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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 September 2005, 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK
A mother's mission

Jake Weber, 24, moved to New Orleans in June 2004 to train as a chef. His mother Barb Schroeder, 57, lives nearly 1,000 miles away in Grinnell, Iowa. A week after Hurricane Katrina, she spoke to the BBC News website's Richard Allen Greene.

He had a half a tank of gas. He knew [even] with a good truck he couldn't probably make it, and he had a truck that was starting to stall on him.

Tattooed arm offered hope of identification
Jake Weber's tattooed arm offered his mother hope of identifying him

He says, 'Mom, I know sitting in a truck with a hurricane coming at the rate this one was, if I'm on that road I won't have any luck. So we're going to wait it out.'

Then he called me Sunday night and he says, 'Mom, there's no gas and [the evacuation is] mandatory now. How the hell are we supposed to get out'.

[After the hurricane,] I found a picture of his dog on a rooftop on a website, sitting all by himself.

I did not know if my son had drowned and the dog was sitting there because dogs wait for their masters or if they had been airlifted out and they had to leave the dog.

That picture was taken on Tuesday. I heard nothing, nothing.

I have a picture that's showing me the dog sitting in the water and I don't know where my son's at.

Jake has tattoos, and in the back of my mind I see my son's arms in a morgue. And I'm only going to be able to identify him by the tattoos on his arms.

Friends were telling me they had to make themselves turn away from the television.

I don't have that luxury. I'm looking for a face. I just wanted to see my son's face.

I didn't have to talk to him. I didn't have to touch him. I just wanted a face to know he's up and he's walking.

But it never happened.

Unexpected call

And I stayed up north. I knew it would be horrible down here. I did not want to get in anybody's way. And I have friends saying, 'Get down there, drive down there.' I couldn't.

He finally called me, and he goes, 'Mom'. First of all he couldn't even talk. I knew it was him because he used his cell phone and I saw 'Jake'.

When he called and I saw that number I had totally given up, I really had.

There's a sign: Emergency vehicles. Hell, if we aren't an emergency vehicle, I don't know what is

He says, 'Mom, we're OK. We've had water, we've had food, we're in the French Quarter. The dog and the cats are with us. We're all right. We're trying to get out.

'But we're running out of food and we're running out of water.'

I said: 'Jake, I'm coming down. I'm on my way.'

He said: 'You'd do that for me?'

I said: 'I've just been waiting for the phone call.'

He says: 'OK, you get in Mom mode and you get down here.'

He called me Saturday at 2:30 in the afternoon. We pulled out of Grinnell, Iowa at 5:30.

Mom mode got me within 20 miles - and nobody will let me near him.

We get all the way to the parish line and we were told to turn around and leave.

A cop says: 'You're blocking my road. Go.'

There's a sign: Emergency vehicles. Hell, if we aren't an emergency vehicle, I don't know what is.

I've been sitting in Iowa so I won't be in anybody's way and I'm down here because I heard from him and they won't let me near him.

Circling like vultures

We don't know our way around here. We're trying to figure out a way in.

We were turned away at four o'clock in the afternoon [on Sunday]. We're exhausted.

We're hearing of people getting ripped out of their cars and the cars are getting hijacked so people can get out of town.

We're sitting in a parking lot and we start getting circled by cars. They're circling us like vultures and they are looking at us.

I haven't been afraid for my life in a long time.

So we move.

The police would not talk to us - this is not a criticism, they are so overwhelmed and tired. One woman came up to us and said: 'We can't help you. We're sorry, but we can't.'

They shouldn't be doing this work - they should be being taken care of themselves.

We go out looking for a place to stay and can't find anything. So we come back one more time. We don't even get the car turned off, I don't know where these cars come from, they're right on us.

Barb Schroeder and her son's girlfriend, Lisa
Barb Schroeder was finally reunited with her loved ones

And they're circling us.

We put ourselves in harm's way trying to get a person out of harm's way.

We got circled one more time, so we say: 'OK, either we got to find a place to stay or we got to get out of town.'

We go to get gas, and it's getting dark.

We've been on the road for 24 hours now, driving straight down, turned away from two places that we fought our way to get to. And we're getting circled by cars.

We're hearing of people getting ripped out of their cars and the cars are getting hijacked so people can get out of town.

It's eight o'clock at night. Dead tired. No sleep.

All we wanted to do was get a family member out. We had everything we needed. We just had to get him to us.

Barb, her son Andy and her daughter Laura spent Sunday night with an acquaintance of Jake's in Baton Rouge, 70 miles from New Orleans. The next morning they drove back to the city. Shortly after they spoke to the BBC, they were reunited with Jake, who had hitched rides to meet them. He, his girlfriend and their pets were all fine.


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