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Hurricane evacuees get new cars

Nine families that fled the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina got a huge surprise today that will help them become more independent and rebuild their lives in Central Ohio.

Thirty-five Katrina evacuees, many still in disbelief, are having their photo taken in front of eight brand new Toyota Corollas at Germain Toyota in Columbus.

The nine families begin the day by boarding a charter bus with no idea where they were going, only that they were in for a big surprise.

Well, I thought we were going to eat because they've been surprising us with so much stuff. Words can't explain it, you know. Really I just thank God.

Evacuee Rodney Austin came to Columbus with his family a month ago. They lost nearly everything, including their two cars. Austin says he and his wife, Yvette who had a baby girl only six days ago, are settling into the city very well thanks to Crawford Communities.

Dave and Brent and all of them really took care of us. It's really been a blessing.

In a city where many residents walk, Willie Thomas Junior was one of thousands who didn't own a vehicle. In fact, this is the first time Thomas has ever owned a car.

Back home I really didn't have wheels. I struggled with public transportation. So this here is considered a real big blessing.

Owner of Crawford Communities, Brent Crawford, says his business partner, Dave Winham, spoke with Germain Motor Company's C-E-O about helping them get transportation for the families.

It's obviously made a big difference for us because that was the last piece of the puzzle that we needed to fill. And now they can be a little more independent because we've been driving them everywhere they needed to go. But it also allows us to use our other money for helping them get houses or condos, college and get things like that going forward. So, it's been perfect.

Crawford says nine families will have new cars. Delivery of the last car will have to wait. It will go to a couple in their 50s as soon as they learn how to drive.

Germain Motor Company C-E-O, Steve Germain, says he's been a part of the Columbus community for many years and wanted to help the hurricane victims. Germain says he and Winham had initially spoke about donating used cars, but Germain, always the salesman, says he thought he would step it up a little with brand new ones.

It just gives them an opportunity to get their jobs, get their kids to school and start to become productive citizens in this community, you know. And then come back and buy cars from me in the future. There's a method to my madness, but I'm glad to do it.

Germain says the families won't actually own the cars. Instead they'll be able to use them for two years. After that he says they can either return it or buy it for half of what it's worth today. Germain says Crawford Communities will initially provide the cost of insurance for the vehicles until the families are financially able to do so themselves.

Some of the new owners got in their cars and started the engines. Others popped the trunks. In a scene that captured the spirit of the moment, one couple got in their car and tried out the radio. Soon they were snapping their fingers and swaying to Bobby McFerrin.

The couple soon drove away with one less worry and a lot happier.