Saturday, September 03, 2005

Hurricane Katrina - The Situation & Donations

I just went down south to meet my best friend halfway and bring her back up here. She lives in Mississippi and her inland town had 135 mph winds. Luckily only two trees hit her home. One on the front door and one on the car port, doing little damage. But neighbors up and down her street and all over their town have trees through their homes. I will have to write down her recollections of the storm and the damage in her words later, for now I will give you the generalities. They have no power, and it will be at the very least a month until they can restore it. Their water supply is barely a trickle and is undrinkable. They must boil their water before attempting to do so. But without electricity for their stoves only though with gas grills, charcoal grills or generators can boil their water. With no power their food has spoiled if they could not eat all the perishable items. Even bread does not last but a day or two with temperatures in the 90s it has gone moldy and bad. Many can not use their phones. Some people may get phone calls but can not call out. Some people can call locally. Others can't call anyone at all. Cell phone towers are either damaged or not working due to the power outage. Even the police are having a tough time trying to communicate as their radios in their vehicles will only do so much. If people do not have cash (as most of us have become quite dependant on ATM cards and checks) they can not purchase items. A store may be able to open for an hour or two a day if they have a generator. They only take cash for items and many basic supplies (water, canned items, etc.) are already gone from the shelves. Because all the radio stations and TV stations are damaged and the phone lines are iffy there is no way to let people know about the store openings except by word of mouth. Even if they were working on generators many do not have radios or TVs that are battery operated. And if they do their batteries have worn out by now. Some people line up at a store in the early morning just for the hope that it will open some time during the day so they can get what they need to survive. And many people are not even healthy enough to stand out in these lines in the heat. Not to mention that people are running out of money fast, and many did not have any to begin with. Banks are afraid to open for security reasons. Their alarm and security systems are not working, making them targets for robbery, etc. And without power they may be able to run a generator for lights, or to open the vault, but maybe not for the computer systems to verify funds. My friend has had offers of money to be wired or mailed to her. But without working ATMs and banks being closed she has no way to cash checks or retrieve electronic funds. Then there is the fact that there is no mail, no Western Union service, etc. working. That the money would have no way to reach her even if they did send cash to her. The gas stations are rationing. They, themselves, are only running an hour or so. Stations are only letting those close to "E" fill their tanks, and then only so many gallons per car. For many it is not enough to even get out of the state, or even to the next station that may or may not be open to get more. Police cars are even running out of gas and being left by the roadside. Fire trucks and ambulances are affected as well. Fire trucks are also running out of water to use in fighting fires, and are trying to drain local ponds, etc. to use. People have been asking her how they can help. And she says that you really can't send items down there. No mail service, no package delivery service (Fed Ex, UPS, etc.) to deliver the items. Even if someone gathered all the items up and drove down there, they might not be able to get back because of the fuel rationing & shortage. The best thing would be to donate money to the organizations that are already down there and helping out. They have the capabilities to get the items there and distribute them. That the time for other donations (items such as clothing, etc.) will come later after routes have been established and people have been relocated. People will need help for many months after the power and water are restored. They will have been out of work for a long time and will have no savings to replace what they have lost. Without water and power she can not work. Can't earn a paycheck to pay for necessities, pay her mortgage, her insurance, her car loan, etc. And she is just one of many, many people who are in the same situation. The ones who have lost everything even more so. She counts herself very, very lucky to have a home. She counts herself fortunate to have what she does while others have nothing. She fears that the situation will worsen very quickly. There has already been looting and more criminal activity. As people get more desperate things will deteriorate even more. When you don't have food or clean water to give your child are you going to sit there and watch them suffer, or go out and find a way to get them what they need no matter what? It's hard for us who are safe and sound in our homes to even imagine one tiny speck of what people down in the Gulf Coast States are going through. Hearing her tell how they survived the night of fierce wind, torrential rain and trees flying through the air. That she was afraid they wouldn't make it and that it was the most scared she has ever been in her life. To hear of the hardships and knowing that though the storm was over, they still had more hardship to endure. That it was going to get much, much worse before it gets any better. That she fears this "worse" will be more than she or any one of the people she knows can handle. She even has fears of the future. Fearing that her town, which was already in financial straights, may not recover. That with the main industries down now people will be out of jobs for a long time. That the high number of people looking for what little is available will make it tough to find work. For herself personally she is worried about her fiance whose business is lawn care. A lot of people will no longer be able to afford the pay for this non-essential service. That with the cost of gasoline going up, even if people can afford to pay the rates they once did that he may not be able to afford to do the work. With the cost of the gas to get to the job plus the gas needed to run the equipment he might up owing more money than he brings in. Her job may leave the area if there are not enough people to support it. That means in order to work they might have to leave the area entirely. Everyone has stories like this. For some their jobs are gone as well as their own. They have to decide if they can wait for their towns and cities to be rebuilt or to start all over again someplace new. Can you imagine leaving today from your home with just the clothing on your back and having to start your life over again with only that? You would think that being up here with me in a place with electricity, clean running water, shelter from the heat or cold would entice her to stay at least until the same could be said for back in Mississippi. But no, she is determined to go back. She will be leaving as originally scheduled months ago when we had planned this trip for her to visit as a "vacation" instead of a temporary shelter. She can not leave her fiance, his family, their friends and even her neighbors (many of whom she just met after the storm) go through this alone. She wants to go back and be there. To lend a hand where she can and share what little she has. Her fiance is currently in the process of trying to purchase as many supplies as he can with what little cash he has on hand and any money he has been given by family and friends here to take back there. He even has to take up valuable room in the truck that could be used for more food and water for gas cans. You see the closer you get to there the harder it is to get gas. And he does not want to run out of gas and be unable to get these things back home. My friend? She will be trying to fly back. I say "trying" because her original flight was to go back to the Gulfport/Biloxi airport. As we all know it is damaged and will not be operating for non-essential travel any time soon. The airline said that they could not help her get back. Now we have to find a way to get her to an airport close enough to be picked up. Meaning that if someone from her town came to get her that they would have enough gas to get her and be able to get enough for the return trip. And if someone in that city/town she flew to could take her tome that they would have enough in their tank to get back home as she does not think they would be able to get any there. And if we can't make these arrangements before her fiance heads back down with the supplies (he is in Virginia right now) that she will not be able to get in contact with him or anyone else to come and get her, and therefore would have to rely on a stranger, who has tenuous connections to her job, for a ride home and that's just if she can get in contact with them and they do not refuse her request. Getting her back home will be even more difficult that getting her up here. Do I want her to leave? Heck no. Does she want to be in a place where she can be safe, well fed and in what she has come to now deem "luxury"? Heck yeah. But at the same time she can not leave the life she has built behind. And she can not leave the people that she loves and others that she has come to care about to go through all of this alone. I believe that this is one of those situations that the saying "caught between a rock and a hard place" is truly apt. All I can do is offer what comfort I can while she is here. Lend her emotional and financial support. To stand beside her decision to return to her ravaged home state and try not to cry while she does so. Knowing that as she does she will be giving up everything that she could so easily say yes to, and opting to suffer instead. Knowing that she does still have something to go back to will make it a little easier. I just fear not only for her safety and physical being but her emotional one as well. She is so tired, so worn that she can not even think straight. That just the thought of day to day survival is overwhelming. She has told me how people go into those lines at the store with the mindset of I have to get food and water, but when they get there and are faced with getting the items they just go blank. They can not think. I fear that happening more and more to the point of where people (and her) just loose all hope. Honestly I do hope that there will be a way that enough monies are raised so that people will be able to eat and clothe themselves. That those simple things will do a great amount of good not only for their physical well being, but their mental one as well. Food, water, basic necessities are what is needed the most. Fortunately there is a way that they can get this, through monetary donations to the reputable charities that are already in place down there and have begun distribution. But they need more. More money for more supplies. The more supplies the more vehicles/centers that they can distribute from the greater number of people can be reached. The more food and water, the more people can eat more than one small meal a day (if they are even getting that now). Every dollar counts. Don't buy that package of granola bars or case of water to mail/send down. The organizations such as the Salvation Army & Red Cross can buy multiple boxes of granola bars or cases of water for what you paid for one. Even better they have the resources to get it through to those who are in need of it while a package may languish for a month or more, stuck in limbo because it is unable to be delivered. I have already seen in the Wawa's around here (they are a local convenienceence store) that they have $1 vouchers for donations for hurricane relief funds. I am certain other places are doing the same. I plan on grabbing a few every time that I go to a store that has one and adding them to my purchases. I may not be able to donate 10,000, 1,000 or even 100 dollars. But I can afford to get at least a dollar voucher. If I am buying a gallon of milk for my kids, I can pick up $3 worth of vouchers to make sure that someone in need can have some for theirs as well. It may not seem like a lot, but it will add up. Just imagine if everyone who visited that store in a day did the same. It is worth it to give people back their health, their humanity, their dignity, their smile. List of Charities -- A good list put together by Lion Brand of reputable charitable organizations who are currently involved with helping Hurricane Katrina's victims. American Red Cross The Salvation Army BBB for Charities -- Investigate all charities before donating.


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