A Katrina Shelter \"Fort Apache\"

A Katrina Shelter\r\n\"Fort Apache\"\r\nBy,\r\nBill Sullivan\r\n\r\n\r\nIn the first days after Hurricane Katrina, people with varying levels of authority all along the Gulf Coast had to make many decisions. Often they had to make them quickly, alone, and without experience to guide them. They didn\'t do a very good job in making those decisions is my opinion. Let\'s hope these people have learned one thing from Hurricane Katrina; sometimes you need to break the rules, cut the red tape and take matters into your own hands and just get the job done. \r\n\r\nSeptember 20 2005, I returned home from a 21 day Hurricane Katrina disaster relief operation deployment with the American Red Cross. I was the shelter manager at the Citronelle United Methodist Church, located 32 miles north of Mobile, Alabama near the Mississippi border and I learned that the Humanity of Americans remains strong in some even in the midst of anger and confusion through out the United States.\r\nI arrived at Mobile airport Wednesday August 31 and was on the second plane to land since the reopening of Mobile airport. I was one of four volunteers from the chapter to be deployed and it was only two days after Hurricane Katrina ripped the gulf coast to shreds.\r\n The drive over to the chapter took about an hour and in my opinion Mobile didn\'t look like it took a lot of damage, besides a lot of trees down and no power, I had a bad feeling on entering the parking lot of the Mobile Red Cross headquarters as I seen volunteers and ERV\'s standing around doing nothing. I also wasn\'t too impressed with the security they had set-up, as they had a rent a cop with a baseball bat guarding the property and what little supplies they had. \r\nI entered the Chapter and witnessed chaos and quickly realized that we were in trouble. I signed up for a shelter assailment since I didn\'t bring the ERV (emergency response vehicle) from Sarasota. While I was waiting for my assignment, I helped load some trucks with supplies for a couple of hours. I got even more bummed out when I witnessed clients pulling up and asking for water and the regular Mobile chapter volunteers told the clients no they couldn\'t have none and need to find a Salvation Army Canteen truck, I confronted the volunteers on not giving the clients water and they said it was going some where else and they can\'t give it away. I bit my tongue not wanting to get the boot on my first day on the job and went to bed that night in a cot upstairs at Red Cross Headquarters in Mobile with no air conditioning, no shower and listening to another volunteer\'s hearing aid buzzing all night long and thinking to myself; did I make a mistake coming here? For some reason I wasn\'t feeling that good, nothing like the adrenaline rush and the natural high that I felt after Hurricane Charley bulldozed through Florida last year. \r\nI made it threw the night and took a sink bath and headed downstairs and entered the common room to get some breakfast and was quickly approached by Jose who was in charge of Mass Care. She informed me that I was going to a shelter to replace the shelter manager who had near riots the night before with the residents. I was briefed that the clients staying there had been hit hard by Katrina and that racial tensions were very high at the shelter. I Started to gear up, and the adrenaline was starting to flow as I was preparing to go into what the Red Cross headquarters was telling me is \"a harsh situation.\" It will be uncomfortable, hot, tiring, dirty, unsanitary and very emotional. \r\nTurned out that another volunteer remembered me from a shelter that I lived at for a week during the Hurricane Charley relief operation in Arcadia, Florida and she told Jose that I was the person to handle the shelter. \r\nI was put in charge of maintaining the American Red Cross shelter in Citronelle, Alabama nicknamed \"Fort Apache\" after the Bronx, New York movie. The nick name came from other Red Cross volunteers that heard about the near riots at the shelter and the reputation spread through out the relief operation. \r\nI was responsible for the lives of 160 clients and staff members. Many of the 160 clients lost family members, homes, jobs and even their will to live. Many of my clients needed medical attention and medicine. Clients old and young, black and white, and hailing from New Orleans, Waveland, Gulfport and Biloxi, Miss., were housed at my Red Cross shelter. We had 12 clients from the Salvation Army\'s homeless shelter staying with us and I had runaways, thieves, freeloaders and even a sexual predator at one point. This defiantly was not a Sarasota, Florida retirement shelter for sure. These residents were city slickers and my shelter was filled with tough residents! \r\nOn my arrival to the shelter the first thing I did was put some snacks and water on the table for the clients to eat and drink. To show them that I will not hoard on them and that we will share everything we have. Then I met with the staff that was put in charge the night before and excused the manager and 3 of the other 4 staff members. I told them to report back to Mobile and asked Tito from the Bronx to stay as he seemed to be a team player; it had nothing to do with the Fort Apache nickname of the shelter. Mobile did give me another staff member and her name was Deanna from Orlando. We managed to get the registration forms filled out and get a meal schedule formed with the help of Reverend Christ and the other area church groups. \r\nThe next morning Tito who did the night shift asked to return to Mobile because some of the clients were threatening him through out the night, so I let him go. Jose sent me two new staff members that afternoon and they included a great kitchen supervisor and a mental health volunteer. We had four staff members total at this time to serve 160 clients. \r\n I started to call headquarters to try and get some supplies for my clients and I was finding out that it wasn\'t going to be easy. I kept putting in requests and I kept hearing the same answer \"no\" all I had was heater meals, Bud water, a few snacks and my Red Cross first aid fanny pack. I was getting very concerned about the situation and I new that I would have to do something soon but I didn\'t want to loose my job for cutting the red tape and breaking procedures of the Red Cross and I wasn\'t even on my home turf in Florida. I called Cheryl and my father for some guidance and I decided quickly that if breaking some rules means loosing my job; then be it! No one was going to die in my house and plus; my real family was backing me 100%\r\nThis relief operation is really requiring me to think outside the box, All I no is the organization is mobilizing the largest relief effort in its 124-year history to aid the victims of the Gulf Coast\'s Hurricane Katrina. Given the unprecedented scope of Hurricane Katrina, I realize that the Red Cross is reaching beyond its reservoir of supplies but in the mean time people are dieing out there and clients at my shelter were getting desperate. I try not to watch too much news but you would have to live on the moon to not have heard about all the looting, raping, killing going on out there. On top of worrying about all that I had to listen to many horrible Katrina stories about death and destruction from the clients staying in the shelter. \r\nReality was hitting and I new that I was on my own and I had to get into survival mode if we were going to make it. Jose did send me 2 more rookie staff that kept telling me that they wanted to be in Gulf Port, where the so called action is. So I sent them back to Mobile for reassignment because I did not have time to deal with them and they didn\'t fit into the team chemistry. They were just here for the show.\r\nThe Red Cross usually doesn\'t take rookies, many of these volunteers think they will have to slog through waist-high water and fend off water moccasins and gators, they don\'t realize it\'s mostly dealing with people\'s issues as they settle in, and when you have hundreds of people under the same roof, and you\'re going to have issues. Many volunteers could not deal with this and had to be sent home all over the Katrina battle field. I saw that happen during the 2004 Florida hurricane season, some people just can\'t handle it. \r\nThe clients just keep coming to the shelter and we are doing are best to make them as comfortable as possible. Supplies are dwindling down to nothing and we have no showers. These people are going to lynch me if I don\'t get some help. They put this shelter in the sticks and the recourses are limited, I don\'t have a clue were I am either and I don\'t think the Red Cross knows were I am either. \r\nI had my first major issue to deal with on Friday September 2 when a mother of a teenage volunteer girl 14 years old from the community called me. One of my clients apparently asked the young lady to lift her top over her breast and then he showed her how to do it by demonstrating on his self. I called 911 since I still had no security and asked the police officers to escort the predator of the property. \r\nThe mother and daughter thanked me and continued to help us out just about everyday that the shelter was open. \r\nI really enjoy the challenge of bringing order out of the chaos. It\'s a very tangible feeling of accomplishment. But this was craziness! I also considered myself a hurricane veteran, working with the American Red Cross in Florida for 8 weeks, 15 hours a day last year (2004) a state clobbered by four tempests in a row but what I was seeing and hearing that first day in the shelter; I new that Katrina was in a league of her own.\r\nIn addition to basics such as food and clothing, we needed medicine like insulin, tetanus and syringes. Clients were running out of their meds, I had clients that were down to their last syringe and insulin doses. I also pleaded for a nurse, actually I asked for two RN\'s as I had clients with a lot of cuts and infections on their feet, legs and hands and was promised they were on the way. I didn\'t even have a shelter manager\'s kit (paperwork) or a shelter nurse\'s kit (medicine) on the grounds. Mobile Red Cross was unprepared for a disaster and surely not on the level of Katrina. I was disappointed in my teammates in Mobile and the rest of the Gulf Coast as they were not ready for game day. \r\nI made some phone calls to my friends back in Buffalo, N.Y., Sarasota and Arcadia Florida a town that got hammered by Hurricane Charley in 2004 and a town that still was recovering them selves and pleaded for relief. I also called upon some of my other Hurricane Charley contacts including a trucker from North Carolina who helped out big time. I kept all their contact info and brought it in my \"To Go Box\", thank god I saved that stuff all this time. \r\n The mass care experience I received from Hurricane Charley and the fact that I grew up living on the Streets of Buffalo, N.Y. or in detention centers has taught me how to survive under the harshest of conditions. \r\nI also plead for help from the churches, EOC, FEMA and the community. I called the local media, a weekly newspaper and did an interview with them. I begged and begged until I had no voice left to beg with. \r\nPeople wanted to help but didn\'t know how with all the bad communication spreading around as usual and word on the street was FEMA was pulling over supply trucks and confiscating their stuff.\r\nOn Saturday the supplies started pouring in to the shelter from the church groups and my friends from DeSoto County Florida, they brought medical supplies including insulin, tetanus and syringes and other life saving supplies.\r\n I had to have them escorted into town by State police so FEMA didn\'t confiscate their trucks and supplies. One of my volunteers in Arcadia hooked them up with some Red Cross ID\'s and t-shirts.\r\nI remember this older couple from Waveland who lost everything in the hurricane and the husband said his wife needed insulin and she also was severely depressed.\r\n After the supplies had arrived the husband said to Carl, the Red Cross mental health worker, if it wasn\'t for you guys, I\'m sure my wife would have died. \r\nI had control of the shelter and most of the Town by Saturday night and I divided the shelter into two sections including a general population area that housed 99 clients and a special needs section that included clients on oxygen machines, sleeps disorder machines, elderly and handicapped, we had about forty clients in this section. I even had a couple of lucky dogs tied up outside (pet friendly shelter) \r\nThis is something that doesn\'t happen very often in a host shelter. Some of the clients should have been in a special needs shelter or in a hospital and allowing pets to live on the property doesn\'t happen to much either. \r\nI was not going to turn anyone away and that included residents from the community that would come and break bread with us every day.\r\nThe only necessity left was showers; I had no showers and a lot of smelly clients and staff. I called the High School down the street and met with the football Head Coach (Eddy) and at the end of my begging he gave me the keys to the football team\'s locker room which had 6 open style showers and some washer and dryers to boot. It took the clients a couple days to get used to showering together and some clients continued just using the sink at the shelter instead of the open showers, I even had clients using the garden hose to clean up. \r\nSunday morning September 4th the residents of the shelter reported that their cars have been keyed over night. The local police dept. was supposed to be guarding us that night and never showed up, is what I was told by the local Emergency Operations director of Citronelle. The pastor and some other local church people informed me that some of the locals thought we were sheltering looters from New Orleans and I also was told that I was in Klu Klux Klan country and the rebel flag flew high in that part of Alabama. This town is like one of those sleepy old southern towns I read about in grade school. I have to admit I was scared and my family was scared; my father told me to \"get the hell out of there\" I considered bailing like many of the other first responders did those first few days but I new I could never live with that hanging over my head. I just focused on my new family\'s safety and well being and dealt with it. \r\nI took the security shift that Sunday night, I remember sitting up for hours trying to catch up on my daily journal and drinking a lot of coffee and smoking like a chimney. The clients kept waking up through out the night with babies crying, clients going to the rest room and having smoke breaks but no major problems until the cops showed up with a drug sniffing dog and said he was going to search the shelter.\r\n\r\nI really didn\'t have much of a choice in the matter and I sat back in disbelief as he entered the shelter. The police were racist and I felt threatened by them when ever they showed up and especially this night. They completed their search with no arrests and hung out for a couple of hours with me. This was the chief of police but he acted like the leader of the KKK with some of his remarks. The clients were not very happy about the search and some of the kids were really scared of the dog. The pastor wasn\'t happy about the search either has he called the EOC Director over to the shelter and he promised us security and his support that never materialized on a full time basis, only if I had a 911 emergency would they come out and it usually took them an hour to show up. \r\nMonday September 5, 2005 began with a call to FEMA at 7am that morning with all clients lined up to talk to them with out hanging up in between interviews. I got the FEMA phone number of the news that night; it was fun trying to get everyone up that early to talk to FEMA. \r\nBy mid morning we were running a collection center for supplies and food. We had blankets, pillows, comfort kit items, diapers, formula and tons of clothes. I made a couple of calls and made some contacts down in hard it Biloxi with the Chief of Police and a logistics person from Red Cross. I had semi trucks from North Carolina and church groups from Sarasota and Citronelle going down there that afternoon to help them out with supply drop offs. Eventually the semi trucks started dealing with my Biloxi contacts direct. \r\nThe clients even started helping with loading and unloading supplies that afternoon and that\'s when I remembered my Red Cross shelter training that I need to give the clients responsibility in the shelter to help run it and to help them focus on something else besides the disaster. I started signing up everyone as a LDV (local disaster volunteer) and even recruited a local nurse (Casey) and quickly signed her up and rushed her paperwork into headquarters for processing. She would come in and check on us from time to time. I had a handicapped client helping with paper work and another in charge of cleaning and even had a logistic man handling ice pickups for the shelter. \r\nThe local mortician decided to have a Labor Day cook out for us at the shelter, he brought over his large barbecue grill along with burgers, hot-dogs, chicken and volunteers to help him cook it all. We had a nice Labor Day. The mortician told me that the body count is going to be around 10,000 dead when the total count is complete. He said he was requested to help with the body recovery and is taking 500 body bags with him. \r\nMany residents were having difficulty with no cigarettes and the other everyday items that we normally take for granite. I cannot believe I did this, but I did go out and buy cigarettes for them with my own money, this was not a time to try and change behaviors. The Red Cross gave me $800.00 for my needs on the 3 week deployment. I spent all that money on my clients for different emergency things as I was sleeping and eating at the shelter. Some volunteers are staying in real nice hotels and eating in restaurants is what I hear but I wasn\'t there on vacation so I was fine. I bought a lot of first aid items for the clients.\r\nBy the days end we had two freezer\'s set up, a grill, tents and chairs, basketball hoop, children\'s toys and games, a computer from Wal-Mart that they donated to the Red Cross that I donated to the church. We even had 2 Satellite TV\'s in two separate buildings and just about everything we needed. We did the shower routine at 5pm; it was only about a block away. We looked like a chain gain walking down the street. Girls went first followed by the boys. Reverend Christ brought out the movie entertainment center and played \"Return of the Titans\" for us that night. The Reverend was on his own mission by the looks of the movie selection.\r\n I had a great day and really felt like we made a difference, however I just realized that I still have no full time nurses and I still have no security. I will have to stay up again to watch over my clients they are my responsibility I kept telling myself. I grabbed my journal and started writing and was interrupted at 1pm with clients yelling at each other over a baby crying. \r\nThen around 2:30am I was startled by flashing lights heading up the driveway, it appears that two young teen age African American boys decided to sneak out on me to find a place to grab a bite to eat at 2am in the morning and were escorted back by Citronelle\'s finest. When we woke one of the boys mother up to report the situation, she snapped and beat the hell out of the 6 foot 300 pound seventeen year old. I just watched in amazement and remained quite as it was a family matter and I didn\'t want to get my ass whipped by momma. There also was a curfew in effect and they were lucky they weren\'t shot or put in jail, especially in Citronelle. \r\nYou have a lot of things go through you mind when you have to stay up 48 hours straight, like a lot of confusion, and disorientation. I definitely was feeling a little paranoid but most of the time I was trying to determine if what I was seeing and listening to is really happening and how could this happen in the United States of American and how could we let 911 happen, are we as safe in this country as we believe, because I don\'t feel very safe right know. I felt like I was tripping on A-Bomb.\r\n Well its 5am and the breakfast crew is heading into the kitchen to start cooking, I think it\'s the Baptist. My kitchen supervisor (Bo) is a godsend and I don\'t have to worry at all about the meals or who will be cooking the meals, he has a schedule made for the rest of the week. We have different local church volunteers come in and cook the breakfast, lunch and dinner for us every day and man can they cook.\r\nI have been calling Red Cross and FEMA trying to get some security out here but they say no one is available to help me. This shelter is like a time bomb waiting to explode. The clients are very racial and tensions are high.\r\nPeople and even the media often asked me why I refer to the residents staying at my shelter as clients all the time. I remember telling the reporter from Citronelle a story that was told to me by one of the clients named Richard who sleeps in my shelter, he said it\'s safe to call me homeless, \"Because my house is under water\".\r\n\r\nWhat he doesn\'t want you to call him, or the many other New Orleans and Mississippi residents staying in my shelter, is this word: refugee.\r\n\"The image of refugee I have in my mind is people in a Third World country, the babies in Africa that have all the flies and are starving to death,\" Richard says, while sitting outside the Methodist Church/shelter, \"That\'s not me. I\'m a law-abiding citizen who\'s working every day and paying taxes.\"\r\nWhich label to use when describing evacuees might seem trivial when thousands may be dead, thousands are missing, and a major city has been destroyed? So from that point I decided to stick to what I was taught by the Red Cross, that all victims need to be treated like our clients or customers; so that\'s why I called them clients and not refugees.\r\nWell it\'s Tuesday morning and the rest of the staff and even some of the residents seem concerned about my lack of sleep but I seem fine and with so much going on there was no time to rest. We had a major distribution center running out of this shelter. Trucks have been pulling in with supplies and trucks have been pulling out with supplies to take to Biloxi all day long. I even had clients (LDV\'s) passing out ice and water to some of the elderly in the community. I noticed that the clients really felt good about pitching in to get the job done and for a moment it helped them to forget their own problems. They loved wearing their temporary Red Cross badges to.\r\n That night a church member said that he would take the security shift and I was ordered to get some sleep. I slept with the general population of 99 on a cot with one blanket and no pillows because we did not receive enough for everyone. I remember thinking to myself that I have to stop trying to save the world and to just concentrate on helping my clients at the shelter so I decided that the distributing center was being shut down that morning. I could have kept it going but I think the clients were getting tired of it and I was working them pretty hard, after all they are victims not volunteers. It must have been 50 degrees in the shelter during the night it was so cold that I could not get up to try and fix it, I shivered all night with the blanket pulled over my head. I don\'t think that I got any sleep as the clients are doing everything you could imagine through out the night.\r\n9-7-05 - I stopped accepting donations this morning and called Good Will to pick up the remaining clothes to distribute some where else. I called in the boy scouts and asked them to sort and arrange all the remaining supplies in exchange I would teach them First Aid and CPR when I get a chance. We would hoard the rest of the supplies for ourselves and the needy from the Citronelle community. We did take some donations from the community, like baby goods, diapers and always water and ice if I had room.\r\nI started to talk to the residents and listened to their stories. And man; I heard so many stories. There was Harriet, who lost her home and had to leave her disabled sister behind. She had not been able to find out where she was and didn\'t know whether she was dead or alive. There was Alice, a former schoolteacher who wore her hair in curlers all day under a hair net, had lost several members of her family in the flood, but was determined to start a new life at age 68. \r\nThere was Liberty, a very heavy Cajun in her 50s who had escaped Katrina by hitchhiking on a charged wheelchair out on the highway with her suitcase. She say\'s she has 18 kids but she said a lot and became a legend in Citronelle with some of her actions around town. I will never forget the time she asked another client to drive her to Wal-Mart and she urinated on his front seat, he left her at Wal-Mart. The best Liberty story is when Red Cross headquarters called in Mobile and told me that one of my clients named Liberty was there wanting to volunteer and they even brought her back to get rid of her or when the she got escorted by the police back to the shelter as she was trying to itch hike to Mobile.\r\nAnd then there was a family I became particularly fond of: the Punch family from St. Bernard Parish. Steve was only 1 year younger than me. He chain smoked as I do and was a street guy like me, we had a lot in common. He told me stories about his father and his wife\'s (Erin) parents (who were also there at the shelter). \r\nThe family had created their own \"home\" in a corner of the shelter. They had squared off the corner with cots and a long table, and all the possessions they had left in this world were in that corner: boxes with piles of clothing and other essentials in them, 3 or 4 suitcases, some linens and kitchen items. Steve\'s father said he had survived Hurricane Betsy in 1965, but said \"Betsy was a baby compared to Katrina.\" \r\nSteve\'s father had to leave 3 dogs behind. One was so old he had no hope she would survive the storm, but he did have hope for the other two, I said at least you gave them a fighting chance and not like some people; who had them chained up. Those pet stories tore me up inside and was very tuff to deal with. \r\nThe Punch\'s had just gotten finished remodeling their house when Katrina burst in. They had put in all new floors, painted and wallpapered. Erin loved the results and said \"Now my home looks just the way I\'ve always wanted it to.\" \r\nThey were content to live there forever with their unborn baby; that I thought she would have at any time when first seeing her enter the shelter. St. Bernard was their only home and the only home they wanted. Really, it was their world. They were determined to go back and rebuild, no matter what it took--even if it took years. If anyone could have held onto that hope after seeing the total destruction that Katrina brought in St. Bernard Parish, it would be the Punch family. \r\nSteve was strong--hard-headed, as he put it--and there wasn\'t much that could destroy that spirit, but I was concerned that if he went back to see where his home used to be (which he would do if it were possible) when they started letting people into St. Bernard, it would be a crushing blow. The area was designated a \"hot spot\" meaning it was toxic and uninhabitable.\r\nThe Punch\'s, along with a lot of other people in the shelter, had left New Orleans or Biloxi a day or 2 before the storm hit, packing into their cars with whatever and whoever would fit, thinking they\'d be back home in 2-3 days. None of them was prepared for what happened next.\r\n Many came with their whole families and so knew that their loved ones were safe and well. Sometimes members of the same family got to the shelter at different times. But many left loved ones behind in their city or town because they were stubborn and refused to leave or because they were ill or elderly or disabled and could not leave. A few families had been split up and were at different shelters or in different states. But for those there was usually a way to connect and most of the time it was my cell phone. \r\nI heard only one story that brought me to tears and believe me there was many times I could have cried but I held it in. She arrived at the shelter in hysterics and I was told by the police officer that she had three of her children killed in the flooding and couldn\'t locate her other two kids. She was totally out of it and just taking one look at her face is when I made a b-line for the exit door and called Cheryl and my Dad, my support team. We did make contact with her mother that evening and she was gone the next morning. \r\nMost of the residents were very grateful for the support they were getting and overwhelmed by the generosity of the volunteers, relief organizations, communities, and fellow clients. I repeatedly heard that their priorities had changed and they realized that material things were nice but not as essential as they had thought they were before they lost them. \r\nWhat was missed the most were things that contained memory--especially photographs or a family table that had marked special occasions for generations. Houses could be rebuilt; pets, photos and heirlooms could not.\r\n I will never forget the Russo\'s, they were an elderly couple in their 80s and the day they returned from checking the damage to their home was a sad day. They lost it all and all she came back with was a box of photos. She spent the rest of the day with a bottle of water and paper towels and cleaned all the dirt of the photos.\r\nMy shelter residents were black and white as I have stated before and there were racism problems every day in the shelter with some of the shelter residents-both black and white--who blamed the problems (looting, shooting, etc.) on blacks and even expressed the hope that New Orleans would be better now that \"they\" had lost their run-down and dangerous neighborhoods. A lot of the kids had the same feelings about their home town of New Orleans; they didn\'t want to go back.\r\nThursday September 8, I have been here for a week and it seems like a lifetime. My assistant manager told me she wants to go home; she says she can\'t handle the stress no more. I had a talk to her and had Carl from mental health talk to her also. I believe she will stick it out. \r\nI also had the police at the shelter to remove a runaway. This 17 year runaway told all of us that her parents were killed in the storm and she actually looked and acted like her story was true. Turns out that she has been on the run for a few months now and her parents were alive and looking for her. \r\nFEMA called me and said they were sending me a National Guardsmen to take the security shift tonight.\r\n The Health Dept. stopped over for an inspection of the shelter today; we passed with a few recommendations after I got done brown nosing him and giving him some tetanus and insulin doses to take to a needy place as he stated. \r\nWell things seemed to quite down until I got a call from Mobile Red Cross saying to get ready for 75 more clients that were coming from New Orleans at 7pm. I told her that we needed more cots and that I still needed nurses but we can squeeze them in if we have to. To my surprise at 6pm four nurses and two mental health workers showed up. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous with the VIP turnout for these clients and it only got worse when they starting game planning triage and decontamination sites. It was 8pm and the cots were all set up and we had hot dinners getting cold and cold drinks getting warm. It is now 11pm and it looks like another screw up. Nobody showed up! Never did find out what happen to those clients but I did get two nurses and security for the night out of it. \r\nI never liked nurses that much before Katrina but that quickly changed after working with the two nurses from a north Alabama college. They were awesome and the power that they have during a disaster blew my mind. I was impressed with them and how they got prescriptions filled and their compassion for the clients and they were gorgeous.\r\nI called FEMA and requested some portable showers so we could have them set up on the shelter grounds and they told me they were on the way, they never did show up.\r\nI guess it\'s Friday? I don\'t now what day or time it is anymore. I need a break; and tonight looks like a good time to take one with two nurses on the property. So I called the local hotel (the only hotel) down the road a couple miles and made a reservation. \r\nThe hotel gave me a discount on the room and even though it was a crack house, it sure was nice to be alone with peace and quite. It really gave me a chance to clear my head and catch up on some paper work. I turned on the news and crashed out instantly. \r\nThe next morning I took a nice hot private shower and watched some more local news. I realized it was still a war-zone out there. Still no electrical power in some parts of town even though there wasn\'t as much damage to Citronelle compared to other areas but they have started shooting and looting here to; the police shot and killed 3 looters last night. No gasoline or supplies have been coming this way either, the stores are running out of everything and the shelters and hospitals here are full. I see all these so called leaders all over the news saying that the help is coming. This area doesn\'t need politicians visiting, it doesn\'t need money....It needs leadership, order and life saving supplies. God help us all if somebody doesn\'t step up and get control of this situation because it looks like things are getting worse. \r\nWell I\'m back at the shelter on a nice sunny day; no clouds in the sky or birds come to think of it, just a lot of love bugs, tons of them and rescue helicopters flying back and fourth over head. I never have been on a battle field but some veterans tell me that this is pretty close to it. \r\nI miss home, and it\'s really starting to get to me. I miss coming home and having the dogs jump all over me, I miss my wife and kids, I miss tripping over the six cats, I miss so many things about my home. I can\'t wait to get back.\r\nBeing a gypsy is fun for a time, but it\'s hard. There\'s no one to talk to about this. Everyone is depending on me, expecting me to be strong.\r\nWhat day is it? It\'s really just a blur.\r\nI miss home, you know. I miss my house, my home, my life there. Hide it inside. Be strong for everyone else. That\'s what everyone needs now. They need someone to depend on. I won\'t let them down. No tears. Want to cry, can\'t cry, won\'t cry, keep on going day to day. Keep feelings inside, Family needs to think I\'m okay, be strong, keep it going, roll with the punches, punch, punch, roll with it, eye of the tiger baby.\r\nThose are some of the feelings I was dealing with and it was an emotional roller coaster everyday. I was feeling strange, it\'s hard to explain, at times I felt as if I was in the twilight zone, probably has to do with no sleep. I have diarrhea and I\'m dropping pounds, I also have a crutch rutch that I can\'t get rid of. I don\'t want to tell the nurses as I\'m embarrassed but I did decide to tell them eventually and they gave me some medicine for both. \r\nSunday September 11, 2005 - Went to church today and I really felt good afterward. The reason I got involved with disaster relief was because of 9-11 and I think I was recharged and refocused again. The reverend also helped with an awesome sermon. I have not forgotten, I remember 911 and it still motivates me to this day. \r\nThe situation at the shelter is for ever changing. The number of survivors left there has been cut in half. People have found places to go or are moving into homes and apartments in the area, thanks to are family service work that we have been preforming in the shelter. The ones still there seem to be the ones in the most trouble. They include the elderly, the folks having mental health issues... There are a myriad of problems here really. The nurses told me that I was running a syco ward not a shelter.\r\nWe had Red Cross security at the shelter today because of some racial slurs by some of the clients, I may have beefed up the need for them on that day but I was getting sick of covering the security issue myself all the time. \r\nI had planned to write tonight about the grace and optimism of the survivors here. It humbles me. I\'ve gotten sidetracked by the individual traumas of this night but I am awed by the fortitude of the people I\'ve met here. One of them said to me, \"As a New Orelean, it\'s our tradition to prevail.\" Another said, \"The only reason we folks lived through this is because we\'re all crazy.\" He said, \"The sane people don\'t do so well when the world goes insane.\" I thought to myselve that he may be right and maybee that\'s why I\'m so good at this job is because I\'m insane.\r\nMany of the clients haven\'t slept in days, many have trouble sleeping. They still seem wired, like they can\'t turn off their \"fight or flight response\", like they\'re afraid to relax. Many cried for the first time upon arriving at our shelter. \r\nAnother highlight occurred Sunday evening when our shelter residents decided they were going to have a party to celebrate their new beginning in Citronelle. They got together and were going to use their food stamps to buy food for the party. (I found a sponsor to pay for the food). Many children missed their birthdays, so we are having the party to celebrate their new life as well as the missed birthdays. The ice cream was a big hit and almost had a brawl when I ran out with not everyone getting some.\r\nMonday 9/12/05, some of my clients act like the shelter is their home now, and they do not want to leave or are afraid they will not return to the same spot. The fear of the unknown is overwhelming to them. \r\n A number of people said that the storm gave them pause and led them to reassess their lives. Numerous people asked what message God was trying to convey to them. As a result, I used their spiritual base as a platform to discuss ways the hurricane presented new directions and opportunities for them. I encouraged the remaining clients not to give up and to take advantage of what Citronelle has to offer. I told them that life as they new it will never be the same and that they need to stay strong because only the strong will survive.\r\nPeople started reflecting on the meaning and purpose of their life decisions-from career choices to relationships with family and friends. \r\n9/13/05 - The money from the government has been arriving and the Red Cross finally gave me the cash vouchers to distribute to the clients. They now have encountered a couple of new problems. \r\nMany people did not even have identification to cash their checks and we didn\'t have a bank in town that was honoring them. I arranged for the only bank in town to honor them with no ID after a short meeting with the bank president. \r\nI really could have robbed the Red Cross and this town blind if I wanted to. I hate to say that and I know my wife hates when I talk about stuff like that but the fact is that I used to be a big time thief and I still identify those weaknesses in systems and people all the time and this would have been a golden opportunity for a easy pay day. \r\nWe gave the people between $350 to $1300 depending on the size of their family and destruction to their zip code. Handing out the vouchers really cleared out the shelter like I new it would.\r\n9/14/05 - I started spreading the word that the Red Cross was going to close the shelter on Wednesday the 21st and also I started weaning them off the good food.\r\nPeople were being placed in more permanent or private places, such as Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers, motel rooms, cruise ships, rentals or HUD housing so I was pushing them towards those options. The Reverend wanted his church back and his family wanted him back and I didn\'t want to leave with any clients left in my shelter.\r\nLeaving Citronelle was going to be very difficult. People are still in a daze, still frightened, still unsure of tomorrow. It hurts to look at them, and you can\'t tell them you understand...because I don\'t. How would I feel if everything I had was washed away and my family was sleeping on a cot in a sea of cots trying to hide whatever you had accumulated in 14 days? It looked like a scene from a TV show about something that could happen at the end of the world.\r\n9/15/05 I still have about 30 clients here. About half of them are storm victims; the rest are year-round homeless. \r\nSome visit family or friends for a night, then come back. Or they earn enough money for a motel room, get some privacy for a night and come back.\r\nWe\'re about 3 weeks out, and these people should be transitioning.\r\nIt\'s like a zoo in here. Or like Vice President Dick Cheney says, it\'s like camping out. The thing that drives me crazy and very angry is the people that keep pulling up looking for money and help when I know they don\'t need it.\r\nI had a couple come to the shelter looking for money, she was on oxygen and he was a little wacky and hot tempered. I told him that I could offer him shelter and food but that I could not help him with money. He caused me out and on his way out said he will return with a shot gun to blow my brains out. I did call the police to give them a heads up.\r\nI had another old couple come in out of gas and exhausted who were looking for money to head to their kids house in Montgomery, Alabama. I told them I couldn\'t give them vouchers and after a few tears and begging, I found myself pulling out my wallet and giving the couple $40.00 for gas. \r\nLiving in a hurricane shelter is not like camping out like Dick Cheney thinks it is. You spend day after day 3 feet away from people you don\'t know or don\'t even like. You constantly sanitize your hands to avoid the sickness going around. You hear strangers disciplining their children or getting up all night long, the snoring, the backed up toilets, you tiptoe past sleeping heads at night, bumming cigarettes, arguing over whether the TV is too loud, what channel to watch, screaming babies, ext.\r\nI\'m ready to leave, my work is done here. I need to get home. I\'m sick of the people coming to the shelter looking for free money and yelling at me when I tell them that this is a shelter not a service center (client financial assistance). It\'s getting so bad that I get mobbed in the grocery parking lot by people wondering how to get assistance because I have a Red Cross vest on and they can\'t get through on the 1-800 help now telephone line. \r\nThat was another thing that got me mad, the stories of Red Crosses taking of their gear and hiding the fact that they worked for the Red Cross. I left all my Red Cross gear on all the time and I was proud of it. Every where I went to during Katrina I was supporting some kind of Red Cross apparel and when I left Mobile I wore my full Red Cross out fit back home to Sarasota with honor. \r\nWell I have a few days left and my boss from Sarasota (Inaki) seems to have a handle on the shelters after taken over at headquarters in Montgomery. I have more volunteer staff then I have clients and I even have two shifts. So I decided to do some sight seeing. \r\nI took three volunteers to eat dinner at Wintzell\'s Oyster House which is located in downtown Mobile. What a steak! The food was awesome but the city was pretty run down and poor looking, reminded me of Buffalo, New York; my home town accept a lot smaller. \r\nMy boss also hooked Carl (mental health) and myself with a room at the Marriot on Gulf Shores Beach an area that got whacked by Hurricane Ivan last year. We met up with some other volunteers from Florida and went to Jimmy Buffet\'s sisters restaurant on the beach and I had stone crab and shrimp and I hate sea food but I guess after eating the food in the shelter for two weeks and just a better appreciation of life, I was willing to try it. I dropped Carl off at the airport that morning at 4am.\r\nI spent a day checking out the Mississippi coast. Hurricane Katrina was twenty times bigger then Hurricane Charley but the results were the same, a lot of sadness and rubble. These storms always makes me realize that has much as I think I have it bad; theirs always somebody that has it worst and I need to be thankful for what God as provided for me and my family. \r\nWell it\'s my last day of the disaster operation and Inaki (Sarasota boss) said he has a motel room downtown for me and better yet it\'s private. I left the shelter quickly and quietly that morning with out much fan fear. The shelter had 10 clients left and 8 of them had a place to go that afternoon. The remaining two would be transferred to another shelter in Mississippi. \r\nI arrived at the hotel room shortly after that and the room was infested with mold that made breathing a little tough but I survived.\r\n Inaki took me out for dinner that last night and I even had a couple of Long Island iced teas to take off the edge.\r\nIt was a long flight back home with a lot of things going through my head that I never wrote in my journal. Like the woman that had a heart attack in the shelter and was saved by the nurse I recruited or when Erin had to be rushed to the hospital to have her baby and then her husband went MIA for 3 days spending all their relief money on meth or the food fight between some blacks and whites one day during lunch and the day when somebody stole Dottie\'s make-up and she snapped and had to be sedated. \r\nI\'m not a hero, I just finished my 3 week obligation expected of me, but many volunteers served longer, or served under harsher conditions, I did not rescue the living or retrieve the dead, and others achieved more under harsher conditions but I was satisfied on my efforts and I returned home proud. \r\nNightmares were common that first week home, I had my first on the evening of my return, and they continued for a few weeks after. Some evenings were vivid, some evenings found me awakening every couple of hours or so, and some evenings gave way directly to a morning on which I simply knew that I had dreamed of horrible things.\r\nFlashbacks, hyper vigilance, disruptions of sleep and energy and appetites, avoidance, and an assortment of other oddities - these are normal responses to trauma. A diagnosis of Acute Stress Disorder can be made within 30 days of an incident, but rather than offering a label or a crutch, the mental health workers whom I knew all encouraged clients and staff to expect those symptoms and to monitor their gradual decline with a detached interest. \"Go easy on the carbohydrates, nicotine, and alcohol, and get what sleep and exercise and good nutrition you can, be gentle with yourself but expect a gradual lessening of discomfort, and look for help if you still feel in a few months like you do now is what they told me. \r\nThey also gave me a few days off work for mental health reasons. I was even a little depressed until I got back to work and was able to focus on something besides Katrina. That something turned out to be Hurricane Wilma who became a threat to the Southwest coast but that\'s another story.\r\nMost of my peers were stress-hardy personalities, the self-selection aspect of a volunteer corps. To take time away from family and friends and other pleasures and responsibilities, to put oneself into environment that is often harsh and hazardous and unpredictable, is not a common or a natural decision. I found the level of compassion and dedication that one might expect, yes, but the volunteers who did well, which were almost all of them, were also flexible and patient, able to stay in the moment and focus on the need outside of themselves. \r\nIt\'s now been four months since Hurricane Katrina devastated the gulf coast and I still stay in touch with clients and staff that stayed at the shelter. Over Thanksgiving we traveled to Mobile for a football tournament that my son Joey was participating in. I took my wife Cheryl to Citronelle and we went to church and then out to eat with the Pastor of the church and his family. We had a good time together and got to share some stories. Some of the clients still call to let me know how the recovery is going and to thank me for all I did for them. \r\n


“A Katrina Shelter \"Fort Apache\",” Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, accessed June 14, 2024, https://hurricanearchive.org/items/show/39196.