Thursday, September 01, 2005

Hurricane Katrina survivors need help

Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Debra Peters (left) and Connie Stephens (right) hug and cry in Covington, La. on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2005. Both had worked for the Parish Clerk of Court office for St. Tammany. It was the first time either had seen any of their coworkers since Hurricane Katrina hit earlier this week.

See photo stories here (Red Cross) and here (Entergy).

It is with great sadness that I write this post. The good people of Louisiana need help and they need it NOW. If anyone can spare a few bucks, please help. Relief agencies use the money to purchase goods locally. This reduces cost of shipping supplies and also creates jobs closest to the damage. Since those displaced by the hurricane will need to work to exist, it's the best deal. Please donate cash.

I cannot begin to explain the despair which is already palpable. Like most disasters, day one left everyone guiltily happy they survived. On day two, folks were still civil in the areas where damage was not as complete and hope remained. On day three of 100 degree heat and about the same humidity, the anger started to mount - particularly in areas where hope was gone.

Soon, severe diseases will affect the people living in knee-high sewage. Probably today and tomorrow, the bodies of the initially killed folks will begin to float to the surface. It will become increasing bad afterward.

What we did
I was traveling with a reporter, and we were told to only cover the immediate assistance from Southeast Texas. The two immediate responder groups were Entergy electric and the American Red Cross of Beaumont (photos on both links).

Entergy faces a monstrous task of restoring energy and normality to an area so large it's difficult to understand. They are doing an excellent job under adverse conditions and trying to help as many folks as they can as rapidly as they can.

The majority of Red Cross workers from Beaumont remain in Beaumont to help refugees while out-of-town Red Cross workers went in as far as they could. One team of "Red Cross rookies," a firefighter and a nurse - both retired, took a Beaumont disaster relief truck to Covington to help with distribution.

The Red Cross workers went to fill their truck with supplies from the Beaumont Sam's Club. Once they got their supplies, the manager handed them the receipt and wished them well on their journey. The manager paid for the supplies. If everyone could do their part - and quickly - some people might be saved.

On the ground
Although I didn't get to New Orleans, I did get to the front lines across the lake from New Orleans, inside the hurricane's path. Let me add that the police officers and state officials have been unusually accommodating to media thus far and need to be commended for their assistance under crazy circumstances.

Here's the situation:   Hundreds of people are dead. Hundreds more are likely to die. Everyone's jobs, lifestyles, joys and security vaporized in a day. What remains is a puddle of sewage, toxic chemicals, shattered lives and despair.

In these areas, many folks were smart enough and had the funds to evacuate before the hurricane hit. The rest need immediate help.

In many areas, swarms of tornadoes etched a path for the hurricane to follow. As if the hurricane wasn't bad enough, these smaller tornadoes would have each been newsworthy by themselves. Now, they are simply sidenotes to unprecedented destruction.

All police, sheriff deputies and state police are overstretched with unexpected tasks. They must guard working fuel stations, escort and protect relief trucks and workers and provide traffic management in key locations.

Any additional strains, such as are seen in New Orleans, could lead to complete anarchy.

There is no means of communication. All telephone lines and cell towers are down. Only satellite and point-to-point radio communications remain. Those are dependent on battery power and/or fuel (see note below).

We tried to use a Kinko's to transmit the second day, but their Internet connection runs from New Orleans. They said it would be months before access would be restored. Similar problems exist with credit card and banking machines. Consequently, cash is required in the area.

There is no fuel, because there is no electricity. Because there is no fuel, folks with private generators will run out of power long before energy is restored. Injured folks may currently be trapped with no way to escape. Other folks with limited food or water may be trapped in areas too difficult to access.

Most residential roads are a maze of fallen trees, power poles and fallen lines. Luckily the power is cut or they would also be scattered with dead people and wreck vehicles. We traveled along debris-strewn highways where crews had cut single-vehicle paths. Both directions of traffic had to take turns navigating these paths and driving over powerline after powerline.

Due to traffic signal failures, all directions of traffic must stop at each intersection. This creates a back-up for 10s of miles. Additionally, one lane of traffic is completely stopped on routes into cities where power has been restored for fuel stations. Police must monitor operating fuel stations.

While waiting in line to get fuel, vehicles simply run out of fuel. They must be abandoned on the side of the road and there is nobody to recover abandoned vehicles. It's not a significant problem yet, but it will be by week's end.

There is no electricity. Consequently, there is no water, sewage control, traffic regulation or anything else which requires electricity.

Many homes are completely underwater down roads covered completely in fallen trees and power lines. Some folks had literally used a chainsaw to cut a footpath toward help.

There is no fuel. Some folks who got out of the immediate damage came to the city centers for assistance (food, water, ice and fuel). Limited food, less water, no ice and no fuel were available.

Noble people with previously enviable lifestyles found themselves waiting in a noontime line for a single Heater Meal (a civilian version of a military boxed meal with a thermal heater). If they returned at 5 p.m., they could have one more meal and some water.

Many folks had come to get food and water for their entire family. Please understand the significance of this lack of supplies.

Furthermore, understand these people had driven from great distances to find no fuel was available. It created immediate desperation:   they used fuel to feed their family, they got one meal instead. Some couldn't return to feed their family without fuel. Others couldn't return to bring their family where food existed. All were left without water until the next food rationing cycle.

All the folks receiving aid were proud and thankful for any assistance. However, it's obvious a lot of hearts were broken.

Unlike tornadoes, this problem isn't over. Everyone's jobs and income were also destroyed. Many who were expecting paychecks this Friday won't have one. Furthermore, they will never have one with the same employer.

Officials are urging Southeast Louisiana residents to leave for a few years. They suggest they find whatever jobs they can and stay out of the way until normality can be restored in several months or years - if ever.

Consequently, all these people need jobs. Some will eventually work for contractors repairing infrastructure, but those will only be the most able-bodied and mobile.

Anyone with a job anywhere in America is urged to step forward and offer to relocate these displaced people. There are many trained and talented people who will need to make a living somewhere - anywhere.

Hotel and shelter space is at a premium. As noted elsewhere, many people are currently living in sports arenas in major cities. This won't work perpetually.

Closer to the action, refugees are fleeing the destruction while contractors are flooding into the area to help. Since the contractors are critical to the restoration of the area, the refugees, unfortunately but necessarily, get the short end.

Anyone with some room in lower Louisiana or Texas should please offer some help to let folks get back on their feet.

Please help
As we left Baton Rouge, hundreds of emergency vehicles streamed into the area. Additionally, mile-long caravans of police-escorted busses and emergency service vehicles (tree cutters and electrical companies) were all rushing toward the city. It gives some hope, but not enough.

I must go to Dallas later today. However, this problem will exist long after I return. The good people of Louisiana need everyone's help NOW.

Enough for now,


Caleb said...

I truly is unfathomable just how large the effect of this hurricane is. I think your summary was good but as Im sure you know it is only a very small fraction of how things have been impacted. The more I think about it the sadder I get because I realize how much all these people have lost. This may put thousands of people homless on the streets for the rest of their life. That is just one thing I thought of. The impact is beyond what most people are seeing. We need to pray hard and give all that we can. I hope all goes well in Dallas.

Emil said...

FYI--I know this is true of United Methodist Committee on Relief and suspect it is also true of other religious organizations--all administrative costs are paid by previous giving of churches within the denomination--every dollar you give goes to the emergency situation you designate.

Justin DeYoung said...

Mark, saw the front page of the paper today (thursday) great job considering the circumstances. I really want to go but cant get away from work. We arent sending anyone yet and we have sat feeds but as a photog I feel the need to be there. Keep up the good work and stay safe.

pebblepie said...

Hi Mark,

A friend of mine in Texas is helping:

We have found out about ships coming in and free food stamps for two months for anyone from LA


Laurie said...


D.C. said...

Thank You, Mark, for your excellent post and photos.
The reconstruction of the lives will be difficult on so many levels. As you point out, the need for help is immediate and will be for a long time. I trust Americans will do what it takes as solidarity and pride is so strong in the US.

"This may put thousands of people homless on the streets for the rest of their life." Caleb

I am afraid this is true.