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

Sept 26th, Monday

Hard to wake up this morning. Headed to the Research Lab. Over 100 meals served there alone. So many people, all of them so grateful for a hot meal. Our new neighborhood is so happy to see us. Such beautiful houses in this development. Now just cement foundations, nothing but piles of rubble. So much stuff in the yards. All their possessions, all thrown in the yard and streets. Such empty faces staring blankly at us, all looking for help. Where do they start to put their lives back to normal. I do not know the answer. All I can do is give a hot meal, cold drink, and a smile and a hug.

FEMA told them they would not clean up anything in their yards. Now they are pushing all the rubble into the street. They all have hope of rebuilding, but I think most are now condemned and will be razed soon.

We brought a Lot of smiles today. They love to hear us on the loudspeaker announcing our arrival. We sing to them. We almost died laughing when Carolina called us the "American Express" today on the loudspeaker.

Once again we are so tired at the end of the day we could hardly move. We threw a birthday party for a 9 year old who's mother and her lost their home and they are living in our hotel. We had the pleasure of a gentleman nicknamed the "Violet cowboy" playing guitar and singing for us. He was wonderful. He and his daughter and grandson are also homeless and staying at our hotel. This family is from New Orleans, St Bernard's Parrish. He sits in his room all day, so sad. His mother was in a nursing home in New Orleans. He put on a life jacket and waded through the water to try to get to her. The police would not let him in the area, it was already closed off. He begged and pleaded to no avail. He gave the life jacket to a police officer and asked him to please go find his mother and wrap it around her. To this day he doesn't know if she is dead or alive. He can not find anyone who knows where she may be. This nursing home was all over the news because of all the elderly residents that were left behind and died. His mother was in that very nursing home.

Just an example of the incredibly sad stories we hear on our route every day. Such incredible people.


Sept 25, Sunday

Hit the ground running. Not even time to think, we loaded our ERV and hit the road early.

Today we found a new neighborhood we had never been to before. Our territory is huge, and every time we turn around we are faced with more and more devastation. This new area was hit full force by the storm surge. The bayou rose quickly. One resident said he had 9 feet of water IN his house with 5 foot waves on top of that. The street has huge boats in the front yard. The boats were originally in the bayou in the back, and they flew up over the house and landed in front!!

We met a couple on our journey named David and Anne Burke. They are a wonderful couple with hearts of gold. I stopped at her house to take a picture of her topiary out front and she invited me to her backyard to see her patchwork quilt garden. She took us into her house and showed us true southern hospitality. Then David asked us to go check on about 30 families that are displaced from their homes from the Research Laboratory where he retired from (he is a scientist). We will go there tomorrow.

We were so tired tonight we could hardly keep our eyes open, but we got in our pj's and walked to the pool to visit with our friends. Our roommate is causing us a lot of problems, we we will be moving to another hotel room soon.


Sept 24th, Saturday

Our first day off, but we didn't sit down for a minute, we hit the ground running and didn't stop all day!

We picked up Genevieve, Lucille & Nelvin, Gail & Tiffany, and took them to our regular route. They were awestruck at the devastation on the gulf shoreline.

While we were down by the water, a couple came up and asked us to follow them home. Their names are Mike and Michelle, and their story is amazing. They took us into their house and showed us firsthand how their lives were ripped apart.

They had a beautiful house, which is now gutted and filled with slimy water and debris. They drew a line on the wall where the water line was in the house, it is over 6 ft high. They said Camille never touched the house, so they weren't worried about Katrina. By the time they realized they were wrong, it was too late. They took their pets and had to swim to the neighbors house. They found their clock a block away. It had stopped at around 10:00. Mike said that is when the water level reached the clock on the wall and it floated away. Such an amazing couple. They have a wonderful attitude, and a positive outlook.

Just a few hundred yards from the front door is what appears to be a house sitting in the middle of the street. It is actually the 2nd story of a house. The first story collapsed and the top floor slid out into the street. There is a "for Sale or Rent" sign leaning on it. Just a small example of the resilient nature of these wonderful people down here. They get beat up by a hurricane and can still find a little humor to make them smile. Michelle said the one thing that makes her smile is hearing the airhorns on our ERV and the loudspeaker with a friendly voice saying "This is the American Red Cross with your hot meal and cold water... and remember, WE LOVE YOU!"

She did not realize that I was in the ERV, that is our rig, and our wonderful-crazy-loving driver Carolina is behind that voice on the loudspeaker!
After a few tears, and lots of hugs, we left that area, but we made 2 wonderful friends that will always be in our hearts.

We all had lunch and good conversation at a local Mexican restaurant, and took everyone back to the hotel, picked up Andy and went back around the route again.

We are definitely touching lives here, and they are touching ours. I miss everyone back home, but I'm going to be missing our new family here also, and it's only the first week!


Sept 23rd, Friday

We had a great time on our route today, but we had to start early and only delivered one meal today because of Rita coming in. We need to be back by 2:00 so we can be at our hotel with our ERV's for our safety. It is raining off and on and rather windy. Rita isn't being very nice, we have tornado warnings to the West of us, severe thunderstorm warnings to the East. The river near here is rising and smells like rotten sewage and rotting fish.

We won't be delivering meals tomorrow, they are making us take the day off. A lot of people have evacuated anyhow, Rita scared them off. We will be back on the road Sunday morning.

So after work we went to the hotel and watched a bit of TV. We had supper at Ruby Tuesdays and then picked up some wine coolers and went to the gazebo. Our hotel is connected with 2 other hotels, and there is a centrally located gazebo that some of us meet at every night and drink a few beverages and visit with everyone else. So many interesting people, so many interesting stories, and friendships that we will never forget.


Sept 22, Thurs

A typical day, get up at 6:30, Gather the people in our group at 7:15 and drive 10 minutes to the church kitchen. We eat a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage patties, biscuits and gravy, grits.. no lack of food here!! We then have a meeting at about 8:30, then we get in line and load our food, supplies, etc.. yesterday we had 150 meals for both lunch and dinner but we ran out of food. Today we had 300 meals for each run, and we ran out of food again. Our kitchen #6 region, 10,000+ meals each day! We serve such things as beef stew, pork BBQ's, chicken and it tastes awesome! They cook under huge outdoor awnings and it runs smoothly and efficiently most of the time.

We drive over 22 miles to our route. It takes about 40 minutes to get there. Today we brought supplies to a family with 2 infants. We brought a glucometer to a diabetic and taught her daughter how to help her check her sugar. I brought a portable nebulizer to an asthmatic. Our medical tent has so many supplies we can take out to the people who need them.

We did our morning run, fed so many we did not get a lunch break, we just loaded our ERV and took off for the supper run.

I kidnapped Teresa and took her with us, we are having so much fun!!
Some of the roads we had traveled that morning we could not travel that night because there were already underwater! We drove through 12" of water to get to the men on the shrimp boats at the marina. They won't be able to get out for food by morning. Everyone is so grateful for what we do.

Our day got done at 8:45 tonight, we were way past the time we should have been off the road, but our route is huge so we are usually late. We get back to the hotel exhausted, but feel so good, we are helping SO many people.

Tomorrow we will be serving only one meal, and we need to shut down and take shelter. Hurricane Rita is approaching. The "feeder bands" or "outer rings" are hitting us. The winds are very strong. The transformer on the church blew and power went out. The lines of traffic were so long of people trying to evacuate. We are shutting down the kitchen and will evacuate 30 miles north if needed.

Teresa and I volunteered to be sent to the front line in Texas if Rita hits there, we will find out tomorrow if we need to pack up and leave to be in place before she hits.

I love this job.. I would not hesitate to do this again if needed.. I've never been worked so hard and felt so good about it.


Sept 21, Wed

Day 2 started early so we could eat breakfast at the shelter. The southern Baptist Convention sure do cook well!!! We were assigned to our ERV's after we ate. I'm on 1101 with a funny, kind and wonderful pair of drivers! Carolina is from New Orleans, and David Sunshine (yes it's his real name and PERFECT for his personality) is from Conn.

Our route is Ocean Springs, MS and is some of the hardest hit areas in MS. No words can describe my feelings as I drove through the area. The power lines hanging over the road had clothes and bedding tangled and hanging down on them like a clothes line. Entire houses were missing. One house had the ground floor missing, but we saw the second floor, still intact, was a few lots away. The marina had boats a block or more away. entire yachts were up against houses. It is surreal.

So tired, need to go to bed 6:30am comes early!


September 20th, 2005

2:30 am and I was still wide awake and excited, unable to sleep. Teresa's husband and Dad picked us up and drove us to GR to the airport. We got there at 4:45 and left at 7:45. We had a connecting flight in Memphis and flew on to Biloxi. There were 9 of us from our chapter on the plane, and we made some friends from other Red Cross Chapters across America already.

There is no way to explain what we saw from the air as we circled Gulfport/Biloxi airport waiting to land. Homes destroyed, debris everywhere. Blue tarps covering rooftops as far as the eyes could see.

So many people around us on the plane were telling us their stories. So many people who's lives were impacted by this storm. Strangers kept coming up to us to shake our hand and thank us for coming to help them. The gratitude and sincerity was extremely touching.

The Red Cross sent us a shuttle to get to the main headquarters in Biloxi. Our first look at the destruction from the air was nothing compared to seeing it close up.
The main headquarters was hectic. But somehow we managed to get through the whole process and received our job assignments. Most of our group will be driving ERV's delivering food to Jackson County.

The sleeping arrangements at main HQ is a shelter. A huge awning with 600+ cots side by side. No sidewalls, no privacy, all - . Porta-potties and outdoor showers.
Our group received news that we were being shipped out to Pascagoula, to a Baptist Church. The church is the "kitchen" for our ERV's. They cook the food and gather the supplies we will be delivering every day. It is a huge church and the whole operation appears to be very well organized. They fed us a very nice dinner. Ravioli, meat patties and gravy, peas, peaches, and banana dessert. It was delicious.

Then were were off to our lodging. We are lucky enough to be in a Holiday Inn express hotel. The lobby has been gutted. They had 42" of water and had to remove eels from our hotel, and alligators from the building next door. The water is gone, but the damage is extensive. Our room is on the 3rd floor and we have fans and industrial de-humidifiers in our room to dry up the water damage. But we are SO fortunate we have beds, running hot water, flushing toilet and air conditioning!! I'm' sharing a room with Teresa and a woman from Muskegon named Sandra. Time for bed, we need to hit the ground running tomorrow on our new jobs. We may be literally running, hurricane Rita is heading our way, so we are keeping an eye on it in case we need to evacuate.


Quick Note from Greg

September 20, 2005 (Greg Nielsen)

I received word that both Teresa and Sue made it to Biloxi MS, and from there to the Red Cross headquarters where they picked up their deployment info. They will be driving around Pascagoula in an ERV (emergency rescue vehicle) unless Hurricane Rita veers north (or unless their services are needed in Texas).

Click below for a map of Pascagoula.
Map of Pascagoula, MS

From Teresa

Hello Everyone!

Sue did a great job informing you of what's happening so far. I would just like to say thank you to everyone at Oceana EMS for supporting us, & taking care of our shifts. I also want to thank my family & friends for making it possible for me to make this trip of a lifetime! Visit this site often for updates on our adventures!

Teresa Monroe

Hurricane Katrina (note: this blog is actually transferred from the one at

Teresa Monroe & Sue Nielsen, September 18, 2005

Our journey began as the first images of the devastation of Katrina hit the news. I had an overwhelming desire to do something to help those people effected. A few of my co-workers and I have been talking for some time now about joining the Red Cross and becoming instructors so we could come back and teach courses in our community. Now after seeing the destruction of Katrina, we began talking about how we could use our skills and training to help in the recovery efforts.

My good friends John and Dennis were going to be going down to the Red Cross with me and volunteer to help with whatever they needed, but unfortunately Dennis had to have emergency surgery and couldn’t join us. So John and I went down and volunteered to help in any way we could. They asked us to give our time and go South, which we agreed to without a second of hesitation. But circumstances for John changed, and he could no longer volunteer to commit to the 3 weeks necessary, and it appeared that I would be alone on my journey.. But then Teresa said she wanted to help and her family supported her decision, so here we are! We couldn’t be taking this much time off work without the help of our co-workers at OCEMS. They stepped up and filled in our shifts to make this possible for us. We are the 2 that are fortunate enough to have the freedom to put our lives on hold for 3 weeks and make this journey. We took unpaid leave of absence, but are blessed that when we get back we will have jobs, family, friends and a home to come back to. The people suffering from the wrath of Katrina are not so lucky.

On September 13, we attended a 2-hour orientation about the functions and roles of the Red Cross. Wed and Thurs we attended 12 hour classes that prepared us for the various job assignments we would be possibly doing, everything from filling out claim forms, feeding people in shelters, or driving an ERV (emergency response vehicle) and delivering food and healthcare to people in the outlying area. The ERV looks a lot like an ambulance from the outside, and of course we fell in love with that job! On Friday we had a 5 hour class to become certified in Red Cross CPR/First aid (not necessary for us, but we attended anyhow, never hurts to have a refresher course).

We were supposed to leave on Saturday, but due to paperwork complications down South, they delayed our departure until Tues so we would not be sitting at the main headquarters for 3 days waiting for our work assignments. So we spent our time making lists, it’s hard to pack for 21 days, especially when we do not know if we will have a way to wash our clothes during that time, so we have packed a lot! We both bought new boots, the threat of coming in contact with snakes is high, so we decided new leather boots would be a good investment!

So we are now packed, ready and waiting to deploy Tues morning. We only know we will be flying from Grand Rapids to Biloxi, MS. We do not know where we will be staying or what job we will be doing. They tell us to be prepared to live in a shelter with the evacuees; we will possibly not have any running water, no electricity, no phones or cell phones, and possibly a shortage of food. We are optimistic that these conditions will be better by the time we get down there, but they are preparing us for the worst.

My husband Greg is so supportive of me. He has given me his blessing, understanding that I have to go down there and do what I can to help. We have had classes and training that will help us along the way, and our hearts are telling us this is the right thing to do. Greg has set up this website, so family, friends, and those who support us can follow Teresa and I through this journey. We will be keeping a daily journal of our adventure, and hopefully, will find a way to get our story back home in a timely fashion so Greg can update the webpage. We may not have access to a computer or Internet; so I may have to resort to the old fashioned “letter and stamp” method of communications!

So our journey begins.. We will be leaving Tues morning at 7:45, and will do our best to represent the people of Oceana County, and bring the well wishes and prayers to those who need it.

See you all in about 21 days!!