It happened so fast. At around 3 a.m. Aug. 29, Hurricane Katrina breached the 17th Street Canal levee in New Orleans. Later that day at 9 a.m., the eye of Hurricane Katrina just missed the city, flooding the 9th Ward. Hours later, the Big Easy was underwater. Many fled to the Superdome for shelter; others were trapped with no transportation and nowhere to go but to their rooftops.
Many, many people watched across the nation and the world as the terror unfolded in New Orleans. Many people shed tears and began making plans to accommodate the evacuees. Many began organizing funds to be sent to various charities. Many felt helpless, including a former Miss Grambling State University. Zahira Sims, currently residing in Dallas, prayed and began doing what thousands of others had started to do: look for lost family members.
“I made posters when I found out that evacuees were heading to Dallas,” she said. The posters were soon in many of the shelters. “Have you seen my daddy?” read the caption. While placing posters with an 8×10 picture of her father in shelters, Sims also posted messages on various message boards and sent e-mails via Internet.
According to the message, George Sims Sr. lived at 4918 N. Johnson Street, exactly one street over from where Tennessee Street, the street in which a canal was breached. This put fear in the heart of Z. Sims.
“I just watched TV all day to see if I could see his face in the sea of faces,” she said. “It was very depressing, because everyone looked so grim.”
In her message, she stated her father needed medicine due to a bullet that was lodged in his head. Without the medication, he would have a seizure.
“My father had been missing and it was gut wrenching,” Z. Sims said. “I was concerned about my family and my father, because I knew he was still down there.”
For seven days, Zahira Sims looked for her father. Going from shelter to shelter, Sims looked and looked, but to no avail. She even kept her boutique closed, just so she could find her father. For seven days, the unbearable agony started to sink in.
“It was tough to think that he was floating in the water,” she said. “The feeling of losing a loved one is horrible. I wouldn’t wish that on my enemies.”
Then-it happened. The phone rang. It rang and rang, but there was no answer. The person calling was Carl Fondelheit, a mailman from Fort Worth. Fondelheit never gave up though, even after getting a few wrong numbers.
“I must’ve called for 20 _” 30 minutes to get a hold of her,” he said.
Zahira Sims finally came in, after a long, agonizing day.
“I had just come in, because I was looking for my father at the camps,” she said. “I was tired and hungry; it was just horrible.”
She answered the ringing phone, and Fondelheit asked the million-dollar question: “Do you know a George Sims?”
Zahira Sims wasted no time rushing to Fort Worth from Dallas. However, George Sims, Sr. had no idea what was in store for him.
“I didn’t tell George,” Fondelheit said. “He’d been through an awful lot, and I wanted his daughter to show up and surprise him. I didn’t want him to be any more nervous or scared.”
The scene was like one of a movie. Zahira Sims arrived and ran to her father, tears of joy streaming down her cheeks. George Sims, Sr., completely surprised was as excited as she was.
“I knew you were going to find me,” he told her. “I knew it.”
Even Fondelheit felt emotional.
“I’ve never cried that many tears of joy before,” he said. “Volunteers, reporters, evacuees-were crying. I bawled like a baby.”
But how, how did George Sims, Sr. survive a storm that has already claimed many lives? Zahira Sims tells the story.
According to Sims, George was asleep, and he got up to use the restroom. The house was already being filled with water. He then climbed to the roof of a two-story house with 16 rooms. However, the heavy house was no match for the floodwaters. After a while, the floodwaters moved the house down the river. “He rode out the storm and held on with one hand,” Zahira said. Due to the debris that was flying around, George took a piece of aluminum and wrapped it around him to protect himself. However, he knew he had to let go of the house. When the time came, he let go-and jumped onto another roof and watched his house float away.
“He prayed to God the whole time,” Zahira said.
Afterwards, rescuers came to the rescue and George was transported to Fort Worth, where he first met Carl Fondelheit.
“When I first saw George, he had no shoes on,” he said. “The first thing I said was, ‘Where are your shoes?’ It just became a friendship.”
While Fondelheit can be attributed to reuniting George and Zahira, he wants no credit.
“I don’t want to take credit for it all,” he said. “I was just in the right place at the right time. I just wanted to do what I was supposed to do.
“I never expected the fanfare.”
George is currently residing with Zahira and her two daughters, who have also been affected by the whole ordeal.
“I took my children with me to the shelters,” she said solemnly. “They had a chance to see hopelessness, fear, and impoverished people. At that point, I’m certain they realized how blessed they are. This experience has allowed us to strengthen our faith in God. They are happy to have their ‘Papa.'”
Zahira is also certain that her father George will survive the pain of the hurricane, even though he’s disoriented right now.
“If he can survive an intruder shooting him in the back of his head in his home, certainly, he can survive this.”