We have heard the stories, seen the people sitting on roof tops, felt for those who lost their homes; but never, never have we met one of these people in person. A hurricane of tremendous force upsetting our nation as few other events have before or since. At the time, I was a volunteer for the American Red Cross. I had already served on a couple of minor hurricanes when Katrina hit New Orleans. Before the year was over, I had spent 2 and ½ months along the gulf coast. I had seen waste and in-efficiency of resources. I had seen destruction on a scale of a major war. I had seen sorrow and hope. Time and time again, I was ready to quit the American Red Cross from frustrations over how obstacles were addressed. In the end, I came to realize that no one else could do what was done except the Red Cross. I just want to share some experiences that you will never have a chance to know about unless you were there. And to start, I need to relate the first small hurricane that I worked. I don’t remember the name of that hurricane. When a hurricane is approaching a coast, the Red Cross send volunteers in advance, housing them inland out of harms way; but available to rapidly arrive on the scene after the storm. In this case, I think we were only about a 6 hour drive away. Some of us were in cars. Others were in a truck that reminds one of an ambulance. These small trucks were used to haul food and feed people along the road in front or their homes or to locate at a location for people to come and get free food. At a central location, semi-trucks had already been brought in supplies of food. These were stationed at food warehouses across the country always ready to respond. Also at this location, a semi-trailer with a portable kitchen was parked. On many occasions this was supplied by the Southern Baptist denomination of churches. A number of men from those churches arrived with the truck and it was very oblivious that they had experience cooking hundreds of meals. We would arrive in early morning and make runs around the affected neighborhoods at noon and again in the evening serving several hundred meals from each truck. This was a routine exercise and although there were always new volunteers, almost always there was some who had already worked a disaster.
We were required to take certain classes and meet certain standards and most of us had taken even more hours of training. Still, we are dealing with volunteers and sometimes, the situation could become humorous. I remember my first day when my responsible was to make sure the trucks were loaded and unloaded. We had about 7 or 8 trucks and I look up to see 3 of these trucks driven by “men” all trying to back in to one spot to be loaded-all at the same time. It they had been young males, I would have understood, but most of these guys were retired. The next loading time, I sat up barrels so that they had to come in single file and then I would direct them, one at a time into a parking space. We then were able to have three trucks loading at one time. I relate this incident because there is a person side to the Red Cross and hence, lots of screw ups.
That first night, when we had completed our tour of duty after around 12 hours, we then had to drive over an hour to our hotel. Since there were lots of other people helping and even residents of the area without livable homes, motel rooms were scare. On our second night, our group of some 20 headed again for the same hotel as we thought we still had reservations. When we arrived, we found that our rooms had been given to some one else. It seemed that a golf tournament had been scheduled months ago and the area where we were staying was outside the area impacted by the hurricane. The person responsible for our lodging had failed to notify us of any changes and had not made other arrangements for sleeping. You will see shortly how this affected us at another hurricane.
So, we tried to contact the person responsible for our rooms. She was stationed over a hundred miles away and we found out later that she went off duty at 5 pm. It is now almost 9 pm, motels are booked, and we are in a small town that only has small towns for miles around. After a number of calls, we finally found rooms in this little town for the ladies. That left 4 males and we just took out driving until we found a small town that had rooms available. We finished our job of feeding within a week and drove back to our staging area to prepare to leave to go back home.
We didn’t get to go. Another hurricane was approaching the tip of Texas and so several hundred people were flown to San Antonio Texas to be ready to go where we would be needed. For some reason, they decided to send four of us on down to the Brownsville area. We drove down and when we went to the local head quarters, we were told to go immediately to a motel room. It seems that the hurricane had veered north and was going to hit the Brownsville area. We were given the name and address of a motel to go to. Now, remember, less than a week ago we found ourselves without a room. With a hurricane bearing down on us, we already were having wind and rain, I did not want to be looking for a room if someone else had mine. So, I gently asked, “Could I have your telephone number in case we have problems?” She gave it to us and away we went. About half way there my cell phone rang and I was informed that some National Guard members had came into town and our rooms were no longer available. !!! But she went on to explain that she had found us other rooms and away we went. The hurricane was a small hurricane and I watched out the window for a day as rain and wind kept everyone buttoned up at home. I am now an experienced Red Cross volunteer and ready for what ever will come my way. Little did I know it would be Katrina! ! !