News Service

Notes from Louisiana

Tomorrow is my last day in Louisiana.

It's wonderful to see people from all over coming to help. Another Red Cross worker here is from Jefferson, Iowa, and a woman on my mental health services team is from Muscatine. There's a group from Newton down here, too.

Actually, there are people from everywhere who have come to help, even Alaska and Hawaii. Mostly as I'm starting to plan and think about leaving, already it's hard to leave the beautiful people down here, the evacuees we've tried to help and support. It's also hard to leave knowing the job's not done, and it's not going to be done for a long time. I'm tired, I'm exhausted -- I think I've reached that point in terms of compassion fatigue. I've given my all and need to rest up a little bit. We'll have some family time this weekend with the cell phone off.

People are grateful

I don't know what things you're hearing back home, but by and large, the people down here are just incredibly gracious and thankful for the help. They're frustrated with how long it's taking and I share their frustration.

Today, we closed down the last of the temporary shelters from the local flooding. There are still several hundred people in this area who either can't get to their homes because of the water, or their homes are not habitable. We have consolidated the temporary shelters into our long-term shelters in Houma, Thibodeaux and Larose -- those are our primary evacuee shelters from Katrina.

The evacuees in Houma and Thibodeaux are primarily from the New Orleans/Jefferson Parish area. The shelter in Larose has a mix of southern Jefferson Parish people and local evacuees. Larose is in Lafourche Parish, which is east of where I am right now.

I stopped by the Civic Center here in Houma last night and received two new staff members rotating in. Several of the people I've gotten to know saw me and came over and we talked. It's just kind of incredible when you walk into a room filled with cots and air mattresses, and suddenly people's faces light up, and they come over and give you a big hug.

'The water come up and she go back down'

I've really enjoyed getting to know an older Cajun gentleman who lives deep down in the bayou near his son. I had to learn the Cajun dialect to understand him. He would tell a story with great conviction, energy and enthusiasm, and I'd be 10 minutes into the story, listening ... and by the end of it I'd have enough context to get what he was talking about.

I'd ask him how he was doing, and he'd say, "You don't have to ask that. The water come up and she go back down." By that, he means that his house is immersed in water, but he'll go back, clean it up and make it habitable again.

The people from deep in the bayou just cherish that land and the water. When I think of the floods of '93 in Iowa ... we don't really think about what kinds of flooring we need to put in our homes to make them flood-proof. The people from the bayou do think about things like that.

I may have shared with you a little bit about Lt. Danny Theriot of the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's Office. He's also the school resource officer for Houma Junior High -- a great man. He was responsible for setting up the shelter and when I got there, we just teamed together and we just clicked. Relationships like that -- the one-on-one connections and small groups -- that's what make this work, despite the administrative and bureaucratic struggles that have occurred.

Danny was raised in the bayou. He and his family lost their house due to the flooding. And he said the same thing as my older Cajun friend: "The water will go down."

Danny asked for my help in getting his son home from the military. There's a section of the Red Cross that can help get members of the military home in this type of situation. So I conveyed the circumstances -- the father (Danny) is a law enforcement officer who's been working 24-hour shifts, his wife is at home with their younger, 10-year-old son, and he needed his older son at home to help. I passed on that information, and a few hours later, the arrangements had been made. Dren Theriot is on his way home to help his family.

That's just one of the successes down here -- the little things you can do to help people.

Gene Deisinger