Monday, September 05, 2005

From the Astrodome

I have several of my own experiences to relate, but it's still a bit raw -- and frankly, I am having trouble finding the words to describe it. I did ask for the observations of others, and they follow.

From an account posted here Saturday a.m. 9/3:

Just got back from the dome and I was overwhelmed by the shere numbers of folks they have put in there. The media was complaining that its not the 23,000 promised but in actuality there is probably close to 100,000 here throughout the Houston metroplex. It made me think of a modern day Hoovervile, by the sadness and magnitude of the trauma but the living conditions here seemed wonderful. I spent only an hour or so in the dome where around 17,000 people are living(its virtually a small US city) and was told they had just opened up the Astro Arena and that 3,500 new folks had been set up there. It felt more personal to be connecting with a mere 3500 folks. A pittance of people where I felt more comfortable. There are huge trucks rolling in with food, baby supplies and clothing and every conceivable medical supply. There are plenty of sick people but I din't sense the horible coughing and general sickness I expected to see.

For about 2 hours I got to play Santa Claus( and that's really something special for a Jewish guy) with my shopping cart of stuffed animals and small toys that seemed to light up the eyes of these kids who didn't seem to know what was going on before finally running out. The evacuees seem orderly and polite and appreciative of the help. I spoke with numerous young men who were in construction and ran small business operations(not the so called trash folks the media seem to be fixated on) and who's home were totally gone who told me they would be staying in Houston and relocating they just couldn't stand to return. There were men wearing the same dirty socks for 5 days that appreciated fresh socks and underwear and my trying to match their shoe sizes.

Anyways the medical units set up were overwhelming. There were dozens of doctors, nurses, and residents who had arrived just when I walked in, who had been instructed by the local hospitals to volunteer 20 hrs per week there and were giving these folks top notch care. I have psychologists friends who are consulting with these folks about their emotional trauma. There were xray machines, dialysis, and chemo going on and everyone was instructed to be given vaccinations, tetnus shots I believe.

A Friday (9/2) e-mail:

I don't know where to begin, how to describe what we saw last night. It's not total chaos inside, but about 2 steps from it. The smell meets you before you walk through the doors. Besides a name tag, there was little volunteer organization. 'Help wherever you can' was the order. We tried bringing food down from the upper levels, but made it back with very little. Everywhere people would stop us asking for the food, water, a cot, a blanket, clothes, phone...everything.

There was little food: only Doritos, some ham sandwiches and a little fruit. There was LITTLE clothing. We distributed what we had, but quickly ran out. People are walking around in clothing soaked in sewage. Many don't have shirts or shoes. There is a medical triage station. Many people needed medical care. Bryan came across a refugee leaning against a rail, close to passing out. Bryan discovered he was a schizophrenic w/ a heart condition and hadn't had his medication in 5 days.

There is a Lost Children section for kids who are alone and have been separated from their families. There was a good police presence. They did a great job of fanning out over the Dome. I was not concerned about safety.

My high school football team won the State Championship on that Dome field. Today, that field is covered w/ thousands of ppl desperate for just a clean pair of socks.

Friday evening:

I volunteered at the Astrodome today. It was heartbreaking to see everyone sitting on cots that are packed in so tight you can't walk between them. People were walking around shellshocked. As I walked in the Dome, I stopped to hug a woman standing outside crying.

It was a bit chaotic, but I guess I can understand. I basically just went in and registered. When I asked a Red Cross volunteer where they needed me, she said "just walk out there and someone will come up and ask you a question." I helped a little girl get some shoes. I tried to answer questions as best I could, but some I didn't know, such as "where do we find the FEMA area?" and "when can we register our children for school?" I would ask someone from the RC and they didn't know either. I do have to admit that it was nice to hear that wonderful NOLA accent and slang.

Two little boys asked me if I had any toys, so I found some for them, even though there aren't enough. Everyone seemed to have food and snacks. People were distributing drinks. I stood at a Miller Light bin loaded with soft drinks and water and handed these out to anyone that wanted it. Most people wanted ice, which we had, but no cups. I've asked friends here in Houston to donate toys and plastic cups.

More later.

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