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Reports from the field in Louisianna

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The following reports are unedited copy sent back to Baltimore from the Katrina disaster relief operation center in the Gulf region. Frank L. Miller, Executive Director for the Central Maryland Red Cross, was arranging to deploy before the first calls went out for volunteers. Here is his story:

Sept. 3rd, report from Frank at Hurricane Katrina

As you see on television this is not a normal situation as usually occurs with our disaster response. If you remember our response to Hurricane Isabel, it impacted a limited area and we mobilized non-affected resources in the area and were able to respond quickly. People only stayed in our shelter for one of two day and then when back to homes or stayed with relatives in the area

But, this is a whole different setting for the following reasons:

  1. The affected area is possibly three times the area affected by Hurricane Camille in 1969. Power outages and communications problems extend 200 miles Inland.
  2. Many systems are overloaded. Example, I am writing this at 5:00AM in order to get a line out.
  3. Everyone wants to help, yet it is not easy to get them here, get to the sites, and supply them.
  4. The gas shortages you have seen are major here. It sometimes takes one hour to get gas. We have sent ERV to the area and they can not travel in the area because they are out of gas.

Now for the big problems:

  • We can not run our field kitchen in the area because there is no water for cooking or cleaning and no fuel for the cookers.
  • We have had to limit what meals we serve to the people in the shelters.
  • We are serving limited snacks to people trying to salvage items from their homes.
  • We can not do our regular family service because there are no stores for them to use our funds we give them.

These are only a few challenges we face. National is looking at creative ways of providing service and the placement of long term shelter operations in other states in ne example. More new ways are being discussed.

Now for today’s challenge, we got the word yesterday that our kitchens will close for the reasons noted above and they were out of food and water. We mobilized all the staff at the headquarters. They took their voucher funds and went to area stores and got everything on the shelves they could carry. We sent eighteen wheelers loaded with “heater meals” Trucks drove from midnight to early morning to avoid the traffic jams. We are determined to do the best we can under the circumstances.

Now for the good news. Many of the area stores that we shopped at saw that we were taking the water and food to the coast they donated the items. We made an appeal for twenty commercial licensed drivers and we got over 100 calls. Dish Satelite TV is putting free TV and cable in all sheters to keep the families informed and the children entertained. GMAC gave us 60 new cars and vans to use here today.

In this report, I wanted to share some of the challenges and some of the new ways we are trying to meet basic needs. I want you to know that while the national media is highlighting the problems, it is the local people who are finding solutions. Local media, businesses, other non profits, churches are working together with the clear vision of meeting the needs of their neighbors. I am seeing a lot of caring and sharing here.

I wanted to share this with our Red Cross family in Baltimore so you could better understand how this disaster relief operation differs from any other that I have been on in my 32 years. This recovery effort will be ongoing for months.

Finally, our national chair quoted in U.S.A TODAY, called the Red Cross volunteers and staff “AN ARMY OF HOPE” and at this time I feel that we all earning that title.

Got to go to work now.

September 5th Report from Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts

On Monday, Jock and I went with a group from Montgomery to Gulfport Ms. We left about 6Am for the two hundred mile trip. We saw what you see on television and worse.I worked in our headquarters to allow our PR and FR staff time off. Jock toured the operation and I will get him to send his report.

It is estimated that 900,000 people need assistance. Our 800 number, shelters, and feeding stations are working full time and can not keep up with the need.

There are over 4,000 volunteers from all over the county and world helping in our operation in Ms, Ala, and northern Fla. There are many needs and lines and lines of needy people. On the bright side, our feeding ERVs are rolling and mobile kitchens are preparing hot meals to deliver to disaster victims at their destroyed. While many people in this area did not have much to start with, now they have nothing. I do not know if I told you this story but it bears repeating. There is a man who lost his home in Biloxi. All that is left is the foundation. Everyday he leaves the Red Cross shelter in the morning and takes a lawn chair and goes out and sits all day on the foundation where his home once was. He cries and we cry with him and the many others suffering.

Again, I am crying tears for the suffering and tears of pride in the work of our American Red Cross in these extreme conditions.

Lastly, you all made my day Sunday when Tara called me the results of the collections at the Raven’s game.

Keep up the great work.

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