WHATS IN THIS BLOG:
• Helping Katrina victims Evacuated to Houston.
• Confronting the hurt and the pain.
• How can we help the Baton Rouge victims?
I WAS IN HOUSTON ALMOST EXACTLY 11 YEARS AGO WHEN NEW ORLEANS WAS HIT BY HURRICANE KATRINA, one of the most damaging US hurricanes ever. This week Baton Rouge was hit by torrential rain and flooding: 40,000 homes have been flooded, but less than 15% have flood insurance! FEMA have committed to give up to $33,000 to assist homeowners without insurance to recover from the floods. The cause of the flooding was up to 30 inches of rainfall from a storm that just “sat there”. So rare it was labeled not a 100-year flood but a 1,000-year flood.
Seeing the videos of Baton Rouge and hearing the stories of human and animal rescues by boat and helicopter took me back 11 years to when the first evacuees from Katrina were bussed to Houston where I lived. I pitched in to help, and this is the emotion-racked story of helping Katrina victims….
A DAY IN THE ASTRODOME. By Ian Palmer, 1 September 2005:
Today is Thursday on the first day of September 2005, and at 10:30 pm the tears are still streaming down my face….the emotional overflow of a day that I will never forget.
I decided to visit and help the evacuees (seems more like refugees) who were snatched away after several days in the SuperDome in New Orleans, and transferred by bus along I10 to the Houston Astrodome. I got there at 1 pm with a friend, but the guard curiously did not want to let us in, until we explained we were volunteers connected to St Lukes UMC. Walked down the race to the ground floor to sign in, and this fellow immediately grabs us to help unwrap and load batteries into walkie-talkie phones. Hadn’t seen an evacuee yet.
Went to the assignment desk, and the leader told us to go to the other end of the stadium, where we could help by registering evacuees as they came in from the buses. The floor of this old baseball stadium (previous home of the Houston Astros) was filled with stretchers. But at this point it’s an emotionally cold perspective, a look from afar, separated from human feelings of suffering, loss and despair.
All evacuees have to register, by filling out a one-pager, and are given a pink “hospital” wristband to wear. I signed up an 18-year old girl, who also listed her baby daughter (one year old), and her fiancée. The form asks whether the home was damaged, and she said quite simply “Every home is flooded and damaged in New Orleans”. She was an extraordinarily pretty girl. Some women had curious names like Taylorkeisha.
LATER CAME A MAN, AGE 39, WITH HIS DAD, AGE 79. Just the two of them, living together in the Big Easy before the big flood. He recounted that they had to walk/swim a few miles to safety, because the water was 10 ft deep in places (we saw pictures on TV of flood levels up to the eaves of houses). The form asked whether medical assistance was required. The old man said, yes, he felt his body was infected by the “bad” water. Then added he was a diabetic, and his son nodded. Then added he was on blood pressure tablets, but had to leave his tablets when they rushed to escape the flood. His son nodded. Finally, the young man announced that the worst of the swim was the bodies he encountered in the water!
Another family I signed up had 6 children, ranging from 1-year to 26-years old. The husband had a daughter whose name started with Qu, but I couldn’t get it, so I asked him to spell it. But he could not, and finally asked his wife to spell it, after lamenting to himself, “That’s terrible, when a man can’t spell his own daughter’s name”.
One of the frustrations in helping Katrina victims is when an evacuee needs to know something, and we volunteers don’t know the answer. Several evacuees had asked me where the showers were, but I couldn’t find anyone who knew. Finally I asked around until I found them. Then located a large pink poster sheet, wrote the directions on it, and taped it above the main entrance. Then I walked around and told all the volunteers, so they could pass the info along if asked.
A VOLUNTEER ASKED ME IF I COULD TAKE A SHORT MAN TO THE MEN’S BATHROOM. While pondering this, the little man explained that he was mostly blind, and wouldn’t be able to find his way back if he went alone. So I was glad to take him. When we returned, he told me he was waiting for his brother to come back, after going out to buy some drugs from a drugstore. He asked me where he should wait, so that his brother would find him. I did some analysis, and told him to latch onto a stretcher near the “Lost and found desk”, and this represented the best chance for his brother to find him. Many questions came from folks who felt displaced and confused, and we discovered this was an important way of helping Katrina evacuees.
The “Lost and found” desk refers to people who have lost loved ones, or Houston residents who were trying to locate friends who came on the buses. There are bulletin boards that filled up continuously throughout the day, with little notes to lost loved ones. As well, some folks walked around the stadium holding up placards, with names on them, hoping the names would be seen and recognized. Shades of 911.
SANDY WALKED UP TO ME, SWEATING AND DISAPPOINTED. She was a very large lady (size 4X she told me later). She said this wasn’t at all what she expected, and did not want to stay in the Astrodome. She was arthritic, and would have a lot of trouble getting in and out of a low-lying stretcher. She knew one family in Houston, and felt they would want her to stay there, but she didn’t have their tel number. I called 411 on my cellphone, found the family, but only got a voicemail. She cried. We walked her to a chair, then got her a coke, and went to see about a change of clothes, because all she got out with was what she had on. I found a 5X shirt in the men’s pile of clothes (the corporate sponsorship everywhere seemed to be terrific). And we found a VERY large pair of men’s jeans.
Sandy wanted to take a shower more than anything. Red Cross had been giving out a bag of toiletries, but they were all gone. I saw a family, with two youngsters, and several bags of toiletries, and asked them if they could spare one bag for a lady who had nothing. They graciously shared with Sandy, and I felt that was pretty cool: one family of victims sharing with another. I went back and tried to call Sandy’s friends once again, but still no reply. More tears. Before we left the Astrodome, we engaged another volunteer to be responsible for Sandy, and to call every hour to try to locate the friends. I felt this was definitely the best solution.
ANOTHER LARGE WOMAN WAS CALLED JESSICA, but I would say only about 25 years old. She waved me over as I walked past, and asked if I could bring her some supper from upstairs because she couldn’t walk. Second Baptist, the largest Baptist church in Houston, had stepped up to the plate, and agreed to arrange food for the thousands of evacuees in the Astrodome. This is where many of the churches absolutely shine: they are practical as well as spiritual.
Jessica had stepped on broken glass when she was escaping the flood in New Orleans, and her foot was infected. We got her food, and she snarfed it down. My friend got her a wheelchair, and rolled her to the medical center. When the nurse arrived, Jessica told him about the foot, then leaned forward and whispered in his ear. I asked Jessica, after the nurse was gone, whether she was diabetic. She said “No, I have AIDS”. After I wheeled her into the waiting area, from where they would take her to the clinic, I asked how she had escaped the flood. She said she waded for several miles through water that was between her waist and her neck! During that incredible wade, she said she came across six bodies!
The needs at the Astrodome are very great. But we can make a difference by helping Katrina victims in a tangible way. Three very young girls ran up and warmly hugged my friend as she was leaving: a neat little thank-you at the end of a hard day for us, but nothing compared with the tragedy that has struck the lives of thousands of folks now crammed like sardines into their cots on the floor of a baseball stadium!
IF YOU ARE MOTIVATED TO SEND A DONATION TO THE LOUISIANA FLOOD DISASTER RELIEF, please consider doing so. I sent a donation to Chapelwood United Methodist (click here to access).
Please forward this blog to folks who would appreciate this story about hurricane Katrina. And by extension, about the needs facing the victims of the current Baton Rouge floods. Email or Facebook is fine: just click on the appropriate box on the far right side of this blog screen. OR, share it directly within Facebook.
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The Gray Nomad
Probing the practices of Christian faith
And if your pour out that with which you sustain your own life for the hungry, and satisfy the need of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in darkness……and the Lord shall guide you continually……and make strong your bones. [Book of Isaiah, chapter 58].