Thursday, October 20, 2005

Louisiana: Week Two

For some reason, the 2nd week is a lot more blurry than the 1st or 3rd. I think Killer Fatigue may have set in such that all I did was get up, work and go to sleep. I didn't really go out at night and didn't write in my journal (bad girl) beyond lists of keywords so I could try to fill in the blanks later. If my bunkmates were lucky I showered. That is actually something that sticks out from Week Two: the showers.

Back at Spirit you had two choices:
  1. The hazmat decontamination tents, which felt a bit like a human version of the car wash, with spray nozzles coming at you from all sides.
  2. Showers in the back of semi-truck trailer.

In both cases, Red Cross volunteers were in charge of cleaning them, which may not have happened all that often given the other work we were doing.

But at the First Baptist Church in Covington, the Southern Baptist Convention brought showers with them that they staffed for their own use and ours. They provided soap and shampoo, clean towels and washcloths, and THEY CLEANED THE SHOWERS DAILY! That was pretty sweet. Thanks Southern Baptist Convention!

I think the other reason Week Two is a blur is because that is the week my ERV went into Slidell. We'd leave Covington between 10 and 11 AM with 600-1000 meals and not come back until 8-9 PM (that is not including an hour on each end to load and unload/clean the ERV). To give you an idea of the condition Slidell was in after Katrina, our staff EMT (Hi Joy!) once said driving into Slidell, "Welcome to Hell." Unlike the areas I'd serviced my first week, Slidell had taken the full force of both wind and water, being right on Lake Pontchetrain. We couldn't even find people to feed on part of our assigned route because there was literally nothing left standing. The people we did feed were those who couldn't yet live in their home, but came during the day to completely gut the inside. Everything: furniture, clothes, carpeting, drywall, refridgerators, stoves...literally everything was put out on the curb. Some of the fridges still had magnets holding up kids' drawings on them. And those were just large items I could make out from the ERV window. That doesn't include all the "little things" like photos and keepsakes that were destroyed in the high floodwaters.

Most people seemed to be in surprising high spirits. I think that is a combination of the fact that four weeks had passed since Katrina so some of the initial shock had passed, if that is possible. Also, it is one of those situations where if you don't find things to laugh about, you'll cry. I heard over and over again, "It is just stuff. We are blessed because we are all safe and alive." I'd like to thing I could have the same positive outlook. But there were those people that came up to the window that appeared to be in shock. I often asked people where they slept at night. Most were with family and friends, but I met one guy who was sleeping in his wet, dark house with no lights or air conditioning. He put packs of ice over his body when he slept at night. And the eldery woman who told me "this is no way to lose weight." She'd lost 25 pds in 4 weeks cleaning out her house.

I didn't realize exactly how cushy my ERV routes had been the first week until Slidell. Navigating around downed power lines and flooded roads (I wasn't driving, but was sympathetic to Doreen- certified ERV driver and partner in crime). We got a flat tire in Slidell one day and I really needed a bathroom. Well, every place was closed (and even if it had been open, many people put their toilets out on the curb with everything else). We blew the tire near a church, so I tried there: No lights and full of mud. I finally noticed that a construction crew repairing a washed out bridge had a porta potty. I was afraid to just walk out onto the bridge (something about the "Danger: Do not Cross" sign) so I yelled from 25 yards away, "Hey guys, can I use your john?".

Another time we drove around for 20 minutes looking for anyplace to go to the bathroom when we remembered there was another kitchen and staff shelter right in Slidell. Well, we walked into that church and it too had been flooded. Everything from the floor to four feet up was gutted- no flooring, pipes exposed. We found the ladies restroom and there sat three bowls. There was no tile on the floor, no drywall, and no stalls. Just garbage bags duct taped together as dividers and no doors. We didn't complain- we were just glad to have a bathroom (and that it wasn't our staff shelter). There were Red Crossers staying there! Besides, I couldn't complain about harsh conditions when A) that is what I signed up for and B) there are survivors living that reality everyday- I only had to do it during daylight for a week.

I think at that point there were still 3 kitchens and 20 some ERVs serving in Covington/Mandeville/Slidell area. But some of these areas were getting back to normal. Covington was pretty much open for business, although often at reduced hours because a lot of the staff were still evacuated. They had power and water. So those ERV routes were shut down once we knew people were going to be okay without us. This resulted in access ERVs in the area. So when word came down that Baton Rouge HQ was requesting ERVs and ERV crews for places hit by Rita, we volunteered to be reassigned.

Which brings me to Week 3. To be Continued

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