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Hurricane Katrina - Av and I Go to the Coast Bringing Supplies

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Av and I had to go to the coast, so we brought a van-load of supplies.
Hurricane Katrina - Av Packing the Van at 5:30am
Av packing the last things in the van
Hurricane Katrina - Supplies We Brought
Inside the van

We went to Sam's and bought 22 cases of water, a bunch of diapers, baby wipes, food, baby formula, Parmalat (which I wasn't familiar with, but it's milk that's safe to not be kept refrigerated), and toilet paper. We went to Wal-Mart and bought packs of underwear also (I figured that if people had been without power for a while, they might need fresh underwear). We bought a bunch more things, but that's what's coming to mind right now.

Hurricane Katrina - Soaps, Shampoos, Lotion for People in Shelters
Soaps, shampoos, lotion from hotel stays

In front with me is a bag full of individual-size soaps, shampoos, conditioners, and lotions from hotel stays. I always keep these because I save them up and give them to a local homeless shelter. I figured this would be good for the people in shelters along the coast.

Hurricane Katrina - $69.30 in Gas for Van and Gas Cans
After filling up the van and gas cans, $69.30
Hurricane Katrina - Av Fills Gas Cans for Trip to Coast
5-gallon gas cans

Gas is in shortage right now, in Alabama south of Montgomery and in Mississippi from Jackson south. We filled up the van and also brought four 5-gallon gas cans in case we needed them or needed to give somebody else that was stranded some (it ended up that we did need to use one of the five gallon cans). The total came to $69.30! When I went into a gas station just south of Birmingham, I overheard the station manager telling a truckdriver that things were really day-to-day in terms of supply, and that he had already called the local ambulance companies to let them know that when he got to a certain amount left, he was going to turn everything off and they could get the last of it.

The first thing we did was drive to Mobile. In Mobile, we checked on the people and places we needed to. Really, Mobile didn't look super-bad. On Government Street, which is the street downtown that all the beautiful oaks line and form a sort of canopy over the street, there were tons of limbs down but I didn't see any of the big oaks down. There was still a lot of power outages and trees and huge limbs down, but I didn't see anything "blown away". Part of downtown had flooded, but that had all gone down.

Below are a couple of pics of Mobile. Things are supposed to be *much* worse in Bayou La Batre and on the Eastern Shore (places like Fairhope, etc). Again, all the pics from this trip - well over a hundred - will be on Flickr, so click here to see them.

Hurricane Katrina - Dew Drop Inn Sign in Mobile Hanging On
Mobile : Dew Drop Inn Sign
Hurricane Katrina - Flag at Regions Bank in Mobile at Half-Staff
Mobile Regions Bank : Flag At Half-Mast

We drove over to Biloxi. I really expected that we would be stopped by someone and that Av would have to show his credentials so that we could get in, but it was no problem hopping off I-10 to Hwy 90 right where the Beau Rivage is situated.

The pictures on television really do not do justice to what has happened here. So much of Biloxi and Gulfport now is a giant mess and much of it just....lumber. I really don't want to do a running commentary of what we saw because it *is* absolutely gut-wrenching, but I will be putting the pics up on Flickr (click here) so that those of you who are familiar with Biloxi/Gulfport can see what condition everything is in. I'm putting just four of the pictures below:

Hurricane Katrina - Biloxi
In Biloxi

Lighthouse still standing, with flag
Hurricane Katrina - Biloxi Lighthouse, Flag

The first floor of this house was mostly washed out
Hurricane Katrina - Biloxi

Mattress Impaled by Tree Limb
Hurricane Katrina - Biloxi - Mattress Impaled By Tree Limb

Av and I drove as far down US90 as we could, which is to where the President's Casino is in the middle of the road (literally). Blocking the rest of the highway was...the Arkansas Wildlife agency! Okay, so we dropped by their command post there at the MS Coast Coliseum and asked them what shelter to take our supplies to. They said (1.) do NOT go by yourself to a shelter. People will kill you trying to get at everything and (2.) there is a church on Pass Road that you can go to and everything will be orderly.

Soooo, we went to the church on Pass Road - a Baptist church - and they were *so* appreciative of everything. We gave them about half of everything we had (since we heard things were getting really tough in Hattiesburg and Laurel and we intended to go there with the other half). Some other people had brought by supplies to the church too, and they have specific times when people who need help can come by and get things.

(One note here: I know that the Red Cross says not to bring supplies, to just write them a check and they will do the rest. As we found with other hurricanes, this really doesn't work so well if you are already in the area and are able to help, because the Red Cross can't get to everybody and well, neither does the government. If you live in Seattle and want to help hurricane victims, then yes - write a check. But if you live in a neighboring state or are far enough away so that you have the means to bring help to people, that's really a good thing. People suffer if not. I know the Red Cross would hate to hear someone say that, but that's been my experience. Neighbors get there, and know the area, best.)

They were especially happy at the church to see that we brought diapers and milk and toilet paper, because they had been rationing diapers to four/baby and toilet paper to one roll/family. This whole thing was really heartbreaking. I asked them who had been by to help and was told it was only people like me and Av that had brought things down. They had not seen the National Guard or FEMA or the Red Cross or **anyone**. This church is on Pass Road! Pass Road is a major road in that area....not hidden out in the sticks. Sad and infuriating. I mean, parts of highway 90 along the beach were very rough (I'm not incredibly sure we could have made it in my Volvo loaded down with supplies) but certainly passable for people in vans and SUVs. So the hurricane happened on Monday, and here on Friday, in Gulfport, Mississippi - which G-d and everybody knows has been devastated - there has been no government assistance in a lot of places.

I am not a political person, by any means. I don't give money to moveon.org and I don't have a W sticker on my car. I don't especially like to watch television news because so much of it is sadness. But to know that four days after a catastrophic event our government has not:

  • gotten every single person out of the Superdome, Convention Center, and the streets, rooftops and attics of New Orleans
  • brought aid of every type - medicine, food, shelter, counseling, fuel, money - to the people in the afflicted areas
...tells me that the government really doesn't have a clue. That noone has done their homework in the wake of 9/11, and that there's no real plan as to how to get people out of a city or to bring help for thousands of people in. That we *can* set up tent cities overnight in places overseas and drop MRIs out of planes to people in deserts, but our government *cannot* mobilize the Guard and whooever else, that it can't clear the rails for Amtrak to get as close to New Orleans as possible to take people out of the city, that it can't or won't get sufficient number of buses to move people out, that we don't have resources set up to get food and medicine to places in our own country like New Orleans and Biloxi/Gulfport/Bay St. Louis even four days after something like this happens. I heard Jesse Jackson on television suggesting racism in New Orelans, but it seems to me to be just incredible ineptitude by those in the government - that no matter what color the victims are the government just can't handle the situation. We ought to have every available resource pointed right at Louisiana/Mississippi/Alabama right now. And it should have started several days ago. I'm sorry if I sound like I'm on a rant, but I saw this on the coast first-hand. It is heartbreaking, sickening, and maddening.

One more thing. Av and I stopped in Ellisville, Mississippi with the rest of our supplies, because we had heard after Hurricane Ivan that smaller, less-known communities hurt more because aid wasn't directed at them at all. Ellisville is off the coast, but they still don't have power or fuel and things are very bad. We went to the police department to ask them if the people there needed supplies, and where we could take them if so. While we were there in front of the police department, someone pulled up to say that another person had threatened to shoot people if he didn't get his cigarettes. The police chief told us a bunch of horrifying stories about people being desperate - over much more, and much less - than just cigarettes. He also said that we couldn't go alone (again, there would be violence), so he and some other police escorted us to a school where people were waiting.

While we pulled up to the school, he told the people there on his speaker to get in a line to receive supplies. No sooner had we turned off the engine now that we were in an adjacent parking lot, but there were more than a dozen cars already in line. We gave them everything we had. They were *so* appreciative. It was like being in a dream where a hundred things are going on but you just stand there watching, not knowing what to say. All I could make out was "G-d bless y'all". Unbelievable. The police chief said to everybody in line, "I want y'all to know this isn't the government, this isn't from FEMA. These people drove here from Alabama." Nobody from the government or the Red Cross had been there. We left and I rolled down the window and said, "do y'all need us to be here again tomorrow?" and he said that absolutely, they do.

Getting some sleep, then off to Sam's for more supplies.

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