Gustov Evacuees Stranded in Shelters

Imagine being told you MUST evacuate where you are living and you have perhaps 6 hours to sort through you possessions, load the car, board up the house and hope not to forget anything. What is your reward for being a good law abiding citizen? You get to sit in traffic along with all the thousands of others who are in the same situation you are in.

Perhaps you had time to get your prescription drugs refilled, but probably not. Perhaps you had time to think about your personal effects such as bank accounts and ID cards and the such, but probably not. In the frenzy driven by darkening skies and constant warnings on the television and radio to LEAVE NOW; many things were forgotten and/or misplaced.

Sitting in the world’s worst traffic jam you finally have time to think about everything you forgot to get or do. Did you turn off the coffee pot? Did you get the clothes out of the washer? Did you turn the thermostat up? Did you get the battery charger for the cell phone? Did you lock all the doors and windows? The questions keep coming and most of them have no answers. Your mind is in no condition to remember your address, let alone what you managed to throw in the car and didn’t.

Times have tough due to recovery from the last storm, high gas prices and medical expenses. Long ago the credit cards were taken away so that leaves only cash as a means of payment for gas and food. With no money to stay in a motel and with the shelters in your home state already full, you are forced to drive two states away to find a shelter with space available.

The drive is tedious, to say the least. Everyone’s at their wit’s end. Finally you get to the location you were heading to. Your “shelter” consists of a metal building with two portable toilets out back for hundreds of people. You have driven all this way for a cot and to share a port-a-potty with people who haven’t bathed in weeks.

Amazingly, people with few earthly possessions and have a stench that would drive away wild animals have enough booze in their car to stay drunk for a week. Fights break out over stupid things like snoring too loud or laughing too much. The drunks start fighting and soon everyone is on edge. Someone comes in to say the portable toilets are full already.

The food consists of outdated MRE’s that have no taste and are probably spoiled rotten. Soon the wind picks up and the lights start to flicker. The relentless rain drives against the building and it sounds like the roof is going to fly off any minute. It is night time and the electricity goes out. The only light is that of a few flashlights and the lighters of the smokers.

Somehow you live through the night from hell. The next morning someone hears on their car radio that your home area has been heavily damaged by a direct hit from a major hurricane. The authorities say it will be at least three days before anyone can return home. “OH MY GOD” is all anyone can say or think. Three more days in a prison most convicts would rather die than stay in.

On the second day the food runs out and what is left of the water is being rationed. Some, who had extra money or credit cards have left in search of a motel to stay in. Good luck, every room for three hundred miles is occupied. Others have left to try to make it to a friend or relative’s house up the road a few hundred miles. Within a few hours, most return due to roads blocked by tree limbs and/or power lines.

Feeling like a caged animal, people start breaking down. The fears of what has happened to their homes and the anger at being placed in such a hellhole are too much to bear. Finally some local folks bring as much food as they could spare and a truck brings some water. The toilets are still full and most everyone is hungry, but at least there is water.

After a few days the green light is given to “go home” such as it may be. People are warned that there is no electricity, no running water and the sewer system is not working and is backing up into homes. People leave anyway, wanting the security of their home instead of the horrible communal living arrangement of the shelter.

You think about leaving also but then you look in your wallet and see you have all of five dollars left to your name. With no money and no credit cards it is impossible to drive home. No one offers to help anyone else for everyone is in the same boat. Those with no money have no choice but to stay and wait for someone to help them. Odds are, before anyone does, the facility will be closed and those remaining will be forced to leave whether they have the means to or not.

Think this is a fairy tale? Think again. This very scenario is being played out as I type this in shelters in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana among other states. There are thousands of people marooned in sub-human “shelters” who literally do not have the money to drive home. Just today, Greater Birmingham, Alabama Ministries distributed $50 gas cards to a few hundred people in shelters there trying to help them get back home to New Orleans. They ran out of gas cards long before making a dent in the number needed.

The crisis I am relating will not make the evening news. It will not be in the daily papers. Even though it is not being reported, it is happening in scores of locations in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia and other states evacuees went to escape Gustov. Please, if you can help these people please contact the Emergency Management Director for the states involved. If you get nowhere with them, please contact Carolyn Thompson at: carollynnla@bellsouth.net and she can direct you to whoever can provide help. Carolyn is the director of Tri Coastal Community Outreach in Grand Bay, Alabama of which I have written about before; “Tri Coastal Community Outreach: A Rare Disaster Relief Group Success Story”

We are dealing with a humanitarian crisis that is unfathomable in our country in 2008. We must rally to find help for those who are displaced and get them home to start the rebuilding of their homes and lives. Thank You.


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