with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Evacuating from Hurricane Katrina – This is what we know

Before and after satellite photos of new orleans after hurricane katrinaWe left Mobile, Alabama, six days ago, home on our backs. We are currently in Atlanta, Georgia. For us, personally, Hurricane Katrina has not caused us to lose property or life, but it has caused us to lose income – a lot of income. Not just in wages unearned but also in expenses paid that we would not have had to expend. Are we complaining? No, just stating the facts and hoping you realize that the loss caused by Hurricane Katrina is not a simply defined loss. While people lost their homes, relatives, and jobs, the trickle-down damage is much wider spread.

So what has been lost along the Gulf Coast of the United States? Property has been damaged or destroyed. People’s lives have been lost and shattered by the loss. Jobs have been lost, some that may never be recreated, and yet jobs will be found as “recreating” becomes a major industry. Landmarks, zoos, aquariums, museums, precious homes for memories and art have been destroyed or seriously damaged.

On the whole, though, over all, I believe that what has been lost most is dignity and moral values. On the whole, I believe that some people, maybe a rare few, have gained dignity and moral values that they didn’t know they had. And I know millions of people have gained courage that I’m sure they didn’t know they had. This is what loss really does. It tests.

This is What We Know

The best resource for news on the area we’ve found so far comes from the Houston Chronicle. As electricity and supplies reach more of the Gulf Coast area, the news will improve with local stories, but for now, we’ve poured through tons of online newspapers and media and found that this seems to be the most extensive reporting and information gathering.

Tens of thousands of evacuees who took cover in the Super Dome in New Orleans are slowly being evacuated again to the Astro Dome in Houston. Much of the reports are coming from interviews with those people and with the teams handling the evacuation and going in with the evacuation teams. The stories are horrible, and some are sad, but there are also beginning to be stories of joy as families are reunited and information on property arrives with a positive light. People from all over Houston are working overtime to provide food, water, bedding, and clothing to the survivors.

Stories out of Biloxi, Mississippi, tell more about the loss, pain and suffering in detail than most of the reports on CNN and the Weather Channel. There is so much to tell, so it’s hard choosing which stories to tell, I’m sure.

Looting is wide spread, which is evidence of the loss of dignity and morality. One looter was interviewed in New Orleans saying, “Why shouldn’t we? The cops aren’t stopping us, so it must be okay.” Since when does knowing the difference between right and wrong require a cop?

Instead of putting all of their energy on rescue and recover and help, part of the police force is out in the towns and counties nearby collecting up all the ammunition they can from the stores to make sure that it doesn’t get into the hands of the looters. In one report:

Gov. Kathleen Blanco called the looters “hoodlums” and issued a warning to lawbreakers: Hundreds of National Guard troops hardened on the battlefield in Iraq have landed in New Orleans.

“They have M-16s and they’re locked and loaded,” she said. “These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so, and I expect they will.”

To add to the stress over the looters, it seems shots were fired at helicopters evacuating refugees from the area.

Hospitals are suffering as they can’t maintain backup generators, and there is no where to send “home” patients who could go home. Some hospitals are also reporting attacks by looters, probably trying to get drugs or whatever they can find.

Disease is on the rise, not just from the dead bodies, may still waiting recovering, but also from the many chicken and seafood factories and distribution centers which were destroyed, spewing chicken, shrimp, and fish parts all over the areas for blocks, which now are rotting and encouraging disease to spread throughout the flooded areas. Combined with the hundreds of chemical plants, oil refineries, and other major industrial facilities located on the Mississippi River Delta near the city of New Orleans that may or may not have been able to withstand the brunt of the storm, and already leaks and contamination of the water supply and area has been reported.

Helicopter companies in the surrounding area are making money as they are leased out by aid agencies and the rich who want to survey their potentially damaged properties, which include yacht clubs, fishing fleets, rich homes, restaurants, shopping malls, and more. You don’t need a helicopter for your own bird’s eye view of before and after satellite pictures of downtown New Orleans.

There are reports everywhere of neighboring states and major cities taking in evacuees and survivors. Many states are calling in their local governments to set up emergency legislation that will recognize these people as temporary residents in order to supply them with food stamps, housing, and emergency services and medical care.

While the outpouring of help and donations accumulates, it’s also hard to stop from being cynical. I often follow the Feed from PR Web, looking for potential news stories and ideas for stories. For the past few days it has been on overdrive as every company, celebrity, author, and business jumps on the band wagon as part of the feeding frenzy to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. It’s easy to get cynical when looking through the list of authors no one has ever heard of donating 10% of their proceeds from the sale of their totally unrelated book, or a vitamin company donating mass volumes of vitamins to the victims, or a job contracting company offering to help survivors find new jobs – these all might be great grand good will gestures, but when you look at hundreds of these on a list, with the thought of the mind set that encourages looting as a good idea, you wonder about the attention-getting mind set behind these gestures.

Millions of people worldwide are going to jump in with money, clothing, food, and supplies to want to donate them to the victims. This is wonderful, generous, and truly needed. Corporations have already offered millions of dollars collectively. Fantastic.

But where is the money going? How is the money going to get there? Who will control it? Who will control who gets what? How will it be fairly distributed? Will people who evacuated but lost their homes get X amount while people who stayed and still lost their homes get more? What about those who had cars and could afford to leave, compared to those without cars nor money to leave? Who gets more? What level of loss will determine who gets what, how and when?

I just shake my head and think about how people should donate and give without expectation of return. The world would be a better place.

I heard that there are telethons planned all over the place, and people are putting out buckets for money and supplies. That’s wonderful. I love it when people come together to help. Brent and I pitch in when and where we can, too. But FOLKS! Do it wisely.

Donate to organizations you trust and are familiar with. These include the Red Cross and Salvation Army. Remember, give what you can, and your tax dollars, money you already gave, will also be hopefully going to the cause as well, when the local and federal government finishes passing new orders to release tax money to help.

If you are worried about the animals in the area, don’t forget that you can donate to the national Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and you can also find local animal shelters in the New Orleans and Mississippi areas to donate directly to through Animal Shelter Organization or searching the net.

What’s Next

Sometimes I wonder who is charge of this catastrophic event: the police, military, government, or media. Recovery from this is going to take decades, not minutes, but the media is fueling the “need to know” and there is a lot to know.

Some of the editorial commentary about the impact of Hurricane Katrina are wonderful, some concerning, and some just stupid.

Kyrie O’Connor, the Cultural Blogger for the Houston Chronicle has some excellent commentary on the situation that has arisen with Hurricane Katrina, including a brilliant open letter to evacuees arriving in Houston:

You needn’t worry, however, about being in Houston.

Houston isn’t New Orleans. We know that. Nobody ever comes to Houston for the ambience. (Your big airport is called Louis Armstrong. Ours is called George Bush. That kind of sums it up.) But Houston is an extraordinarily friendly and generous place. People will strike up a conversations with you on absolutely no pretext and tell you all about their crazy daughters-in-law and their favorite methods of smoking meat, and they have quite lovely, soft ways of rolling vowels around in their mouths like melting ice cream. You will find the people make you feel more at peace, almost instantly.

Attacks on the media and pointing fingers has already begun on blogs all over the Internet, debating the issues of who should get the attention, the refugees, evacuees, survivors, or looters. The study of how the history of the hurricane and damage will be told through the storytelling and the online world and media is also fascinating and worth watching.

Just search for Hurricane Katrina and you will find plenty of people with a lot to say, even us.

What About You?

In Mobile, Alabama, of most concern personally to us, the area wasn’t devastated, but it was seriously impacted. Trees are down all over the place, even trees that lasted previous hurricanes. They have brought power lines down all over the city and Gulf Coast counties. Without electricity, water won’t flow, phones won’t work, and gas won’t flow. There are gas lines all over the city, but not for a fear of shortage as there is plenty of gas, the officials say. The problem is that they can’t keep the electricity on long enough to keep the pumps running steady. So people wait in long lines while the electricity is restored again, and then the fueling begins.

Water damage from the storm surge and flooding in general brought tons of muck and debris into the homes and businesses all through the downtown and low lying areas. With access to gas limited, and power occasional, many companies are closed down because few workers are reporting to work, unable to get transportation, and worried about their own homes.

Emails and phone calls from friends in Mobile report that those on the west side of Mobile suffered the worst of the storm, while those on the east side did a little better. Gas is still in short supply and electricity continues to be a problem. One friend tells of returning to his home on the east side to find that electricity had come back on, long enough for everything that had melted in his freezer having refroze, into a huge solid mass – inedible.

Another friend has both sets of their parents who lived near and in the New Orleans area staying with their family in their home, with everyone doubling up and making room.

The heat index has been very high with temperatures over 100F degrees. Without air conditioning, people are using their porches and other methods to stay cool as best they can, but businesses without consistent electricity are having trouble keeping all the temperatures down.

All say the same thing: Access to gas is the biggest problem everyone faces. Without gas, no transportation.

We continue to stay in Atlanta, with a current commitment to stay until Monday, Labor Day. We will call in and check over the weekend to see how things fair. Another friend drove by our campground and reported that the electricity was out as much as they could see, and stores were closed, but it seems that electricity or a generator was running the corner gas station and the line to get in was almost a mile backed up down Dauphin Island Parkway. Luckily for us, once we get back, Brent can walk or ride his bike to work, as can I to and from the grocery store if necessary.

Here in Atlanta, we needed to go out for supplies yesterday and found gas was suddenly a dollar more expensive than two days ago. The panic for gas is totally out of proportion with reality. Some new stations said it was as high as $6 a gallon. We saw $3.49 to $3.69 and I heard that the governor had declared a war upon price gouging. We found a Sam’s Club gas station, our destination anyway, with $2.69. At least some company is determined not to give in to rumor and greed.

Still, we aren’t touring around or playing tourist. We can’t afford the gas as it is. We’re making our decisions on staying or leaving day by day, probably staying through Labor Day. We’ll let you all know what we decide when we make some decisions.

One Comment

  • Christine Richards
    Posted September 7, 2005 at 8:22 | Permalink

    My prayers are with all the survivors, and the families who have lost loved ones. When going through the tough times only makes you a stronger person!

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