Sunday, October 09, 2005

Team Lab-Rover's Biloxi Blog

Update # 3– Saturday, October 8, 2005 – New Orleans LA.

Greetings from New Orleans – We have landed! Our assignment to SE Texas coast is still on hold because residents have still not been permitted to return into the area – thus recovery efforts have yet to begin – A MONTH LATER! There is no definite timeline when this will occur. In the meantime, the Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana contacted us (personally) again asking if we would be available to assist the church’s recovery efforts in downtown New Orleans at the Cathedral. After meeting with some of the folks there, it was an easy decision – ABSOLUTELY! There is clearly a need and Andrew and I believe our time here this coming week can be best spent there.

Christ Church Cathedral will become a major supply distribution center for returning evacuees. The Bishop and Dean of The Cathedral have temporarily moved their offices to Baton Rouge leaving Canon Rev. Steve Roberts in charge along with the Sexton and the Parish Administrator. We quickly saw a need of support for basic operational setup – organization – and logistics. Andrew’s Red Cross relief experience as Logistics Manager during the massive floods in the Pacific Northwest a few years back kicked in! We were told that truck loads of supplies were going to arrive in the next 48 hours in force! - And we needed to be ready to receive them – inventory them – store them and be able to hand them out. SO here we are and here we will remain.

Our initial contact was the Senior Warden, Elvia James, of St. Luke’s Church- a small parish of 150 souls from the Ninth Ward. There appears to be only a few minor problems she is trying to cope with – She has no Rector – her Junior Warden is in Atlanta – Her Vestry members are gone – and the remaining parishioners were either lost in the flooding or evacuated to Houston. Andrew and I spent an hour with her just trying to prioritize what she needed to accomplish and put aside those tasks that could wait OR over which she had no control i.e. returning residents arriving to uninhabitable homes. She herself still has water in her house.

Today was spent helping the church install a wireless computer network so more of the staff can work (when they return!) on laptops, sorting & handing out on-hand supplies, making/distributing flyers indicating The Cathedral was a distribution center for needed items and registration/inventory/needs forms to help with the recordkeeping. It seems that the word is spreading about the availability of supplies here as more and more people are showing up. As an interesting aside – Andrew and I have yet to see a single Red Cross or Salvation Army individual or vehicle since our arrival in town 3 days ago. A financial assistance center at the Airport opened up YESTERDAY but will only process occupants of 1,000 cars a day. HMMMMM – do the math!

Bishop Jenkins arrived this morning and greeted us warmly – they will be holding the first service in the Cathedral tomorrow since Katrina – we will be there!
Andrew and I will be moving our WINNEBAGO over here to a secure parking area behind the church. I will try to put some thoughts down tonight about our tour through The French Quarter, The Garden District, and drive down St. Charles Ave. and Canal Street. As far as we can determine there is not ONE SINGLE dwelling/structure in the entire metro New Orleans area within a 50 mile radius that was not damaged to some degree. The entire area smells like a dumpster – The weather has turned BEAUTIFUL – blue skies and75 degrees….. With a 10-15 mph STINKY breeze that you cannot get away from. Until later….J & A

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Update # 2 - Wednesday, October 5, 2005 - New Orleans LA.

Greetings from New Orleans - We have had an eventful 48 hours. After spending a day in Montgomery at the Alabama Emergency Operations Center (EOC) - we have been assigned to the Mississippi EOC located near Waveland and Bay St. Louis on the coast. We arrived at the Hancock County EOC currently housed in the local area high school complex. The first center in Waveland had to be evacuated during the middle of the storm as the water was rising rapidly prior to the 25' storm surge. Unfortunately upon getting there we were told that the center was moving once again and that we were going to be re-assigned ONCE AGAIN. I guess the school board wanted their building back!

So we were off to Thibodaux, LA to assist in "damage assessment" Luckily, before driving all the way there - that operation was shut down!! No fear - we headed for my old school - St. Martin's on the south shore of the Lake to say hi to old friends and sort out our options. We are currently parked in the drive of my former secretary, Suzette & Don Adair using their electricity AND shower!! We took them out for a meal at one of the few restaurants open and I caught up on all the school gossip - 12 years' worth! Their new house was flooded with 2' of water yet they were able to salvage it and are back living in at as the repairs continue.

Prior to leaving Waveland - we spent a couple of hours driving down S. Beach Road - right on the shore. This is where the eye wall of Katrina came a shore causing a 65 mile wide swath of obliteration! There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING LEFT - not even debris - just nice concrete slab foundations stripped completely clean - some with 10' pilings - ready to be built on again. The 25' storm surge simply swept up under these homes and pulled them back out into the gulf! There are no walls - wiring - plumbing - roofing materials - personal contents - NOTHING - ZIPPO - just as if the structures were never there. All of the few trees that are still standing are stripped and are already dead or dying. Massive iron gates that MUST have lead up brick driveways to huge summer beach front homes now lead to no where. Beautiful granite front steps going no where. The words devastation - destruction & damage just simply don't work. Anderson Cooper & CNN needed to come here to the beach!

As we drove on we came upon Christ Episcopal Church (est. 1860) - or rather what was left - its 50' steeple (three sides holding it up) with cross a top and its beaten up bells standing up right "guarding" next to what must have been the concrete slab foundation of the church. The only remaining item buried in the sand was part of perhaps the granite altar with the carved inscription "To God and all His Glory and Thanksgiving." Out behind was erected a small white tent with a canvas welcoming sign proclaiming "Services - Sundays 10:30 AM"! Amen

We are awaiting more details on two possible locations needing assistance; a church in downtown New Orleans and radio communications assignment on the SE coast of Texas where Rita came ashore. There is still no phone service or power to 35,000 folks on that area of the coast - another forgotten area overshadowed by New Orleans - but just as desperate.

As to the damage here - the school remained high and dry on a flooded street! Go figure. I won't even try to describe what our old house and neighborhood looked like. We are going downtown on Thursday AM to meet Senior Warden Elvia James and see what assistance we might provide her and her ravaged parishioners (9th ward folks)

Until later - cell coverage is spotty and internet - RIGHT - This is being sent kindness of Suzette's computer at school when it works

Until Later - Jim & Andrew

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Initial Update - Monday, October 3, 2005

Greetings from Mobile, AL. This is the headquarters for The American Red Cross and its relief/recovery operations in Mississippi and Alabama. The center is housed in a WalMart Supercenter! The entire building was vacant of ALL of merchandise and shelving! Inside this now cavernous space are housed dozens and dozens of separate "offices" partitioned off with colored tape. 6' walls and tables. Every aspect of a disaster relief operation is in full swing - from our amateur radio operation - mental health services - lost family center - and a full technology center where 400+ computers are networked!

Outside in the parking lot sits 100+ Budget rental trucks with the ARC logo, hundreds and hundreds of stacked green camp cots and a dozen vans shuttling workers to and from area motels.

After being stopped at the entry by security and given a "visitor's" badge, we checked in with our "supervisor" at the communications section - got processed and entered into the system - and began our orientation. We have been assigned to The MS/AL Emergency Operations Center at the former Stennis Space Center to provide continued communications to folks in the field. Cell phone and landlines are still unreliable - a month later.

We have been given a room at a local motel - Air-conditioning and Wi-Fi!! We will spend tomorrow at the Center and then head over to Mississippi. The RV was an easy drive down and we will be glad to have it when we get on site.

Even in this city, the presence of evacuees is overwhelming - not only the motels but on the streets and in the restaurants. Outside the motel rooms there are a number of groups that sit and chat while young children run and play. Luckily the weather in the evening is quite comfortable - in the low 80s. However, all about, there is a sense of total despair and question of what the future holds for these people.

Will try to post photos tomorrow.


Thursday, September 29, 2005

Biloxi, here we come!

Dear Friends,

Son Andrew and I have been requested by The American Red Cross & The American Radio Relay League (National Ham Radio organization) to deploy to the Biloxi MS area to manage radio communications there and assist with medical support in the surrounding rural areas where there are still numerous ARC shelters housing thousands of evacuees still without power and the basic necessities. We will be driving down in a borrowed camper with notification from The ARC HQ in Montgomery AL to be prepared to be "self-contained for at least 10 days to 2 weeks" I guess we will finally have a taste of MRE's!!

As the details and timing unfold during the next couple of days, I will keep all posted via e-mails. I have also set up this blog, in addition to a page on our own Lab-Rover.Com that will be going up.

I am delighted that Andrew has been asked to join me (and that his new bride of a week agreed!). Besides his extensive wilderness training and experience, he has much of the same ARC Disaster training/experience under his belt at The Oregon Trail Chapter in Portland that I have completed over the years. He has also promised his mother to take care of his "old man"!! I figure if we can spend 5 weeks together going to the Arctic Sea this should be do-able.