Katrina hits home

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:21 PM ET

Justin Coleman has plenty of friends in New Orleans, but has no idea what's happened to them, or to the apartment he shared with his brother in Gulfport, Miss.

The last time Brad Franklin spoke to his mother in Baton Rouge, La., she was still without power in her home.

Same with Tee Martin's grandparents in Mobile, Ala. Martin also has no idea what's happened to a cousin in New Orleans.

And nobody knows what's happened to former Winnipeg Blue Bombers teammate Elfrid Payton, who lived right in the Louisiana city that's now under water.

It seems hurricane Katrina has touched every team in the CFL, heading into the most hyped weekend of the regular season.

"It's frightening," Martin, the Bomber quarterback who started three games earlier this season, was saying yesterday.

"Devastating," said Franklin, a starting defensive back this weekend.

"I pray everybody will be OK," added Coleman, also a defensive back.

A product of the University of Mississippi, Coleman says his brother made it out of Gulfport before the storm hit, but hasn't been able to return to see what happened to their apartment.

"We don't even know if we have anything or not," Coleman said. "It's hurting, because I sit and look, and the first body count was, like, 110, and then it was thousands. Lives taken away, just like that."

One of Coleman's college coaches, living in Baton Rouge, lost everything.

The other day, a lady he knows in Gulfport called him and asked if he could help.

"What can I do from here?" he wondered out loud.

Franklin was born in Baton Rouge, just an hour from New Orleans. He fears the looters from Ground Zero will make their way to his hometown.

"I talked to my mom (Wednesday) night," Franklin said. "The power's still out at our home. She's staying with friends. You can't call anybody in New Orleans. To me, that's right down the street, places I've hung out at.

"You try to block it out and be positive. Ask God for strength."

It's a similar story across the league.

Montreal kick returner Ezra Landry has lost a home and business, and has flown south to check on his family. He missed last night's game against Ottawa, where linebacker Keaton Cromartie can only wonder what happened to his East New Orleans home.

Then there's Edmonton's Shannon Garrett, the former Bomber defender who's lost a house and other property in Bay St. Louis, Miss., one of the hardest hit areas.

"It's nothing but devastation and dead bodies," Garrett told the Edmonton Sun. "It's hard to watch."

The good news: Garrett's parents were safe in Edmonton, having flown there for this weekend's game.

Bomber receiver Milt Stegall is good friends with Garrett, and has spoken to his former teammate about the disaster.

"It just puts everything in perspective," Stegall said. "Some of the things we complain about and get mad over, when you put things in perspective, these things are minute."

Stegall also touched base with former teammate Harold Nash, who works for the New England Patriots but owns a home in New Orleans.

"His parents got out," Stegall said. "He still had a house there. I'm sure it's gone."

But Stegall hasn't been able to reach Payton, his teammate from last season.

"I just hope he's safe," he said. "He has his wife and five or six kids. It's hard to just uproot and leave."

As for playing a game this weekend, well, Stegall figures that could be a good thing for the players affected most. An escape.

"It's just like for the fans, it's their little get-away," he said.

Even if it's just for a few hours.

"I'm sure everybody is thinking about it," Stegall said. "You can't get away from it."


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