Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Louisian Diary, Part II

October 10, 2005

8:05 a.m., Columbus Day, Staging Area---Dropped like a stone last night around 7:30 p.m. Somebody passing my cot said I looked like a dead woman. The shelter was in a church, set up for both volunteers and the displaced. The community room and meeting had been divided into 3 large sections: male, female, and co-ed. The women’s section had one tiny narrow window and was so dark I could hardly find my way around. I opted for the well-lit co-ed section, where there was food and a big-screen TV. Restrooms were very decent. Never did use the Hazmat shower, which everyone complained was too cold. Got a ride back to headquarters at 7:00 a.m. It’s now 8:15 and I’m still useless. I did get an official apron. I’m nervous about driving the box trucks—24 feet long. Maneuvering is an issue, and they’re diesel. Leave them running. Let them warm up a bit before turning them on. Told my assigner at Feeding I’d never driven anything that big. He didn’t seem concerned.
Now they’re saying lots of folks are needed again at Kenner. I get the feeling this may be a real horror show. More scary stories about it from others today.

NOLA 005

10:45 a.m.---En Route to Kenner by way of Belle Chasse with a vanful of partners. S. and J. are the other women. R., J., S., JM., and A are the 5 men. They’ve been together since Montgomery, staying in hotels for 3 days, and have bonded very closely. Now I’m with them.
Our driver is a Latino from the Midwest who worked for Wal-Mart, and who asked them to transfer him down here so he could volunteer to help. They did, and now he works all day for them, and on his days off and after work he drives the van and does other odd jobs for ARC. And this is the kind of guy they underpay and force onto the Medicaid rolls.
R. says we’re supposed to drive food to the folks in the field. Supposed to be primitive conditions. He says this with relish.

NOLA 048

1:30 p.m.---Drove past Kenner (Jefferson Parish) into New Orleans past the Superdome, on the very highway where they turned back the hurricane victims to keep them from “infecting” Gretna.

NOLA 050

Too much mess to describe right now.

NOLA 039

Came into Belle Chasse, stopped for lunch at Subway (one of the few places available to get food), arrived at the Best Western 10 blocks away from more “in-processing”. Waiting now for a ride back to Kenner. I’m getting to a point where I’m ready to give up trying to control anything---just send me somewhere and put me to work.

6:55 p.m., Susan Park Gymnasium---Kenner at last. This is the dream job. M., the shelter head-something, says it is the elite shelter. We will be doing ERV (Emergency Response Vehicle) work, delivering hot meals, water, and snacks to people, loading and unloading the trucks, and learning to drive them. They hope to be able to get into NOLA sometime, somehow, because currently the authorities refuse to let us cross into the parrish to deliver food.
Went through NOLA twice. Even though it’s bad here and everywhere we went, it’s nothing compared to the mess on the other side of the 17th St. levee, where we’ve been told the toxicity of the sludge combined with the rampant dead bodies of animals (and possibly still people) makes it dangerous to go near.
NOLA 057
The atmosphere in the shelter, which is only for volunteers, is amazingly collegial, moreso than any place I’ve been so far. We eat mostly snack foods because the daily meals are from what goes out in the ERVs. Not a lot of micromanaging here. Cold showers in the shower truck. Pretty laissez-faire with the maintenance. Supposed to be over 80 of us here, but so far the number showing up has been sparse. Co-ed like Our Lady. My cot is much higher than yesterday, and it’s easier to get out of bed. Did I mention it’s inside a gymnasium? So if we want to get up a baseball game in the field beside us, it’s no problem. But watch out for the fire ants.
I helped feed some folks today on a brief run with M. to let the newbies see how it’s done. Just handed out MREs and water, but it felt really good. Just like this assignment.

NOLA 061

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