Today I have been in Monroe, LA with our Microsoft Across America Technology Truck. I volunteered to help with Gustav relief. So yesterday I dropped everything and drove 5 hours over here to catch up with the truck.
Our Mission: We have laptops and Internet access. Our primary focus is the register people on the Red Cross Safe and Well website. This way people do a simple register with the Red Cross and family or anyone can to to the website and where their family has evacuated to and how are they doing. We have also been providing Internet access to all of the local police, Sheriff, Security firms, and National Guard to check their email and communicate with back home. Security people are from all over the country.
Word got out about registration. Many people came out to our truck, as the word spread, they thought we WERE the Red Cross or we were registering people for FEMA. It was hard to tell people we couldn't help them with that. They have to get home first before FEMA can help.
Our truck is deployed here at the Monroe Shelter. We started the day with about 1,400 evacuees here. That number goes up and down all the time. Families from other shelters further away are sent here first before returning home. So the number keeps going up. They all want to go home and haven't been given any information, they know nothing about their homes. They have no access to TV, Internet, Newspapers or any information.
Tonight, the people from New Iberia are suppose to go home. 200 people will get to go home to who knows what.
I have had some very sad and compassionate stories today. One guy today, I will call him Richard just broke my heart. He worked at a ship yard in Lockport, LA. as a steel welder. Lockport was Ground zero for this storm, about 30 miles southwest of New Orleans. His truck was recently stolen, so he was living in a motel close to the shipyard. He didn't have a way to evacuate. When the storm hit, his company fired him. The hotel is gone from what he has heard. So he has no where to return to, no job to return to. I asked him if had any family or friends around the country that could send him money or come get him. He said no. He wants to work. He has a skill, but no way to get out of here to go find work.
Another family was from New Orleans. They had been evacuated to Dallas. They thought they had a way home. They gave someone their luggage and thought the were going. Not enough room. They got on the bus to head home. They were taken here instead of home. I guess the parish they live in hasn't been opened yet for people to return. So they are here with only the clothes on their backs. They have no idea where their luggage is.
Just too many very sad stories. I know I will hear more tomorrow.
I had the impression that everyone here was from New Orleans. Boy was I wrong. We we registered them most were from Raceland, Belle Rose, Thibodaux, Morgan City, Franklin, Napoleonville, and Labadieville. Look on a map where these are. It's low country, Bayou country, fishing villages, Not the big city of New Orleans.
The volunteers are great around here. The conditions of this shelter are crazy. It is in an old State Farm office. One story very large building, that was never meant for people to live there. Very large rooms with cots everywhere. For restrooms, they have to use the 200 plus port a potties in the parking lot with us. To take showers they have to board a city bus. To do laundry they again ride a bus to the only laundry mat open in town. Yes 1400 people are trying to wash their clothes there.
Also they are running busses to Walmart. These people can come go as they want they aren't being held here, they just don't have any way to get anywhere or go home.
How has this changed me? Sometimes we get caught up in our own world. Our daily issues with work and family. We all THINK we have issues or might have a hard life. Somehow my daily troubles just don't seem that big after today. I tried to think about what if I was here. I would work so hard to get out of here. These people must really want to go home. They have no idea what they will find when they get home. Rumors and emotions run this place. Rumors all day that IKE was headed to New Orleans, I pulled up the National Hurricane site and showed them, we just don't know yet, it's too early, no one really knows where it is going yet.
My Friend Rob Westover use to always say "We live great lives" After today I am changing that to "We live absolutely incredible blessed lives"
I maybe tired from a long drive or short night. But I stayed in a nice new hotel. These families have been sleeping in very large rooms with no privacy on cots for a week now. Some have no idea when they will get home. Security is very important, but having National Guard walking around with M16's just puts anyone on edge.
I have taken pictures from my phone. I will post once I can get a decent network connection.