Thursday, October 19, 2017

Hurricane Harvey - My Red Cross Deployment Diary

Photo Credit:  Red Cross Team
I've been home for two months now after volunteering in disaster relief from Hurricane Harvey. So many friends and family have asked about the things I saw there in Texas, what kind of work I did, was I in a lot of pain with rheumatoid arthritis, was I able to get a lot of rest, was I able to eat well, and the questions don't stop there.

The best way for me to answer these questions is to just share everything in the form of a diary.  Any photos I share here belong to me and my Red Cross team.  There was so much photo-sharing going on that I lost track of which photo belonged to whom, so I'll just give photo credit as "Red Cross Team".

August 25, 2017
I'd been watching the news about Hurricane Harvey the last few days.  When it made landfall in south Texas, I thought will Cathy call me to deploy?  Well, she did call me in the late morning.  She said something along the lines that she felt bad she couldn't deploy me to Yosemite a few weeks earlier because the San Diego American Red Cross (SDARC) wanted to keep their new shelter supervisors in town in the event we had our own fires.  She asked if I could deploy to Houston this evening.  I admit that my heart skipped a few beats because deploying is a huge deal.  It means being away from my family, seeing disaster in the aftermath, the uncertainty of shelter conditions, where will I be sleeping, so much going through my head in milliseconds!  I told Cathy I'd get back to her.  I wanted Gerry to know the deal before I gave her my answer.  While Gerry understands my need to do this type of volunteer work, he does worry a great deal about my safety.  I'm so very thankful that he supports me 100%.  Of course, Gerry said okay.  I phoned Cathy back and said I needed 48 hours to take care of things at home, and to pack.  I needed to let my siblings know that I'd be gone for two weeks, and that I wouldn't be able to do my share of tasks where my 89-year old mom's care is concerned. Packing my bags was easy. 

August 26, 2017
Gerry and I awoke early, and we went to CVS and the ATM. I purchased basic personal care items in travel sizes, and got pocket money for things that my Mission Card would not take care of.  A Mission Card is a debit card loaded with $450. This is donated money for my food, lodging, land transportation and for necessities like medication.  This had to last me two weeks.  When it came to packing, I used a medium-size suitcase.   For Hurricane Matthew last fall, I brought a large suitcase. Big mistake. This time, I brought one convertible pant and a boyfriend-cut pair of shorts, sandals, shower slippers, magazines and a book, glasses, personal care items, two pairs of undergarments, a pair of socks.  That's it.  Oh, and my executive notebook in case I ended up being a shelter supervisor.  I had a difficult time getting a good night's sleep.

August 27, 2017
I'm at the airport early in the morning for a 10:43am departure on American but when I show up at the ticket counter, I'm told that I had been re-ticketed to an earlier flight, which I already missed. That flight left at 6:30am. Apparently, the Red Cross travel agent was trying to get me into Houston as early as possible, so when a seat opened up on the 6:30am flight, she put me on that plane, except I did not get the message.  The travel agent now re-routes me to a Delta flight that has me going to SAN-LAX-MSP-IAH.  That's departing San Diego at 7:51pm, and arriving Houston Bush International at 10:18am tomorrow.  When I hand over my ticket to the gate agent for the flight to LAX, she tells me I've been diverted to a later flight, and makes a comment that "it looks like the Red Cross is trying to get you into Houston as early as possible".  So now I'm on an evening flight to Atlanta that has me arriving at 5:39am the next day.  

August 28, 2017
My flight arrives in Atlanta on time.  I immediately make my way to the hotel shuttle pick-up area. Gerry earlier made arrangements for my early check-in at the Fairfield Inn by the Airport so I wouldn't have to sit around at the airport for my regular check-in time at the hotel.  I'm in my room by 6:30am. But before I do anything else, I head back to the lobby dining area and have the complimentary breakfast.  It's tastes all right, and I am grateful to have food because I know having a full tummy will help me to sleep better.  After a real nice sleep, I debate what to do for dinner. There are no restaurants nearby.  I decide to take the shuttle back to the airport to pick up some good eats.  I spend the rest of the evening reading and watching CNN.  Rain is now pounding Houston.  It looks real bad.

August 29, 2017
After breakfast, I'm back in my room watching the news and gathering my stuff because I'm flying out today.  Then I'm notified that my flight to Houston is cancelled. Both major airports are now closed due to flooding.  I call Red Cross Staffing and tell them I do not care to sit in my room another day.  I ask if I can just rent a car and drive into Texas as close as I can get to Houston. They said it's not safe to drive.  Staffing tells me to call the travel agent and they book me on a flight to Dallas.  I'm to stay in Dallas until further notice.  My Dallas flight is full.  I notice a lot of people in uniform, maybe Army or National Guard. Towards the end of the flight, the flight attendant gets on the PA and asks if there is a doctor on board, and suddenly hands are raised, and a couple of people rush to the forward cabin.  My seatmate was one of those who raised his hand.  I thought there's no way this kid's a doctor.  He looked so young. Turns out he's an EMT and is a member of a New Jersey group that volunteers their time to disaster relief. They were on the plane, too.  Meet Pierre!
This flight was full of disaster responders.  As we deplaned, nearly everyone wished each other to stay safe and well.  I'm often asked how I know what to do when I deploy?  Well, we receive lots of training which happens over the course of many classes, workshops and hands-on exercises.  It took me several months to complete the required courses.  When we deploy, on a daily basis and a few times a day, a volunteer will receive e-mails and phone calls from an Emergency Mass Notification System on what we are to do, step by step. The phone calls always follows the e-mails.  It's important that we respond accordingly, that we received the message.  After I exited the airport terminal, my directions said to take a taxi to the Holiday Inn, just a little walk from the Dallas Red Cross headquarters.  I got in the cab at the front of the line of cabs waiting for customers.  This driver seemed nice and was talkative.  I had no idea that while he was talking, he was jacking up my cab fare.  What should've been about a $40 fare, turned out to be exactly $93.  I should've remembered what I said in a blog post dated August 28, 2014.  I'm not in the habit of taking taxis so I am not aware of what taxis would normally cost.  Do your research next time, I tell myself.  I checked in to my room and met my roommate. Yes, we have to room with other volunteers.  Men and women always room separately.  No one gets their own room.  Joni is not a responder like me. Her skill set lies in finance. 

I report to Dallas headquarters to attend a mandatory Orientation class.  After orientation, we process-in and wait to be assigned to a shelter in Dallas.  I'm bummed because I want to be in Houston, but there's no way in.  On CNN, I see people wading in waist-high water.  Their homes are ruined, and I want to be there to help.  As I stare at the Staffing board, I'm totally dumbfounded. What the hell am I looking at?  One of the guys from the orientation made a comment about Post-It notes.  Yes, where are the Post-It notes?  When I worked Hurricane Matthew in the Carolinas, that's how it was done.  Each Post-It represented a shelter.  Written on it would be the staffing positions (shelter manager, shelter supervisor, shelter associate, and feeding)  Names and cell phone numbers of volunteers were then filled in.  The Post-Its remain on the huge board, the teams write down the information on their little notebooks, and off we go to our shelters. When a shelter closes, the Post-It is taken off the board and tucked away.  A digital copy of the shelter teams are also kept for headquarters.  I decided I was not going to work in Dallas.  I was determined to get to Houston. The guy who stood with me at the board?  He decided to remain in Dallas to volunteer his IT talents to create and maintain Excel sign-up sheets for Staffing.
By late morning, a lot more volunteers showed up.  There was a group from Mexico, the Cruz Roja Mexicana. They function 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  Like the American and Canadian Red Cross, it assists at disasters, but additionally acts as an Emergency Medical Service.  By Mexican law, it is the only organization, outside of big cities, authorized to render first aid to anyone injured in an auto accident or in the commission of a crime.
Members of this team came from Tijuana, Tampico and Chihuahua.  All of the volunteers waited hours for shelter assignments.  While I waited for mine, I was invited to join a group at their table.  For the next couple of hours, we bonded and found a job to do, and that was to sort through bags and boxes of donated shoes and clothing for the Salvation Army.  
It was during this time that we decided we would stay together as a group and be a team of eight.  There was Ray, the Shelter Manager, then Roger who was Shelter Supervisor, and the rest of us as associates.
It wasn't long before we heard an announcement to gather
in the next room.  We are told to pick a day - tomorrow or the following day - to take a bus into Houston.  I told Roger to move in through the crowd to the table where the sign-up sheets were.  He had no choice, we had to be first on the list.  It's what I used to tell my kids when they were young.  Be the first to answer a question.  Act quickly.  Just do it!  I kept whispering we have to be first on the list, but shoot, someone was already signing up on tomorrow's list.  I motioned for the others to get in close behind me. Take the pen, I told Roger, but he didn't move fast enough and before I knew it, I was writing my name down to be #2 on the list.  Number 1 on the list turned out to be one of our team members.  Good job, Randy!  I didn't recognize him from where I stood because his baseball cap covered his face.  Good for him!  I handed the pen over to Roger, and the other team members signed up right behind him.  I returned to the other room to continue sorting through clothes, smiling and feeling pleased with myself.  

I'm so excited to be getting on a bus going to Houston.  No more sitting around.  I am finally going to a shelter!
Our bus of Red Cross volunteers made a stop at Walmart in Ennis, 25 minutes south of Dallas and home of the "Official Blue Bonnet Trail in Texas", so we could purchase for ourselves what we need in our shelter.  An employee approached me and thanked me for my service, and gave me the biggest hug.  She said I was "so wonderful and God bless you."  It's very heartwarming to hear those words.  I bought a bag of throat lozenges because my throat was feeling kind of scratchy.  Probably due to weather and stale air in hotel rooms.  The temperature was 90 degrees.
Afterwards, I and two others ran across the street to a Starbucks.  We had 15 minutes to get back on the bus. I had a big goal to purchase a Texas mug.  I collect those state mugs.  Four down, 46 more to go!  I should've started this hobby as soon as the You Are Here Collection came out.  Now I'll have to resort to Amazon to collect mugs to states I've already visited. The cashier gave me her partner discount and thanked me for going to Houston to help out.  Her discount saved me $3.29.  What a nice lady.  A truck hauling a boat pulled up next to our bus in the Walmart parking lot.  
Definitely a volunteer water rescuer.  All the way from . . . 

Photo Credit:  Red Cross Team
Later on we will stop in Madisonville to have lunch at  Buc-ee's, and to pick up last-minute items like pillows and mattress pads for the cots we sleep on.  I already have an awesome flannel inflatable standard-size pillow, and decide that I'm going to be a tough gal and don't need to have a cushy bed to sleep on.  I'd done tons of camping trips in my life and didn't always have a cot mattress.  If you've never been inside a Buc-ee's, it's like a 7-Eleven store on steroids.  They sell awesome food to take out, artsy-craftsy items, very nice souvenirs, lots of snacks and candy, and drinks of all kinds.  
With full bellies, we board the bus and we're off to Houston Airport Marriott at George Bush International Airport, where we will overnight, but once we get there, we learn there's no room for us.  Who knows what happened.  We are then sent to downtown Dallas to overnight at another Marriott. Lodging isn't always this nice, but this Marriott sure makes up for some of the places I've had to sleep in!  Here's a photo of downtown Dallas from the freeway.

Now click on the link to see what this freeway looked like two days earlier.  Unbelievable!  The downtown photo is below the map.  The blue dots on the map are road closures in and around Houston. Where did the floodwaters go?  It continues to flow, and as it moves on and slowly dries up, the shelter locations close or move, too.

Harvey pummeled southwest Texas with rain from August 26-30.  It moved slowly resulting in catastrophic flooding. Numerous flash flood emergencies were issued for the Houston and Beaumont, Texas, metropolitan areas.  We're shocked at what we're seeing on CNN as we sit in the lounge area of our hotel. 
Beaumont is now completely under water, and the Texas National Guard is descending on the city to perform water rescue, but I also heard on the news that the National Guard was there to prevent looting.  Ray, my team's supervisor, talks to someone at the Beaumont Red Cross headquarters.  He tells them we want to go into Beaumont.  Word is we're going in.  The National Guard is going to airlift us into Beaumont!  It's an extreme hardship situation, says headquarters.  I am blown out of my mind.  This is turning into an adventure, and I post about it on Facebook.  
Photo Credit:  Red Cross Team
Earlier in the day, Dallas headquarters asked that three members of our team go to Avis at the airport to each rent a car. Headquarters always needs a supply of cars for incoming volunteers.  The cars are not donations from Avis.  The Red Cross pays for them through charitable donations.  There was a long line of people at Avis.  A lady and her father are at the counter looking to rent a car.  When they're told the price of the rental, the lady asks for a large discount because they had just lost their home, and everything in it.  She also lost her car, and she needed a car to get to work.  Avis couldn't help and the lady pleaded for some kindness and charity.  She left in tears.  I couldn't get her words out of my head, and my heart was hurting for her.  I remember saying to Joe, my teammate, if I had a million dollars, I'd buy her a car.  Minutes later, Joe quietly said to me that he'd watch my paperwork if I needed to step outside.  I stepped outside, turned the corner of the building and cried a little bit.  What felt like hours later, we each had a car and it's already nightfall.  Damn, we're going to be driving in the dark, all the way back into Dallas.  I lived in Dallas for two years, a very long time ago.  I didn't like the way the freeway exits and entrances were set up back then, and I could see that nothing's changed.  I walk to the back of the lot to collect my car rental.  It has a push button ignition.  I'm not familiar with that kind of car.  Starting it was no problem, but releasing the brakes was really giving me a sh***y time.  I couldn't see anyone around who could help me, and all the while I'm touching every contraption trying to figure out how to release the brakes.  Finally, by accident, I did it!  I drive to the front of the lot, and the guys ask what took me so long.  If they only knew.  And if that weren't enough, I lost them on the freeway, in the dark, and I pull off the freeway to get my bearings.  Of course, I hit a divider because it's too low to be a divider, by California standards.  When I finally get to the Marriott, there's a lot of activity and I see volunteers piling into vehicles.  I park the car in what seems to be the last parking space, which is all the way towards the back of the hotel.  I approach the others and I'm being told we're leaving, to get in the car, but I want to know where my suitcase and bags are.  Ray is very upset and wants to know where the car is.  I had no idea we were going anywhere in the first place which is why I parked the car.  I'm very concerned about my belongings.  Were they moved from one car to another?  Are they all together.  I've been very careful with my laptop?  Where is it?  A woman, whom I never met, comes to me and asks what my bags look like, and she starts looking for them.  Roger remembers what they look like so he tells me to get the car and he'll see which vehicle my bags ended up in.  When I brought the car to the front of the hotel, I said it was imperative my bags be in the vehicle I end up in, because I know sometime in the near future, our vehicles and the people in them will separate and go in different directions.  Before the caravan of van and cars drive off, Ray leans into the car I'm sitting in and apologizes to me.  He said he was out of line, and was reacting to something that had happened to him earlier in the evening.  I accepted his apology, and later when the caravan stopped at a gas station, he offers to buy me a cup of coffee, which I accept.  Four hours later, and it is already midnight, we arrive at a church in Lufkin where we will spend the night.  It's been an awfully long day, and I barely sleep.  

Not able to sleep, I quietly grabbed my clothes and toothbrush and tiptoed to the restroom.  When a shower is not available, baby or body wipes is the way to get as clean as you can.  Deodorant is a must and talcum powder helps.  I'm dressed and having my cup of coffee at 4:30 am and on my laptop at 5 am.  I have to reply to an e-mail from the Red Cross asking why I need more money deposited on my Mission card.  It's because of my forced hotel stays in Atlanta due to flooding at the Houston airports, and airport food that I had to buy because I'm stranded, and the fare that the rogue cabdriver charged me in Dallas.  The lady on the other end of the phone pitied me and gave me money that I might need for the next week.  In the end, I barely used the funds.  What's left on the Mission card goes back to the Red Cross.  My bags are packed and ready to go.   We are ready to head out but we're told to stand by for a nurse who will join us.  What seems like hours, the nurse Kelly shows up but there's another nurse with her.  We only have room for one more person in the car. This other nurse wants to go with us so badly.  Like us, she thinks there's still horrific flooding in Beaumont, and we all still think we're going to be airlifted there.  Sadly, the other nurse drives away.  By this time into our Red Cross journey, Janet and I had already shared how much we love Starbuck's Flat White coffee.  We tried to get one at the Starbucks close by the Dallas Marriott Hotel where we stayed, but the coffee shop was closed due to the flood.  So many businesses were closed.  We tell each other that the next Starbucks we see off the freeway, we're going to get a Flat White because we are craving it!  And we see one on our way to breakfast at the Cracker Barrel, but we didn't stop.  On the way out, says Roger, we'll stop at Starbucks.  He's the driver this morning.
While we're waiting for our breakfasts, a woman behind me thanked us for our service.  She had to evacuate her home and was staying at a Marriott nearby.  She said many residents were in hotels.  On the road now, we saw a Starbucks, missed the exit, saw Starbucks again, and missed that, too.  When we get to Beaumont, we'll surely get our Flat White coffee then.  But the only Starbucks we saw was also flooded out.  As we drive through Hardin and Jefferson Counties, our vehicles are pelted with millions of bugs.  Is it the heat that draws these bugs out, or the huge areas of standing floodwater?  The bugs dirtied our car with their blood and guts.  Disgusting.  Besides Flat White coffee, Janice and I have something else in common, we love history.  Every time we saw a historical marker on the side of the freeway, we'd point and say "I want to check it out", only to be ignored.  And still later on, we learn that we both love to read - a lot.  

The morning drive from Houston to Jefferson County is uneventful.  No floodwaters in sight, people are going about their business, but it's clear that pockets of businesses were affected by the hurricane because parking lots are empty.  We see homes with lots of furniture, mattresses, drywall and other things piled up along the side of the road. 
We report to the Red Cross headquarters in Beaumont to get our shelter assignment.  Where's the huge flood we saw on TV the other day?  And there's no helicopter.  Bummer.  We discuss how perhaps the media is misleading the people.  Much of the floodwater is gone, but the damage, we will see later, is enormous.  How will these people deal with life after the hurricane?  I feel so sorry for them.  Anyway, we are told to go to Port Arthur to assist in a huge shelter held in a large middle school.  A Red Cross Mass Care team is already in place.  The shelter community is spread throughout the campus, which is highly irregular.  Normally, we keep clients together in one space like the gymnasium.  It's easier to keep track of residents and their pets.  It's a safety and liability thing.  It's a hard community.  Law enforcement is in place, as is the National Guard.  What does that tell you?  I overheard someone mention that illegal drugs were a problem there.  After touring the facility, our team leader decided that we will not be a part of this shelter because he deemed it not safe.  Besides, that shelter had all the support it needed.  He asked for us to be  assigned somewhere else.  Meanwhile, we will hunker down for the night in Port Arthur, at a place called the The Shephard's Inn.  Interesting place.  The inn is a part of the Christian Life Crisis Intervention.  Their website says the inn is "able to offer respite, relaxation and meals to families caught up in the criminal justice system, and to victims of personal and public disasters."  We showed up and signed up for a room.  The team was signing up for shared rooms.  I asked for a single room, and got the last one of three.  It was different, but I made myself at home pretty quick.  Did I mention that there are no locks on the doors?  And the showers are shared with others in your wing.  Now those doors have locks!  Another requirement is you must empty the trash can and clean the toilet and sink before you check out.  The kitchen was loaded with bread, peanut butter and jam, Top Ramen noodles, cereal, milk and coffee.  No charge.  I slept so well.  It was mostly Red Cross volunteers staying at the inn.  


Today is our laundry day.  Kelly, Gladis and I need to find a laundromat, but Roger wants to be dropped off at headquarters first so he can check on when we are in getting into a shelter.  We found a laundromat, and all machines were being used.  It was a half hour before we would began our laundering.  Roger calls me and says he's ready to be picked up, so Gladis and I leave while Kelly  keeps an eye on our laundry.  When we got to Roger, he says he's not ready to leave so Gladis and I go back to the laundromat, but it's not the right one.  We're lost and we don't remember the name of our laundromat.  While I check Google Maps, Gladis see a Mexican restaurant next door and they're open for business.  Being hungry, we went to get a quick bite and sodas.  Meanwhile, Kelly calls and says the laundry's done so I decided to save my leftover lunch for Kelly.  She is grateful for the food.  Gladis ate everything on her plate.  Roger calls and says again to pick him up.  Shoot, we have no food for him so we can't let him know we ate.  That would be rude, but the car smells like tacos which we found hilarious for some reason.  We began spraying the car with scented body spray, used hand sanitizer on our hands, and chewed gum.  Then I pulled up to a residential garbage bin in a leafy neighborhood, and Kelly tossed her paper plate.  Now we were ready to pick up Roger.  Why didn't we just buy Kelly her own plate, and Roger, too?  Because the owner of La Salsita was giving away free tacos.  They had nothing else to serve because they had no water to cook.  There was a severe shortage of good water.  La Salsita had the leftover fixings for tacos and just wanted to give them away.  They gave Gladis and I four tacos each.  I didn't want to be greedy asking for more plates of food when there are people there who really have no food.
On the way to headquarters, we saw this happen.  A Red Cross ERV (emergency response vehicle) team drove into a gas station, opened its doors, and stood around and waited.  Slowly people appeared and quietly lined up to get their cases of water.  Scenes like this were playing out all over Texas.

We get great news.  We're to hurry up and pack our bags because we are being assigned to a shelter in Sour Lake.  This is exciting!   We wait for a van that will help transport the rest of us and our bags to this country community.  We encounter many roadblocks due to flooded roads and highways but we figure it out.

I totally missed this scene because I was squished in the back seat behind the driver, but those who saw it said they knew they were going to love being in Sour Lake when they saw two teen boys chasing after a little pooch running across the street.  It was like s scene from a Norman Rockwell painting.  It happens that the dog belonged to one of the clients in the shelter, which is in the community center pictured below.

We park and enter the facility and meet the mayor, Bruce.  He immediately lets us know that he runs the shelter, asks what took us so long to get there, and we are there to assist only, which is a common occurrence.  Many local governments have their own emergency management and shelter operations teams.  In some cases, they run into hardships and allow the Red Cross teams to take over.  Everyone seems pretty nice but others in the team felt they weren't welcome.  Anyway, I introduce myself to Sour Lake's elected mayor. He's been the mayor for years.  He runs the shelter with the help of his wife, Renee, and his children and the shelter looks well-organized.  He asks me what my nationality is and when I tell him I was born in the Philippines, he tells me he's half Filipino.  Well, slap my head and call me silly, but that was so unexpected!  How does a man born in Manila end up in a country town and has a southern accent?  If I remember his story correctly, because I had to ask him a couple times to explain it to me, he was abducted by an angry family member and brought to the U.S. when he was a baby.  He grew up in Beaumont, and that's where he met his lovely and vivacious wife.  From that first conversation on, Bruce will refer to me as his Filipino buddy.  
He also has a commanding voice.  When he calls your name, you almost want to salute him and follow orders!  After we got settled in our staff shelter, which is the children's wing of the First Baptist Church, Roger tells us that tomorrow we're to ditch our red disaster vests. Don't wear the vests, but do wear the Red Cross photo ID lanyards.  

I woke up early and walked .3 miles to the Sour Lake Community Center.  That's a two minute walk.  It's still dark out but I feel completely safe.  I hear something snort and it's a white horse.  It walked up to me at the fence and we practically stood nose-to-nose, then it put its check next to my check.  So gentle.  So magical!  
The kids at the shelter named it Rain.  I don't know why, but every day I will visit Rain.  One day, Rain breaks out of his small corral and the guys chase after him like they did the dog the day we arrived to Sour Lake.  Next to the community center is the enormous garage-turned-animal shelter.  I go there every morning to see how the animals are doing.  Their owners live in the shelter, and volunteers help to care for the animals.

Shelter resident Tina Coudraird volunteered to run the animal shelter.
This is Brittany with Midnight.  Later in the week she turned Sweet 16 and we surprised her with a birthday party!  Below, J.P. Harris and his dog Max.

Roger tells me that today is my day off.  If you're on duty for seven days, you get one day off.  Cool!  I ask if I can have the car for the day and he said I earned it.  All right now!  I discovered yesterday that I left my Croc sandals and shower slippers at the Shepherd Inn and I need to purchase replacements.  The nearest town would be Beaumont, 30 minutes out of town.  Bruce the mayor said to be careful because it's not a safe town.  Really?  Well, it didn't stop me and I used my GPS to find the highway.  I pass homes that are being cleaned out and see some flooded areas.

I see the sign to the freeway and the police had barricaded the road.  Sections of the 105 are flooded, they say.  How do I get around the flooded areas, I asked, I need to get to Beaumont.  They gave me directions but I was getting nowhere.  I wasted two hours literally driving around in circles hitting a roadblock here and a roadblock there.  I drove back into Sour Lake and hit up every little shop that was open to look for sandals.  These shops were lucky if they had socks to sell.  Then I saw a dollar store.  If all I end up with are flipflops, so be it.  I chose a red, white and blue pair to be patriotic.  People helping people in America.

As usual, I leave the staff shelter at 6:30 am and head on over to the community center.  Roger tells me that he's taking the car to Beaumont and will be at headquarters all day long to take care of business.  He tells me I'm in charge now and gives me names and phone numbers I might need.  Not a problem.  He told me to make sure the team stays busy and mentioned particular tasks that need to be completed.  I relay that message to three of the staff members I find sitting at a table, one of them on her cell phone.  She loves taking selfies and thinks calling people an a**hole is cute.  She's a good person, though, and the youngest one on the team.  Two of the ladies looked awfully tired, and should be, because they had come out of the graveyard shift.  Anyway, I relayed  Roger's request, and told them to get some rest, and they became snippy.  Later, I asked the young one if there was a problem that I should be aware of.  Her response is she and the other two ladies felt I was being bossy.  Really, ladies?  I was only concerned for their well-being.  I had no time for this crap and my responsibilities took precedence over silly behavior.  I decide to chat with some of the clients.  It's important to connect with them, show them we care. This is Alex, a very important client and disabled veteran.  Bruce, the mayor, wants all shelter residents to help with chores in keeping the shelter clean and organized.  Working registration is the best Alex can help with.
He likes to sit at the registration table.  His job is to make sure everyone in the shelter signs in and signs out.  Even Red Cross staffers.  He loves working graveyard shifts.  Alex had only minutes to evacuate his home.  He thought he'd be safe in his home during the storm, but the sudden rush of floodwater alerted him that it was time to move.  It took just minutes for the water to reach his elevated porch.  He says he pretty much lost everything.

Later in the evening when Roger asked how everything went, I told him of the "minor situation" with a few of the ladies.  "We need to get more guys on the team," says Roger.  Kelly and I chuckle. Tonight is the night Janet and I will work graveyard.  We sit at the registration table in the lobby.  We straighten out the clothing distribution table, and she keeps handing me books that she thinks I'd love to read.  Janet inspires me.  She's 83 years old, and has the soul of a 25 year old.  She's funny, a SoCal girl (lives in Riverside), and loves to flirt with men of all ages and they all love her because she's so darn cute and hilarious.  She's also a hard worker and carries the true spirit of the American Red Cross, which is why I want to be like Janet when I grow up.

Graveyard shift ended at 7am.  I went back to the church to wash up and sleep.  I think I slept till 3:30 pm or so.  I decided to take photos of my surroundings on my walk back to the community center.  But first, this is a picture of my sleeping quarters.  Having a lit candle makes me feel at home.  I always pack a candle and book in my suitcase.

Janet showed me a puppy that belongs to one of the shelter clients.  I just had to have cuddle time with this furry baby.

Remember the day Roger was gone the entire day, and Kelly the nurse was with him, too?  They were at headquarters making phone calls, reaching out to community partners seeking donations of all kinds - personal care items, clothing, cots, blankets, pillows, MREs (meal, ready to eat), bleach, shovels, rakes, garbage bags, you name it.  This supplemented what the Red Cross was able to provide the clients with donated funds.  This was one of two trucks that came to deliver goods.  Way to go, Roger and Kelly!

Inside the community center, we watch CNN a lot on the television to see where Hurricane Irma is headed.  Three of our team members are very concerned.  Their homes are likely to be in its path.  Two are from Wilmington, North Carolina and the other from Georgia.  They decide they will process-out and go home.  Roger tells me that when he leaves, I will be the shelter manager.  He calls Staffing to send replacement shelter workers, and they should be men because of all the heavy items needing to be moved.  I'm doing my share of lifting, but some of those boxes are almost as tall as I am.

Roger, Joe and Jeannie are leaving today.  It's sad to see them go, but they must get back to their families and possibly prepare for the worst of the hurricane weather.  I check my e-mails and find an e-mail from Emily, Communications Director from the San Diego headquarters of the Red Cross.  She wants to know if I can do a live interview from the shelter with San Diego Fox5 News.  But that was for yesterday.  I said if there was a chance to do a live interview in the future, I'd do it.  Joe and I go over some paperwork and Kelly announces she's going to process-out.  She wants to volunteer abroad on one of the islands hit by the hurricane.  She has her passport and she's gone.  The last I heard, she was still in Miami unable to get out due to Hurricane Irma.  Joe is ready to leave.  We take a photo and he tells me to stop by the fire station some time today for some great photo ops because the Mennonites are there serving breakfast.  They came all the way from Tennessee, I soon found out.

Before I go back to the community center, I take a stroll through Sour Lake's historic center.  It's the cutest four street corners I've ever seen.  

Joe, Jeannie and Roger are ready to begin their journey home. We, Bruce and his family gather for one "family photo".  I am fully in charge today and everyone comes together as a team.  No complaints and everyone's using their muscles to move huge boxes of donated stuff from storage to the main floor of the community center for distribution.  

I'm up before sunrise.  Before I grab a cup of coffee, I stop by the animal shelter to count the numbers of dogs and cats.  I also include Rain, the horse, in the count.  Then I go to the registration table to check the report for the number of clients that slept in the shelter overnight.  That gives me a clue as to the number of meals I will order today, and I jack up the number a little bit for additional people who might need food and water.  The meals will arrive by ERV.

I take a break later on to check out the small public library, where the librarian was so nice to let me make photocopies of forms, for as long as I needed to.  Next door to the library was the jail, from long ago days.
And next to the jail is a Texas Historical Commission marker commemorating the beginning of Sour Lake's oil industry.  

Our animal shelter is in the the large building behind the oil rig.  Later in the morning, I came to the realization that my two week deployment was up today.  It was time for me to prepare to process-out.  I informed Janet, the next person who would be in line to supervise.  Then I got a call from the Red Cross in San Diego.  Fox5 News wants to interview me this morning.  Can I go live in an hour?  I've never been interviewed by a news station, so I am understandably nervous.  But I drop everything and prepare myself for the interview.  Emily, the communications director for the San Diego Red Cross is there to guide me.  I practice how I might answer some questions.  But my heart is racing, and I tell myself to just be myself, breathe and whatever I say, to stay on point and be brief.  Minutes before we go live on the news, I feel like I want to vomit, then decide I'm just thirsty and choose water over Coca Cola, of which I had both right in front of me.  The phone call comes and Emily patches me on with Fox5, then someone from the news station tells me to stand by and how many seconds I and the news anchors will be live on TV.  Nerve-wracking!  The interview went well but I did get a little emotional in the end and couldn't complete my sentence.  Embarassing.  Emily, my family and friends were so impressed, though, and said I did a great job.  Now I hand over my papers to Janice, head back to the church to pack my bags, then return to the community center to say goodbye.  Everyone wants to take pictures. 
Renee, the mayor's wife, has her sister drive me to Beaumont.  There I will process-out and go home tomorrow morning.  I cannot wait to see my family and to sleep in my own bed.  When Gerry picks me up at the airport tomorrow, he will treat me to a Mexican dinner which is what I was craving, and my son, his girlfriend, and my daughter and her family will come over to welcome me home.  I dozed off in my chair during the family get-together.  I was so exhausted.  

Here are more photos that the Red Cross Team and I took:

Staff shelter at the Beaumont  Civic Center
One of many critters destroyed by Hurricane Harvey.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my two-week adventure as a Red Cross disaster responder.

In what ways would you like to help your community?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for reading and leaving a comment!