Sunday, June 3, 2007

December 9, 2005

No two days are exactly the same. Flexibility is the name of the game, and one of the hardest things to do. Seems that I have the ERV that keeps breaking down or has flat tires, and I'm constantly switching all my food and gear to a new ERV every couple of days. It's hard work to switch it all out, and frustrating, but I have to laugh. Never my fault, just bad luck.

3 months, and I still cry some days. I came down the road the other day, and one of the stops on my route was blocked off. They were tearing down the family's house. I sat and cried. I know their story, and how much that house meant to them, and the finality of tearing it down had to bring back all the pain and heartbreak for them. It's hard to look at a house laying in ruin, but the physical sight and sound of it coming down is hard to deal with also. The next day, I got down the street to see them, and we shared more tears. They are such a positive family, but it was such a sad day. As I looked into their eyes, I know they understand that I do more than deliver a hot meal. I truly care for them, their lives, and their pain. I have spent 6 weeks, every day, watching them battle the remnants of this storm, and I know they will win this battle with time.

Laughing is so important. And we do a lot of it. I'm a free spirit, and I like to have fun. My clients figured this out the first time we were down and would sing our announcements to them on the loudspeaker as we rolled down the road. Now I find out that most of our ERV friends sing to their clients too. It makes people laugh, it keeps them happy, and it is a great topic of conversation in the neighborhood.

Speaking of conversation. If there is one thing that comes out of this, it will be how close it has brought entire communities. I found out firsthand how fast news travels. I told one client that my last day would be Friday. By the next day, several people had heard the news and were already starting to say their goodbyes to me. They hear our horn, and come out for hot food, and while they are out there, they are greeting their neighbors, sharing news and information. People are helping people. It's a beautiful thing to see, and one thing that I hope lasts long after the rebuilding is done.

I had a mother come out to the truck and tell me a great story. She has 2 boys, about 3 and 4 years old. She said that she was watching them play and overheard their conversation. One said to the other "Lets play Red Cross today, I will drive by and you stand there and wave me down and say Thank You Thank You Thank You!!!"

I thought that was the funniest thing I had heard, and I will be very interested to see what the impact of Katrina is going to have on future generations. Will this generation of children be more compassionate? Will they realize the fragile state of life? Will they be less materialistic? It will be interesting to see.. I know for sure the Red Cross has made an impression on both young and old alike.

Today was my final day on my route. Since most of my clients are back on their feet, or have the tools to be back on their feet, it was time to close the route and use those resources in areas that are still in dire need. We went to see Waveland the other day. It is still untouched. Total devastation. Entire town wiped out. It was so utterly eerie.

People keep asking me how I can spend 9 weeks of my life down here volunteering. I couldn't do it without the family and friends I have. I have a wonderful husband who is holding down the fort and taking care of my house and pets. I have great co-workers who are covering my shifts. I urge people to take a risk. Give up a few weeks and come down and help out. Volunteers are so badly needed. The work is not done yet, in some areas it hasn't even begun yet. Just because it isn't in the news doesn't mean it is all cleared up. It isn't. Not even close. Can I afford to do this? Heck no. But when I go home, I'll have a home to go to. My bills will still be there, and I probably won't have much of a Christmas, but I'm taking home a sense of satisfaction that I did something to try to help. I didn't sit by idly watching. I can work, I have a job, house, pets and family. That is more than thousands of people in Miss. can say. I am truely blessed!

My clients knew it was my last day, and they were ready. I received gifts, letters, pictures, and well wishes. I shared more hugs than ever, and quite a few tears. I gave them a hot meal, conversation, and a shoulder to cry on, or someone to vent to. I am honored to have been able to be a part of their lives at this most vulnerable time. The lessons I have learned, the strength I have seen, will be with me for a lifetime.

December 8, 2005

Days turn into weeks, weeks into months, and here I am, still in Mississippi. Let me tell you all about the state of this beautiful state.

3 months post Katrina. People are still without power. Without water. They still are living in tents. Things are getting better, but the forward momentum is slow, and not everyone is getting the help they need, but the job is so overwhelming, that you have to start somewhere and just work your way around, and unfortunately, some people get caught in the void and still are needing help.

Fema trailers are everywhere. Some people are just getting theirs. But just because you get a trailer in your yard doesn't mean you will get the keys to it. I know of one family who has yet to see an inspection of their trailer. If the person setting it up didn't just "accidently" forget to lock the door when he left, the entire family would still be staying in a tiny camper.

Let me tell you about Thanksgiving.. what a beautiful day that was! My oldest daughter Jen made it down here, and we spent the day together on the same ERV. Our morning routine in our kitchen was different on that day since the Baptists that cook our food weren't going to make the big dinner, the caterer at kitchen 35 was going to make our hot meals. So we lined our ERV's up and had a caravan of sorts to the other kitchen in Biloxi. The sight of it gave me goosebumps. All of our ERV's moving down the highway in a line, it was an awesome sight. We served our clients a wonderful meal, turkey, dressing, cranberries, the whole traditional meal. I'm happy to say, I had a hard time finding people to feed. It seems that people found places to go, family and friends, so they weren't home to accept our meal. That is a wonderful thing though.. I'm glad they got out of town, if only for a short time, to spend the holiday with others.. the ones who were there to take our meals, were forever greatful that we would spend the day making sure they had a hot meal.

I missed spending Thanksgiving with my husband, eating turkey and watching football.. but it was special to spend it with my daughter, and my Red Cross family, helping others. I'll have plenty of holidays, but this one will always be special to me.

November 20, 2005

Hello everyone! I know it's been a long time between entries, things have not slowed down any in Mississippi. Devastation is still apparent. They are making progress cleaning up the rubble, houses are now being demolished, and people who were previously living in these houses, are now homeless. Shelters are now reopening as a new wave of Hurricane survivors are forced out of their homes.

I was originally heading to Florida, ended up in New Orleans, and then got a call from Mississippi telling me to not unpack, I was going to be heading there. They tell you that you have to be flexible in the Red Cross, and man they aren't kidding! I started out in Pascagoula, and ended up moving to Gulfport, with our kitchen in Woolmarket, and now I'm staying in Ocean Springs. See what I mean? Flexibility! I just live out of my suitcase, it's easier!!

Days are long. Very long. I start at 8am, and get done about 8:30pm. We are feeding about 8000 meals a day right now. We peaked last month at 10,700 meals. Our kitchen is outdoors, and our meeting site is under a large tent. Since we moved the kitchen to Woolmarket and lost all of our Administration staff (except for John John) it has been something of mass chaos. But things are smoothing out now, and moving forward. We are in the parking lot of our main Headquarters, which is interesting in itself, and we get a lot of visitors passing through from other departments who are curious on how a kitchen works.

Teresa made it here. That was no small feat. She went to New Orleans, and got caught there with the red tape and couldn't get out. Took a lot of work on behalf of our home Chapter but she is here now and driving an ERV. It's a blessing because we are so incredibly short handed and we need every certified driver we can get. My daughter Jen will be coming in (I hope) this week so we can spend a very special Thanksgiving together doing humanitarian work. I think it will be a very unique experience for her and I to share together, so much work to be done down here yet, and no one outside of the area realizes that there is still total devastation here. People are getting depressed, it is the holiday season and they are living in tents, or in cars. They are still waiting for FEMA trailers, still have nothing. Hundreds and thousands of people. Just because this isn't in the news doesn't mean it's over. It's still going on, it's still heartbreaking, and it's going to be that way for many months to come yet.

My first day off is today. I have been here more than 20 days working 12+ hours a day, 7 days a week. We get done working and are so tired, we fall into bed and get up and do it all over again. But today I get off, and me and a few friends are going to New Orleans for the day. It should be fun. I spent only a couple of hours there the last time before I was transferred out. We are going to the Cafe Dumond to eat some little pastry with a name I can't pronounce. I guess it's the thing to do..

The weather is cold here. I know it's warmer than home, but not by much. It is down to the 50's in the daytime, and 40's at night. Supposed to warm up to the upper 60's this week, I hope so. I didn't bring enough warm clothes, only 2 sweaters, and one that I stole from Darrin when he left it behind, and now he wants it back. No way, finders keepers!!

I have to write about the SeaBee base. We stay at a Naval Base near Gulfport. They have set up a shelter in a huge warehouse (I think they said 60,000 sq ft) and it is interesting!! 650 people on cots side by side, 18 inches apart. Men and women mixed in together. Little screens to change behind. Bathroom are port a potty's outside, and believe me, it's a long hike to get to them. Showers are in semi's outside too. And that is a much longer walk, and when it is freezing outside, you won't want to walk slowly on the way back when you are wet, you will freeze to death before you get back to your cot!! You learn to not drink much before you go to bed, you don't want to have to find your way outside in the middle of the night to find the bathroom!!

The food is fantastic though.. prime rib on Sun night, NY strip, bbq ribs (half rack per person) it is fantastic! You go outside and go through the line, and then sit under tents to eat. But your breakfast eggs get cold before you can get to the eating tents, so you gotta eat them on the way, or eat them cold.

But now I'm in the Ramada Inn. My room doesn't have heat, but it has indoor plumbing that flushes and isn't being used by 600 people, so I'm a happy gal!!! And I have internet now, so I can update my blog and answer email.. so if anyone wants to drop me a line just email

Thats all for now! I'll write more later.. off to New Orleans!!

October 28, 2005

Sue made it to New Orleans Tuesday okay. She didn't even get one full days' work in before the group she was previously with in Mississippi applied for a transfer for her and went to pick her up. She is now back in one of the hardest hit areas of Katrina, near Ocean Springs and driving an ERV again. I expect she'll be there until December.

Meanwhile, I read this heart breaking story on CNN and thought I'd include a link to it... for some the worst part was the winds, for others it was the water.

Here is another link, showing what wind can do to a full sized lighthouse.

October 22, 2005

Sue and Teresa have been back since the 12th of October and have been busy preparing to re-deploy on November 10th. However, in that time the threat of Hurricane Wilma prompted Sue to sign up for a deployment sooner... she got the call today, she will not be heading to Florida as she had expected, but will be driving an ERV in New Orleans, she flies into New Orleans on Tuesday the 25th.

Sue posted many of the photos that she and Teresa took on this web site, sign up is free, or if you already have a yahoo account, just log in. .

Oct 4th, Tues

Teresa and I got a new assignment. We have passed on the ERV duties to a new and younger crew and we are now medics on the MERV (medical ERV)

We have patients that we go out and see in the community, and check sugar levels, pressure and things like that. It is also a way we can get a few minutes break to go to the library and check our emails and get some errands done.

We still have a list of things we need to do, and we are going back again to David and Anne's house tonight and take some of the new people that just came in and show them our "home away from home" spot.

We made a new drink last night and we called it the "Katrina". Yeah, I won't be making any more of those tonight, but lets just say I slept really well!

The weather is pleasant today, it's in the upper 80's and the humidity has gone down. Much better than it has been. It stays in the 80's at night too, but when the humidity is high, it's more like 100 heat index most of the time.

I'll find the internet cafe and upload some pictures later today. Have to go get some work done. We have a woman that is literally dying from the black mold. She won't leave her home of 40 years, and it is going to kill her. We were outside on her front porch, and we were all sick within 15 minutes. Just being outside her house made us ill, and she is living in there and sleeping there. She will die if she doesn't leave. We to go back and get sick again, but we can't leave her there without checking on her.


Oct 3rd, Monday

So we have all lost track of time now, and the good intentions of journal writing have gone out the window. We are so tired at the end of the day we can hardly think. It's usually a quick dinner, some wine and conversation, LOTS of laughter, and off to bed to get up early and start a new day.

We found a new area on our ERV called Gulf Hills. It is a very wealthy resort type area, million dollar houses, a private golf course. Now along the coast line, it is gone. While at a gas station taking a well deserved cola break, a man came up and said he was working on cleaning up his mother's house, and could we please go see the area where the people in the tree were found. We had no idea what he was talking about, but we will go wherever there is a need, so we jumped in and went exploring. That is how we came to find Gulf Hills.

The further we went into the area, the worse the devastation got. When we finally got to the end of the winding streets, there no longer were houses, only piles of lumber and household items. Then we saw what was once a house, now only a pile of rubble, with 4 crosses nailed to the entry way with the names on them of the people that perished in that house.

The house next door had a magnolia tree in the yard, with a ladder leaning on the tree. There was a sign below the ladder, and it was a thank you note to God. It was thanking God for making that tree, which saved a family's life. No people were around, but we stood and stared at that sign, knowing there must be a special story about that very spot, but we thought we would never know what it was. We stood there, and cried. It was so eerie, so quiet, and so moving to be there staring at that sign.

The next day we went back, drawn for some reason to that spot. Some workers were there cleaning up the debris, and a man came over to us. He was a small quiet spoken man, with a thick accent from a foreign country. He said he owned the house with the tree and the sign, and said if we could come back and bring him supper and a cold water later, he would tell us his story. Of course we made his house the first stop on our supper run.

His name is Matthew. His story will live in my heart forever.

Matthew and his wife lived in that very nice house with their 14 and 16 year old daughters. They wanted to evacuate since they had gulf front property, but the news on the TV said that all the roads were busy, and gas was hard to find, so they recommended people wait to evacuate till the last minute when everyone else was gone. They timed it so they would leave 3 hours before it hit land, and got up at 5am to leave. But Katrina came in early, and his truck was already half under water. They could not leave at that point. When the first floor of their house flooded and buckled with the water, they went upstairs. When that flooded, they went on the roof. Then the roof floated off the house. As it spun around, they hit a tree and climbed off into that tree. It was the same magnolia tree we saw the sign and ladder on. The roof floated away, and a large piece of plastic floated to them, they wrapped it around themselves and used electrical cords to tie themselves to the tree. Then a small tree tipped over against the tree they were in, and that little tree saved their lives by deflecting the waves and debris around them, sparing them from taking the full brunt force of the surge. He said the wave came in, and it cleared the trees over yonder. Those trees are 40' high, and he said the surge was much higher than that. He lost his shoes, and his feet were bleeding from the rough bark of the tree. One branch was hitting them in the head with each wave, so he stood and held that branch up off his family. He stood like that for 11 hours. During this time, he knew the 4 people in the house next door were still in the house, and he knew if he left that tree, he would probably lose his life, and possibly the life of his family. When their house collapsed on them and , he felt helpless and is still haunted by his decision, but his family had to come first.

He said that they did a lot of praying in that tree, and they knew all would be ok when the water receded and he could see the nameplate on the top of their mailbox come up out of the water. They had to get a ladder to get them out of the tree. But they are all alive and doing well.

Matthew was crying by the end of his story, and so were all of us. All we could do is stand there and hug this miraculous man and tell him how privileged we were to be able to hear his story. He said God gave him all the tools he needed to survive. The tree, the plastic, the little tree to deflect the debris, and his faith and family for strength. He went on to tell us to live each day as if it were our last, to never let anyone tell us we weren't good people or make us feel bad, and to remember that the USA is the greatest country on earth. And if we were ever feeling down, just remember him and his story, and realize that even when things are bad, there is always something good to come out of it.

We went and found some beanie babies in the ERV for his daughters. And we found one that was a praying bear. We gave it to him and told him that it reminded us of how important it is to keep faith. His tears started rolling down his cheeks again and he said he will keep it forever. I have no doubt that he will. We will never forget him, and I know he will never forget us. Just 4 Red Cross volunteers trying to make someones life easier for a few moments, and in those few moments, he changed our lives and touched our hearts in a way we will never forget.

This is the most unbelievable experience