Living in Houston we always have to be aware and prepared during hurricane season. Although I hate hearing the constant babbling of weathermen about "the cone of uncertainty", I know weather science for the most part is educated guesses. Mother Nature has an agenda that makes it very difficult to predict with real accuracy until the storm gets nearer to landfall.
On August 29, 2005 we became very aware of just how horrible the loss of life and property can be when Katrina barreled into New Orleans. My husband, Charlie, and I were sitting at home and knew we had to do something to help those worried souls who had evacuated the hurricane's path and headed our direction. We went to the city of Baytown, Texas to the water department billing office where evacuees where being housed. It is hard to describe what is was like to pull into the parking lot and see thousands of people milling around with fear and uncertainty written on their faces.
Those were the lucky ones who heeded the call to evacuate, but for everyone that was there they knew someone back home who decided to stay put and weather the storm. Each weather report that came across the television and radio became increasingly more certain that New Orleans was in for a history making nightmare. Those precious people in Baytown didn't know if they would have anything to return to or those they left behind would even survive the storm headed at them.
Charlie and I began to walk among the evacuees and lend an ear, give a hug, or dry tears. The Red Cross was doing a good job, but they couldn't physically touch all those who needed comfort. We did the best we could that evening and decided to come back the next day.
Before returning to Baytown we went and made purchases of disposable goods such as napkins, plates, silverware, etc. to take back to the evacuation center. We also stopped by the bank and took out as much money as we could afford in twenty dollar bills. We knew many of those who had traveled from the evacuated areas didn't have much money and their gas tanks were empty. There were so many who had lost track of family members and were searching every evacuation center from the Texas border to Houston in attempts to reunite with them. Charlie and I wanted to help as many as we could in their search.
There were more stories than I have space to write about what we discovered on our return. The Water offices were at capacity in how many they could provide for and they were sending new evacuees to other locations that had been set up for them. People were everywhere in that part of town looking scared and hopeless. Charlie and I started handing out our twenties for gas and the humble thank you's we received brought us to tears. There was one Vietnamese family that arrived at the center with two small boys who were ill. Since it was at capacity the Red Cross couldn't house anyone else. One of the Red Cross workers turned to Charlie and asked him if he could take them to the Memorial Baptist Church up the street that had set up a shelter. Neither the man or wife could speak English, but Charlie got them to understand he would help them and for them to follow us in their truck.
The two young boys were very ill and feverish. We knew they were in desperate need of a doctor. We took them into the church and thankfully a doctor had arrived and was just beginning to see to the needs of the evacuees. Charlie turned to the young father to communicate they would be helped, but the man did not want to let go of Charlie's arm. Charlie had become his security in terror and he was afraid to release him. Charlie hugged him and walked him into the room that had been set aside for medical. With a touch on the young man's arm Charlie let him know he would be alright. I can still see his sad eyes as he took one more look over his shoulder at us.
There are so many stories of what we saw and heard over those days of volunteering. It was one of the most moving experiences of our lives. Charlie and I have always been close, but that experience brought us even closer. Katrina brought people into our lives and changed us. It only solidified in us that life truly has more meaning when you reach out with love and without ego to give a hand to those in need.