Friday, September 30, 2005

If You're Happy and You Know It!

My friend Ellen and I recently threw an "If You're Happy and You Know It!" Happy Hour. Here are some pics.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Woe is Me!

When running an errand - to Wal-Mart - feels like a vacation, you know you are tired and overworked.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

"Cold" Front

* Update: We hit 105 today, and the high tomorrow is set to be only 79!
We had a "cold" front come in to Texas that brought Austin down to only 103 degrees yesterday. Seriously. They say we are having the hottest September EVER on record. Holy freaking cow! We are supposed to have another front come through by tomorrow, though, and that will bring us down to normal for this time of year, which is in the eighties. I actually think mid to low eighties are the perfect temperatures so I am very much looking forward to it (in addition to not wanting to feel like the heat is sucking the life out of my body every time I walk out the door.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


At its peak, Austin was home to 20,000 evacuees in 53 shelters. Presumably, there were just as many staying with family and friends in the area. Even the middle school where I substitute a lot was serving a a shelter - very weird.
I am hearing that now we are down to about 2,000 evacuees - the ones from the Orange/Port Arthur/Beaumont area - and that they are being condensed down to one shelter at the Toney Burger Center, which is where the original Katrina evacuees stayed before being moved to the Austin Convention Center. The downsizing was pretty quick - everyone seemed to hightail it out of here as soon as the hurricane passed through the coastal area.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Damage Update

Well, my aunts and uncles' homes are all okay. It's looking not so good for my godmother and my aunt's in-laws.
My godmother lives in Orange, which I hear was THE hardest hit city in Texas. She has no word on her home and can not go back to the area any time soon to find out about it.
I lived in Orange briefly as a child in the home my mother grew up in; all we know about that house is that the area near it was hit very hard. I still love that house. As a child, I thought it was just the neatest house ever because it had TWO staircases! There was also a big covered front porch where I would play every day. I hope that it is ok, and I hope the neighbors (who are still friends with my family) are all okay, too. We actually still know an awful lot of people there; we just don't know any news yet because no one can get to their homes yet!

My aunt's in-laws are anticipating very heavy damage. They live in Port Arthur. My uncle and his father are going to bring down chainsaws and just start walking at the freeway, using the chainsaws to make their way to the house - hopefully. Gosh, that would suck so bad! I really feel for them!
As far as travel back, for those who have been allowed to go back at this point, I hear it went smoothly.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


What a surreal day! People are running around all over town preparing for a hurricane! Do you know what it is like to walk in to your neighborhood grocery store and not be able to buy a loaf of bread?? You know how you watch reports on TV saying supplies are out, and you go, Oh. Hmm. Click. ?? Well, I was the person in that report today. I went to Sam's and Randall's - no water. My roommate went to another Randall's, Wal-Mart, Target and Walgreen's - no bread or water. It almost makes you wonder if you should be panicking.
I went ahead and bought gas. I was just going to get a little bit, but then when I realized there was a line and that some of the pumps were already out of gas, I went ahead and filled up - after waiting 20 minutes, of course. ;)
* Update on my aunt: My uncle found her, and 24 hours after evacuating they are all at my parents' house - SLEEPING! No word on my godmother yet. She is still unreachable (the phone lines are still jammed.) She lives in Orange, which is essentially where Port Arthur and Beaumont are - you know, where Rita is expected to hit now.
Summary of displaced relatives: two sets of aunts and uncles with their kids, my sisters' friend and sisters' mom, and my aunt's in-laws. All of them are staying at what I call our "compound." (My parents live next door to my grandparents, and then my aunt and uncle and their five kids live across the street.) So far my grandma in Houston is staying put, as are numerous aunts and uncles there. And then, my MIA godmother.

My poor family! That traffic is no exaggeration!

I just heard that my aunt and uncle and cousins DIDN'T check in to a hotel last night. We figured they had since they never arrived in College Station last night. They left at 6 p.m. to evacuate from Lake Jackson, Texas, and it is normally about a three hour drive.
My uncle arrived at 7 a.m. this morning - 13 hours later! My aunt still has not arrived and was just now able to get through saying she couldn't drive any longer! After 18 hours straight, she couldn't make it any more. Now, my uncle is on his way to find her. The problem is that the phones are jammed up because of the hurricane activity so there is really no way to talk with any one. My uncle is just going to have to look for her along the side of the road! I can't believe this!
My other aunt and uncle and my cousin evacuated from Friendswood, Texas and have already made it safe and sound. Thank goodness!
I hear more family is on the way ...
It has to be so stressful for the people who are evacuating. Say some prayers for them!

Scratch That Again!

We're now at 175 miles per hour. This darned thing better weaken a little bit before making landfall!
They are saying that even if Rita weakens to a Category 4, we likely will see hurricane force winds here in Austin -- in CENTRAL Texas! Guess I'll be doing preparations tomorrow ...
I hear a lot of my extended family already has evacuated to College Station, where the Texas A&M game has been moved up to Thursday night to avoid a potential run-in with the hurricane. The game is going to be on TV, though, so there is at least one plus to this situation! :)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Scratch That!

We're now looking at a Category 5 Hurricane with 165 mile an hour winds! One hundred and SIXTY five!

Holy Crap!

Rita now has winds at 150 miles per hour!!
Looks like Austin is going to be one of the evacuation points again. We are one of the five Texas cities set up to hold evacuees in the case of a Texas hurricane, as is my home town of College Station. This time, since they are trying to shut down the convention center (to earn money there with conventions, I suppose), all the evacuees are being sent to area high school gyms. It seems like it would be a lot easier to have one big shelter with all the systems in place there, rather than at the 40 places they are planning on, but, oh well ...
It also is looking like this time I will have family members and friends evacuating - many of them live in the Houston area and further down along the coast area. They are saying that even here, we might be facing hurricane force winds for hours. This is just getting insane!

My Apologies

Blogger/blogspot were down all last evening so my blog was unavailable.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

I'm liking Earl.

I've been a fan of actor Jason Lee (because he is always the cute guy in Kevin Smith's films) so I was excited to hear he had his own tv show. I have to say the show is looking pretty good! It had me laughing out loud a couple of times, and that is hard for a tv show to do! :)

Category Four Coming This Way

Well, the latest indications are that Rita will be a Category 4 hurricane and that she is headed straight this way.

New Orleans Kids' Quotes

Here are quotes from two ten-year-old evacuees I spoke with (interviewed, technically) at the shelter when I was there as a journalist, not as a volunteer. This was very early on, with the levees had just broken and people were watching in awestruck horror at the devastation that was occuring. These kids were from New Orleans, and, while there was still some hope at the time, it is assumed now that both of their families lost everything.
Ten-year-old Alexis sat among the crowd holding a small doll. “Her name is Jaden,” she said to me. “I got her for free over here at the shelter.”
I asked her what brought her here to Austin. “My momma and my daddy heard about the hurricane, and we had to come through Texas to be safe. We thought that the hurricane was just going to last two or three days, but it didn’t so we have to stay here.”
She said, “We might have to stay with our auntie or uncle – all our family over there (pointing at about 10 people.) It’s a lot of people so I don’t know. It really doesn’t matter as long as I’m safe with my family. We might have to stay here months, weeks - we don’t know, but we’re not going home until we are safe enough for my family and I.”
She said every night she is saying her prayers. “I say, I hope to God that my home is okay, and I say that I hope that the big tree in front of my house did not fall down, and I hope that everything is good and I hope that the water is not that high. I hope my house is safe, and I hope it’s not destroyed. I hope all my stuff and my baby dolls and all my clothes are back at home.”
Ten-year-old Ahmad sat quietly and tried to make sense of his situation. “We came here to my auntie’s house because of the hurricane in New Orleans,” he said. “I’m worried about some of my game CDs, my brother’s computer, and I’m worried about my friends and family. Some of my toys and my brother’s bike - I think they’ll be floating around everywhere.”
He said, “Some people say that the flood killed all them people, that all of them are going to be floating around, but I don’t think they are going to be floating around. I just think it’s the people from the cemeteries that will be floating around – the dead bodies.”

My Pimp Name

I tried this thing online that gave me a "pimp name." I'm deciding which one I like best:

Fine Ass Shearer Ice
Sweet Chocolate Caroline Slim
Delicious Honey Caroline Slick
Ice Master Shearer Beautiful
Ms. White Chocolate Shearer

Try it, if you like:

Monday, September 19, 2005

Down to 600!

My friend is working the Red Cross phone bank today, and she just told me that the Austin Convention Center shelter is down to 600 people! From 4,500! They are planning on having everyone else out by Friday. -- Can you believe it? The people of Austin really have been awesome!

Target: Texas

Well, I just checked the weather again, and it looks like Galveston (right next to Houston) has a pretty decent shot of being hit by Rita. Of course, being the weather freak I am, I know this could change drastically, but ... I also heard one mention of the evacuees in Houston - good to know the media is catching on ...


Now, we have Tropical Storm Rita making its way in to the Gulf. There has been some concern about it possibly making its way to New Orleans, but I think another scenario deserves some concern - Rita making landfall near Houston, where tens of thousands of evacuees are staying.
I wrote an article last week on the psychological impact Katrina will have
down the road on kids. In it, my source said things as simple as thunder or rain could be triggers for children. (We didn't even discuss how much of a trigger an outright hurricane would be.) To me, it seems that facing a hurricane this soon might seem to kids as though the hurricane was following them and out to get them. A hurricane in Houston could do far more damage emotionally - to kids and parents - than has been done already because it would occur just as they were starting to feel safe and in charge of their lives again. They may begin to wonder if they ever really will be safe.
It's too early to know what Rita will do, but hopefully, school counselors and such will keep an eye on the situation and prepare the kids for it the best they can should it hit either New Orleans or Houston.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Out of Darkness, Light

I have a lot of hope that out of the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina will come good. Historically, there has been a preponderance of generational and oppressive poverty in New Orleans, and this may be the chance to change that. Generational poverty possibly can never be rectified without a dramatic change of course, and, in this instance, with the entire country coming to the rescue of all those who lost, it is my hope that we will be able now to break that cycle.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Something Strange

I just had something strange happen. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bright flash of light in the air float down and then explode in to little, bright pieces. It looked kind of like the atom model they teach you about in school, except it was all white light. My roommate's cat, who was on the opposite side of it, turned his head quickly towards it, just as I did.
Once I turned my head, I couldn't see it anymore, but the cat kept looking at the spot, tilting his head as he looked. Then, my cat, from across the room, started looking at the same spot - what was now an empty spot in the air.
Hmmm .... It was clear as day, whatever it was. There haven't been any deaths here, I'm pretty sure, except for Snickers' mom, Snowball, who died a few months ago of old age. She was a very special cat to me. Maybe Snowball has come back to visit???? Perhaps she wants to let my roommate's cat know she's still in charge around here. ;)

More Red Cross Complaints

I'm hearing more and more complaints about the Red Cross here locally. I don't want to harp on it because obviously, overall, they are doing a lot of good. Suffice it to say, however, that I am very glad I was able to volunteer the very first day the shelter opened when I was able to just get in there, do my job, and make the people streaming off of those buses feel as comfortable as possible. I at least got to experience one day where everyone was at their most caring and loving, before the bureaucracy and egos got in the way.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

From the First Shelter

This is an excerpt from an earlier column. This was when we had a shelter at the Burger Center, and I was covering it as a reporter - before I volunteered at the Convention Center.
Who would have thought that we would have hurricane refugees here in Austin? And not even from the Texas coast but from Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states? It really is still incomprehensible to me, even though I have seen it, and it is reality.
I sit here writing utterly exhausted, with bloodshot eyes and a fuzzy head - just from covering the story of the refugees, which is not even comparable to experiencing it. I cannot imagine the exhaustion and fear and worry the evacuees must be experiencing, and that propels me to forge on, trying to put words on to paper even though it seems I have no more words left to share.
I walked in to the shelter at the Toney Burger Center on Wednesday prepared to cover a press conference. What I was not prepared for was to walk in the door and be faced with a sea of faces looking lost and confused and very, very sad. I could not bear to take their pictures as they sat there. Perhaps that says I am a bad journalist, but I could not do it - it seemed like too much of an intrusion to add to their misery.
I almost cried at that moment, seeing all of their faces, the situation suddenly becoming very real - but I did not. Instead, I found a child, a girl who was sad and innocent and yet so very happy to be talking with me. Children can be angels on Earth, and she was my angel that day. She allowed me to do my job.
I made my way through the shelter seeing family after family. Most people were reluctant to talk with me at first, and they appeared shell-shocked. But, before long, they became comfortable with me and began to share their stories, even allowing me to take their pictures.
Do you know how jarring it is to ask someone to repeat something, only to hear it again as an unfathomable misery?
The next day, I went back to the shelter, and I saw the little girl again. She sought me out to tell me hi, and did it with the same optimistic and loving look as the day before. A young boy I also had spoken with shouted hi to me - “See, I’m still here!” he said.
I am always amazed by the resiliency of children. Hours and hours away from homes they likely will never see again, these children already had found something familiar - a friend. Until then … Caroline.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Funny 80-year-old Man

I met a man who I would describe as nothing less than a "hoot" at the shelter yesterday. He is 80 and totally adorable. He was wearing an "Easy Come, Easy Go" hat as he sat in his wheelchair. He said they had been injecting him with steroids for some kind of problem he was having, and that he liked it because he was going to be able to beat the big guy across from him in football. ;) He asked if I was married, and when I told him no, he gave me some unusual advice: He said I needed to find a man with stability, who had a little money in the bank and a house, maybe a man who was older than me. He said I shouldn't get all caught up in the "love" thing. I told him I would take it under consideration. :) Oh, and he also told me that back in New Orleans he would sleep with a shotgun next to him in bed because he wasn't going to let anyone mess with him. Scary, but go cute old man anyway!

Family in Need

My friend Ellen is taking donations for a displaced family she met here. She is totally legit - I will vouch for her. I'll let her tell you the story on her blog -

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Thinning Out

When I went back to the shelter today, it was obvious that the place was starting to thin out. There were still thousands there, but people were able to put a little bit more space in between their beds, and a lot of people were out and about, which, presumably, means they are getting on with getting on ... I was surprised that some of my families were still there simply because they were so likeable I figured someone would have "adopted " them by now. The mom with the three cute girls was still there, although she had found someone to let her girls have a "sleepover" just to get them out of the shelter for a night. She was asking me about houses. She was looking for a four bedroom, and her maximum was $800 a month. In my mind, I was going, "Whoa! Is that even possible here?" and feeling really terrible because that probably means the girls aren't going to get in to very good schools, which is a shame because they seem bright. The couple with the two-weeks-old as of Saturday baby was still there, which I found extremely shocking. (Think about that for a second - the baby was all of TWO days old when the hurricane struck, and remember, these people came from either the road they kept showing on TV or the Convention Center. Can you imagine being two days out of labor and having a brand new baby and being in that situation??) I couldn't find Lucille. I don't know if she left of just wasn't there when I was. And, because they are now doing laundry regularly there (or, rather, the Hilton next door is,) I couldn't locate her bed with the yellow sheets that she called "sexy." Another very flirty man was still there, and he thanked me for some clothes I had found for him last Saturday when he arrived. He was still looking for socks. I went and checked, and he was right, there was not a single pair of new socks for men.

Tough Times

There seemed to be a lot of health issues today at the shelter:
Several people threw up (my guess it was the pre-formed hamburger patties - those get to me, too.)
I had to take a lady to medical triage because she was hacking up green mucus. She had washrags full of it, and in the quiet of my personal self, my stomach was majorly turning. She said she was the kind of person who took care of other people first and tended to neglect herself, but, obviously, it was time for that to change. She had asthma, too, so I took her over, got her re-registered (she had lost her paperwork, which was another reason she hadn't gone), and she got what she needed - asthma treatments and antibiotics.
I also saw a woman who I am guessing died. I'm not sure what made it happen, but, when I saw, they were doing chest compressions - the hard, break your ribs kind. They did the compressions for at least ten, maybe 15 minutes, until they finally took her out still doing the compressions. That's a really long time for that ... The problem was compounded because the only witness only spoke in sign language.
Heart compressions look very different in real life than on TV, I'll say. I don't mean that flippantly; it was just something that struck me as I was surrounded by an awful lot of reality.

Red Cross=Red Tape!

I had never had anything but a good opinion of the Red Cross until I actually started volunteering for them. It is ridiculous how unorganized they are on the volunteer side. ~ telling the media we had enough volunteers when I worked for 12 hours straight without eating, making us wait two hours in a line just to volunteer, giving us a 30 minute lecture on what we were supposed to do only to have it immediately overruled and changed completely.
And it is not just me - I have been hearing of all sorts of issues from other people. If we had had a $1 donation for every eye that rolled among the hundreds of volunteers today, we could take all the evacuees out for a steak dinner!

Friday, September 09, 2005

Blessing in Disguise

One thing that turned out to be a blessing in disguise at the shelter was an initial shortage of cots. Apparently, we were supposed to get 6,000 cots that first morning, and they somehow fell through. A call was put out to the media, who let the public know that we needed beds. Well, there are only so many cots to be bought around here so what people ended up doing was buying air mattresses. That actually turned out to be a great thing because I would estimate at least half of the people were able to get air mattresses instead of those very small, single person cots that they would have received otherwise. Air mattresses are so much more comfortable than cots that it was actually a very good thing that the shipment didn't arrive - a blessing in disguise.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


I think I figured out where I caught this bug from ... Before everyone at the shelter had been able to shower, I saw three little boys playing. I went over to say hi and thought they were really cute - they were getting a big kick out of making the manual air pump for their air mattress blow out air. They were holding it up to each other's cheeks and just laughing away at how it felt. ("Now me! Now me!")
While I was talking with them, all of the sudden this tiny body comes hurtling at me from the side and lands on my back! I was squatting down and so I'm going whoa!whoa! just to keep my balance. Then, another body comes hurtling at me from behind! They are just laughing and giggling and having a grand old time holding on tight to my back and arms while I'm scrambling not to totally bust my behind on the concrete. I don't think I could have gotten them off if I'd wanted to, and they just thought it was totally hilarious to be flying on my back so I let them be. I did finally fall on my behind, of course, and was shortly thereafter rescued ... That was body and body on body contact, though, and was probably what did it. Oh well, it made them happy!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Aftermath of Shelter Work

I've been feeling really bad the past couple of days and haven't been able to go back to the shelter. While I was there, I kept putting this Germ-X stuff on my hands and arms constantly, but that may not have been enough. There wasn't a lot of actual physical contact, although I was given a few hugs, but I was in close proximity to people constantly. That first day when people had to wait all day to take a shower, I easily could have picked up some germs. They were so dirty and felt it. Many of them had walked in that river water up to their chests and then sat in the same clothes for days. Thank goodness that part of the crisis is over, and everyone now (here, at least) is clean and fed. Now it is time to move on to the next step.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


"This is a pretty cool place," he said, as he jutted his chin front and back. "This is a pretty cool place."
Words from Ken, an eight-year-old boy I spent time with at the shelter. A very bright, very respectful boy, I came to him when I saw his mother laying down looking dazed and sad. I offered to bring Ken to get a hot plate of food and bring back some snacks for his mom, who was too exhausted to do it herself. As Ken and I walked along the rows of hundreds and hundreds of cots, I heard a "Hi, Ken!" coming from a little girl. Ken did the little "nod, playing-it-cool" thing that boys like to do, and I asked him who she was. "She goes to my school. There are a lot of kids from my school here." (When he talks, he accents up in a high pitched voice - it is very cute.) I'm surprised that there are kids from his school here but also pleased because it's a great thing for the kids to have some familiarity.
We arrive at the food area, and Ken is very particular about taking care of his mother's needs first. He wants to get her everything she needs and then some. We get her a big bag of stuff and then plenty of hot food for him. As we walk back, I ask him if he has a favorite subject in school, and, if so, what it was? "I like Math," he said. "And Spelling. And Reading. And Writing." We then talk about how much he likes school, and I tell him that he is going to get to go to our schools now. He thinks that is pretty cool, too.
When I get him and his mom set up with food, I realize that she is probably going to pass out for hours, but he is still wide awake. I offer to bring him some books to pass the time. From the donations, I find Pokemon and Digimon and Calvin and Hobbes and a poem book and Goosebumps. I also find a third grade education workbook. I bring it all over, not sure if Goosebumps will be a little too hard for him. I ask him to read me a paragraph so I can tell, and he proceeds to read me the whole page. He would have read me the whole book had I not stopped him! I show his mom all I brought over, and she immediately comments that he will love the education workbook.

I really hope this kid gets to continue on the excellent path he has led so far. Smart, respectful, loving towards his mother - such a good kid.


Lucille is quite a character. She is an older woman and needed help getting around in a wheelchair. I ended up spending quite a bit of time with her because of this. She was so grateful for what we were doing. She kept saying that she was praying for us and that God would reward me for my work. She was just so very, very grateful. She had been lucky and had been able to bring a bag with her important papers and, most importantly to her, her Bible. She had written all her phone numbers in it because she knew she would have that with her.
We had some difficulty with the showering situation because her luggage was temporarily lost and we hadn't been able to find her any bottoms from the donated ones. A male volunteer helped me find her stuff, and we eventually all three made our way over to the shower area. I grabbed her bag and held it in the crook of my elbow.
"Ooh, she's working that bag!" she said to the man. "Look at her moving those hips. She's working that bag like she owns it!" The man and I looked at each other kind of embarassed. We were all working so hard, so seriously, although still caring, that it was surprising to hear this woman's sense of humor, much less something like that. He was like, "Well, you know ... mumble, mumble ... I hadn't really noticed." She said, "Well you should, honey, cuz she is working it!" We laughed and, I felt, had our spirits lifted even more. She did manage to get a shower that night and also the next morning when I came back. She was so excited because she had been able to wash her hair and her wig!
Her playfulness set up quite a fun relationship. I found quickly that I could give her a hard time and so I did. When I needed to take another woman up to medical triage because I noticed
what appeared to be a huge growth on her back, I asked Lucille if it was okay if we went there first instead of to her bed. "You sure it's all right? You don't have a hot date or anything, do you?" I asked. "Well, you never know, honey!" she said. "It could happen."

One of the Families

A family I dealt with a lot was a mom with three girls - one about 12 or 13, and then two little ones. The mom also had a disabled man with her, my guess is it is her brother; I didn't ask. The mom was well educated, and the children were following that path, too. The children were extremely respectful - lots of "Excuse me's" and "Thank you's." The teen girl was so cute, just running around - you could tell she was such a social butterfly. She was so excited when I was able to find her a brand new hair brush set with a little mirror (there were practically no hair brushes.)
The mom said they had evacuated during the last hurricane, but that it had been so expensive - gas money, hotel, eating out - that she decided not to this time. "I can't tell you how much I regret that decision," she said. "I wish my kids hadn't been through that." She said they had lost everything, had nothing left. She had been very strong for her children, but she did break down when she told me this.
When she arrived Saturday, she hadn't been able to talk with any of her other family members. "They all think I'm dead," she said. All the phone numbers she needed were in her cell phone, and her cell phone was dead. She didn't have her charger. She did know one phone number, she thought, but it wasn't working in the phones set up at the shelter. I offered the use of my cell phone. The first time we tried it wasn't the right person. The second time she was put through to voice mail. We didn't know if it was her family member, but we hoped for the best.
I left her because I needed to help other people, and the day went on. Three or four hours later, I hear my phone ringing in my pocket. I look down, and it is the number she called. I answer it and say, "Yes! Yes! Let me find her!" I am all the way across the convention center, which is massive, and I run all the way over to where her beds are and hand her the phone. They make contact, and she and her oldest daughter immediately start crying. They are alive and so are her relatives!
Of all the things that happened that day - the safety, the comfort, the food, the caring - she said that was the best part - letting her family know that she was alive.


What would be particularly useful at this point, I am hearing, are gift cards. They would like to be able to hand out gift cards to families so they can buy things specific to themselves that they need. Good places would be Wal-Mart, Target, and inexpensive places to eat. I imagine that having gift cards will allow families to feel like they have a little bit more control over their own situation, which would be critical in them moving on with their lives. There are many goods at the shelter for them to sort through, which by all accounts they are very grateful for, but there is certainly more dignity in being able to purchase things themselves.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Austin Convention Center Shelter

I've been at the Austin Convention Center all weekend, helping out however I could. I stayed for 12 hours on Saturday and five hours on Sunday. When I first arrived Saturday, there were just a few evacuees there, and there were just a couple of rows of a couple hundred cots. I started just by passing out supplies to the empty beds - toothbrush, toothpaste, etc. The number of beds kept growing as I worked and then very quickly the number of people started to grow.
Most of our evacuees were getting flown in straight from Louisiana. Most said they had been on that road - the one the reporters were talking from - and a few said they were from the convention center. They were stepping in to our shelter literally a few hours away from that situation. They came in exhausted, filthy, and ready for a hot meal and a shower.
We did what we could to accomodate them. I helped them get whatever I could - be it a special size clothing, a fresh set of underwear, a plate of food because they were too tired to walk. Many that I talked with were just regular people who made a bad decision, a decision they admitted to regretting.
Before long the two rows of cots turned in to rows and rows of hundreds of cots, lined all the way to the walls, with wall space considered a priority among the evacuees because it gave them a little sense of privacy. Many, many familes and lots and lots of kids. Before long, we had sections for toiletries, clothing and shoes set up. The phones and phone lines were available immediately. They set up a large children's area with carpeting where the kids could get together and play. Large television screens were placed throughout so they could watch the news. Of course, many of these people had no real idea of the situation - they had been part of the story, not watching it.
The food for them was excellent - not cafeteria style at all. The meals changed three times a day - they've had lasagna and salisbury steak and chicken and gravy and eggs and sausage and tortillas - and always with sides like salad and vegetables and mashed potatoes and rice, and always with a dessert, like cake. A good, hot, real meal felt SO good to these people, who had been essentially starving for five days.
The showers took until Saturday around seven to get ready, but as soon as they were, they got the women and children in there, then the men, then began accomodating the still coming busloads and busloads that made their way to the center. Upon exiting the shower, they simply threw away in to large bins their clothes - the filth from the river water and the grime and the urine made them unrecoverable.
More to come ...