane hit the night after they were to arrive in New Orleans and, until yesterday, the Barrons were frantic to find out if the family was safe.
It was a nervous nine days.
After speaking to the Department of Foreign Affairs and then a brief phone call to their holidaying son, who is now in Las Vegas, the Barrons learned that their family had followed the directive to leave New Orleans.
They did so eight hours after the hurricane first hit.
But for reasons that have not become clear, the family did not ring the Barrons to let them know they were safe.
Mrs Barron said it was difficult to understand how Peter, who normally rang at least once a week to let them know how he was, did not think they would be worried.
"The phone cut off (yesterday) before I could tell him that I loved him and I would kill him when he got home," she said.
"It was so not like him not to ring."
Mr Barron: "That was what made us so suspicious."
It was Mr Barron who took the relieving call from the Department of Foreign Affairs.
"We had people here who had come over with lunch," he said.
"I yelled out to Collette 'come out here'."
Mrs Barron: "I didn't know whether it was good news or bad."
Thankfully, it was good.
Mr Barron said he had been overwhelmed by the community support they had received as people slowly learned about their concerns.
"We have had about 50 phone calls today already," he said.
"We've had all the churches packed from Cairns to Melbourne with people praying for them.
"We didn't really put it around (that they were missing), but people learned.
"I didn't know how many friends we had."
For Mrs Barron the knowledge that her son and family were safe means she will be able to sleep at night.
"I've only been getting a couple of hours sleep," she said.
She said Peter was six foot five (196cm) and his sister, Sharon, who was equally concerned, was five foot two (157cm).
"She (Sharon) said she was going to kick him in the shin when he got home," Mrs Barron said.