I visited the shelters in the Houma area today on assignment to see how they had fared with the passage of Hurricane Rita on Saturday, September 24. Red Cross volunteer David Littlefield from Sebago is assigned to the shelter at the Houma Civic Center and I also wanted to visit him. I’d not seen him since he had received his assignment last week, but had talked with him via cell phone.
I arrived at headquarters at 6:30 a.m. and printed off copies of some articles I’ve drafted so they could be edited. Rebecca had information for me to complete the photo captions for the article on the Mandeville mass feeding operation. Wireless internet connections are still down in the area, but the computer guys were able to get me a LAN connection to the internet and I was able to get my blog for Saturday sent off OK. I also was able to get e-mail for the first time since Hurricane Rita went through and got caught up.
On the road
Tom and I were able to get on the road about 10:00 a.m. and headed down the delta to Houma. While he drove I called ahead to the manager in charge of the shelters in the Houma area and made arrangements for our visit. We met Cindy Lamberty and Jim Pierce at the Grey area headquarters. Cindy showed me the areas that had been hardest hit by Hurricane Rita. The delta areas south of Golden Meadow, Theriot and Chauvin were affected by the storm surge, but there was only limited localized flooding from Cut Off and points north towards Houma.
Jim Pierce gave me a briefing on the size of the shelter operation in the area, as well as information on what the Red Cross had done to ride out Hurricane Rita.
”We are now housing nearly 1,500 people at five shelters,” Jim told me. “Two of these were new shelters we opened to house evacuees from Hurricane Rita.”
He explained that evacuee shelters are usually set up for a temporary period only, and as conditions improve and people are able to return to their homes, they are closed. Usually they are only open for a few days, as opposed to the more permanent shelters where people who have lost their homes are housed. Helping people in these shelters is a longer-term situation.
The Houma Civic Center
Jim drove to the shelter at the Houma Civic Center and we followed. This is where David Littlefield works. The Civic Center is a sturdy, large building with a parking lot full of ERVs, military vehicles, supply trucks and supplies. Shelter clients were playing ball out in the driveway, and there were Houma Police and armed National Guard troops patrolling the area to make sure the clients were safe there.
Jim escorted us back through two checkpoints and introduced us to Shelter shift supervisor Jeremy Cerra at his office in the back of the building. Jeremy explained their operation and gave us a tour. He then took us out to the shower area at the side of the building where David Littlefield worked.
David greeted me with a big grin and showed me around his domain. He and his partner Beverly Parker are responsible for making sure that the 400+ people at the shelter can get a shower when they want. They have 8 showers set up in a “Cajun-style” shower enclosure made of PVC pipe, a large blue water storage tank and head-high white plastic curtains. There are also 4 showers in a hazardous materials trailer that clients can use. The whole assembly is connected to city hydrants with a maze of fire houses, valves and nozzles.
”We are open from 9:30 a.m. till 11:30 a.m., and then again from 2:30 p.m. until 9:00 p.m.,” David told me. “Right now the showers in the tent area are open for women, as well as two of the four showers in the trailer. The other two are open for men. Later, we’ll change the mix so that everyone can shower whenever they want to.”
I asked if his training as a fire fighter with fire hoses and pumps qualified him for running this operation. “Looks pretty complicated to me,” I said. “How can you be sure that you’re not going to blow someone out of the shower with high pressure?”
”Don’t worry. Everything is in the hands of a professional,” he assured me with a smile.
Tom’s Aerial Inspection
As we were saying our good byes to our hosts, we heard a Blackhawk helicopter landing in the parking lot. Tom and I went over to take pictures, and I approached the Army Lt Colonel who was standing next to the helicopter. He told me that they were from the 82nd Airborne, here to take a group of Parish officials on an aerial inspection of the hurricane flooding. I asked him if there was any room for a couple of passengers. After talking to several of the Army and Parish officials, I was able to get a seat on the helicopter for Tom to take pictures.
They strapped him into a seat next to the open door, and the Blackhawk took off in a cloud of dust it kicked up from the parking lot. Tom was gone for about an hour and took several hundred images of the damage wrought by Hurricane Rita. While he was up in the air I interviewed Dr. Dana Davis, a local mental health specialist who has been working at the Houma shelter since Hurricane Katrina. She was able to relate several heart-warming success stories from her work.
We had a successful day, although we didn’t make it to all the places on our itinerary. I’ll do an article about David for the Bridgton News, and will include the information on the shelters in the area in articles I’m writing for the Red Cross.
Copyright © 2005, Allen Crabtree