By Shelley Grieshop
The Rev. Bart Pax was rescued by helicopter Thursday from a flooded school building in New Orleans.
His sister-in-law, Marilyn Pax of Celina, said the Mercer County native called her about 8:30 p.m. Thursday to let the family know he was alive and well and on his way to a parish in Texas.
"I answered the phone and he said, 'I'm OK.' Those were the best two words I've heard all week. I screamed, 'It's Bart!' " she said.
Pax, 64, talked only briefly to both his sister-in-law and brother, Dave, because his cell phone battery was running low. He sounded tired, she said, and promised to call back after getting a much-needed shower and change of clothes. Like thousands of others, he has worn the same thing since taking shelter Sunday.
Marilyn Pax said the pastor has a good friend at a parish in Texas, and she guesses the fellow pastor is the person who made arrangements for Pax's transport. The Catholic priest had refused to leave Sunday even after hearing Hurricane Katrina had increased to a catastrophic Category 5 storm. He told family members Sunday afternoon that he planned to stay to help others at the parish's parochial school building, which had been turned into a shelter.
He is head pastor at St. Mary of the Angels Church in the heart of New Orleans and has many relatives in the Grand Lake area.
Family members last heard from him Monday morning when he called to say he and about 50 others had moved to the second floor of the building after water rose to about 10 feet on the first floor. The building has three floors, his sister-in-law said.
On Thursday night, Pax told his family that as the water began to rise more people took shelter in the school, increasing the number to about 70. On Wednesday, the refugees finally got word to authorities of their whereabouts and a helicopter reportedly arrived the next day.
"He said, as the rescue chopper arrived, people began coming out from neighboring homes. Apparently there were many others also waiting to be rescued," his sister-in-law said. "In all, they took about 200 people from that site."
It is unknown how much food or water the group had or what the conditions were like. After her brother-in-law gets some much needed rest, they'll likely get more information about the whole ordeal, she said.
"I'm sure most of those people weren't expecting to be there more than a day or two when this began," she added.